Early Doors

Barcelona’s solution is staring right at them

When Barcelona decided to name assistant Tito Vilanova as Pep Guardiola’s replacement, initial fears about inexperience were tempered by the largely solid theory that the Catalans’ success was the result of a tactical system, a philosophy whose slick hand touched every department within the club.

That philosophy means that the manager is merely a janitor for the greater footballing good, a conduit for the blue and red blood to pulse tiki-taka through the club’s veins. Mes que un club and all that.

There have been knee-jerk reactions to Barca’s hammering over two legs by Bayern Munich, although there is evidence of a wider malaise at the club this season, a malaise that initially showed last year.

One poor performance (this tie was won in the first leg, the 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou a direct extension of that game) does not symbolise the end of an era.

If the era did end, it was with Guardiola’s exit, or rather the months leading into it as the dominance of Barcelona (and the Spain side Barca players dominate) took its toll on the legs and souls of its on-pitch protagonists.

Fatigue is hugely important at the highest level, because, if operating at the highest level, your players are competing at the business end of seasons after 70 or so club and international matches.

And, unlike most international sides which boast a mix of players from different clubs, most of Spain’s key players turn out for Barca, and many of Barca’s players turn out for Spain.

Five years on from that first European triumph in 2008, and Barca’s Spanish contingent are knackered. It’s a long-term fatigue, mental as much as physical, the toll of a slow, dirty war.

As important was Barca’s abject failure in the transfer market last summer. When a top side loses their domestic crown, the response should always be high impact. When Manchester United lost out to City last year, they bought Robin van Persie. When Bayern found themselves unseated by Dortmund, they spent 40 million euros on Javi Martinez, arguably their player of the season, and introduced a world class goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer.

Barca may have run away with La Liga this season, but that is because the system will always prevail over the course of a campaign, particularly when half the championship is as uncompetitive as La Primera, and when your main rival is in relative crisis (another story for another day).

After losing their title and manager, Barca needed to show muscle in the market, for nothing if not to inspire their existing squad. They also needed to bring in a head coach that could inspire in those vital moments of the season, those moments where being able to blitz mid-table Liga sides with the wizardry of Lionel Messi is not quite enough.

But, while their debt of 335m or so euros is manageable on account of their income, it does mean they have to exercise relative caution in the transfer market. Caution that led them to haggle endlessly over Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas; caution that prevented them from outbidding Bayern for Martinez (who, with hindsight, was fairly priced); caution that prevented them manoeuvring at the same level of profligacy as Manchester City last season or Paris Saint-Germain this time out.

When you lose a talisman like Guardiola, you have to compensate both on the coaching and playing staff. Barca went backwards – Carles Puyol is a shadow of his former self, and – sad health problems aside – Vilanova lacks the gravitas and media charm of Guardiola.

He also lacks experience, experience a certain German has in spades.

ED hasn’t forgotten about Bayern Munich, whose devastating two-legged performance is the rule rather than exception of a season that has seen them put between six and nine goals past handfuls of sides this campaign.

This is not about Bayern, but rather about their manager, arguably one of the most underrated in recent times, although a CV that includes Real Madrid and two spells at Bayern implies otherwise.

Since his first spell at Bayern ended 22 years ago, Jupp Heynckes’s career has the air of a long-term caretaker, never more than two years at one club, and recurring themes of impressing at a medium-sized club before taking the reins at a big gun, only to be casually discarded when a more fashionable name becomes available.

You have to wonder how his career would have panned out had he been allowed to see out a long-term project, as he did initially at hometown club Borussia Moenchengladbach before his career – and the whims of boards and chairmen across Europe – ensured he was a high-end fixer for more than two decades.

Heynckes will not complain at how the chips have fallen – he is a rich man and has already won a Champions League, with Madrid, where he may end up this summer.

Whatever happens next he should not retire – ED thought Bayern a shade premature when they stuck the deal with Guardiola. Bayern had clearly rebounded from last season’s disappointment and Heynckes was just as patently in the process of developing something truly special, the constant records of clean sheets (1000 minutes plus for Neuer) and remarkable winning runs (five on the trot without conceding on two occasions) coming before and around the decision to employ the Spaniard.

Some of the smart money is on Heynckes making a return to Real Madrid, with Jose Mourinho more than likely to be named Chelsea boss once more.

But a smarter bet by Barcelona’s board would be to convince the 67-year-old German to prolong his career and to prolong it at a club who share his commitment to attack, commitment to a system - and commitment to relatively short spells in charge.

Because boy do Barca need a fixer right now.



"I don't think we need to change any players. What we do need is to get our injured players back because they are top performers. Bayern Munich came here with all their players available but we are here without some of our key players. I still think our squad is very good" - Tito Vilanova, who is not really correct here, as Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi played in the first leg, which is where this was lost. Meanwhile, Bayern are without Toni Kroos, arguably their best individual player in the last few years, while Dante was on the bench after suffering a cold. Barca do need a make shake up.


Fans of CSKA Sofia dug a grave in the middle of their pitch for the company which owns the club. Fans even erected a tombstone at the Bulgarska Armiya stadium with a cross and an inscription of the company's name - Titan.

For more on that lairy episode, click here.


Chelsea can move one step closer to becoming the first team to win the Europa League right after the Champions League, but they have to hold off Basel first. We'll be covering that with the usual live text and stats here.

And the play-offs get underway too, with the also-rans in League Two commencing battle for the right to play at Wembley. Cup final heroes Bradford face surprise package Burton, with Northampton up against Cheltenham.

Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

Early Doors

Early Doors began life as a daily vehicle for mocking Rafa Benitez - and as such represented something a prototype for the modern internet. It has now evolved into a must-read morning feature from our team of football writers. Serious or silly, penetrating or puerile, Early Doors has always got something to say on the big issues. And there's still a fair amount of Rafa mockery.