With Pep Guardiola announcing his departure from club, one could think Barcelona would be after a big name manager to fill in the void left by the most successful coach in the club’s history. But the option taken wasn’t a revolutionary one, but rather one destined to give continuity to the work that has been done in the past four years. Tito Vilanova, Pep Guardiola’s ever faithful assistant manager ever since the B team days, was the man selected to pick up where Pep Guardiola left off.
It might seem to daunting a task for a man with no prior experience as a first team manager, but that’s the same situation Pep Guardiola found himself back in the summer of 2008. Having worked with Pep Guardiola for so long and garnered the respect and admiration of the players, Tito most definitely seems like a great choice for the job.
As a player, Vilanova was a midfielder and had a rather discrete career; he was formed at Barcelona, in La Masia, but didn’t make it in the first team. He played for several second division and low-level first division teams before finally calling it a day in 2002. It is safe to say that his playing career was hardly memorable. It was as a manager alongside Pep Guardiola that he became notorious.
Together, Pep and Tito wrote perhaps the most brilliant page of Barcelona’s centenary history, leading the club to 14 trophies, including three Ligas and two Champions Leagues, in a span of four years. For a long time, Tito was just seen as the quiet and discreet right hand man of Pep Guardiola, but that all changed after the eye gouging incident with José Mourinho in the Spanish Super Cup last year; barely did the Portuguese manager know at the time that the man whose eye he gouged would one year later become his main managerial rival in La Liga and get the job Mourinho once coveted so much.
The tough period Vilanova went through last year in terms of his health showed how much the players cared for him, how connected he was to the players. By the time he was appointed as the next Barcelona manager, he was already a known name to most football fans and, although perhaps not the most obvious choice his appointment seems to make a lot of sense; Tito knows the club’s philosophy inside out, he has worked with Pep and he has a great relationship with the players.
Although this will be by far the biggest challenge of his yet short managerial career – not to mention his first stint as a first team manager – Barcelona fans have every reason to be optimistic. Tito knows the club and its philosophy, but more importantly he is a guarantee that the success formula adopted by Pep Guardiola will be continued. Tito will of course have his own ideas and slight tactical and strategic tweaks, but the basic principles will be the ones he and Guardiola developed together during these last few years.
One obvious difference between the two, though, is that Tito seems to be far more confrontational, as shown by his run-in with José Mourinho about a year ago. We can definitely expect him to match José Mourinho blow for blow in the press conference mind games, or at least not to react as calmly and indifferently as Pep Guardiola used to. As for his managerial style per se, it remains to be seen what Tito will bring the table; so far, we only know him as Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager, although it’s probably safe to assume he’s not radically different to Guardiola in his managerial style.
Back in 2008, Pep Guardiola told Barcelona fans to fasten their seat belts and enjoy the ride and the time to unfasten them hasn’t come yet. Tito Vilanova promises to continue the fantastic journey started by Pep Guardiola, and the fans believe in him to lead the club to further success. It could very well be as if nothing had changed.