Whilst the footballing world may still be in shock that someone with the success that Pep Guardiola has enjoyed over the past few years may want to leave Barcelona, the unknown quantity of his successor has further confused us.
Tito Vilanova, formerly the assistant manager behind Guardiola, has been given the job of guiding Barcelona to win back the La Liga title, which is surely headed to Madrid, as of next season. Many of football’s top managers must have been licking their lips in excitement at the prospect of managing such an array of players when rumours circled of Pep’s intent to leave, but the decision was almost a no-brainer as far as Barca were concerned.
But who exactly is Vilanova? And does he have what it takes to challenge Mourinho’ Madrid for Spain’s major honours and in European competition?
Like Guardiola, the Barcelona manager’s job is Vilanova’s first major management role, following on from the ‘B’ side. It seems that the much favoured policy of producing from within is still very highly thought of at the club seeing as Pep was promoted in similar fashion.
But unlike the hugely successful Spaniard, Vilanova enjoyed a rather more modest career as a player, similar to that of enemy eye-gouger Jose Mourinho.
Girona-born Francesc (Tito) Vilanova played just 26 La Liga games in a twelve year career. A Barcelona youth product, central midfielder Vilanova left to pursue a career elsewhere in 1990 and joined UE Figueres. Two years on Vilanova hit his peak and played top flight football for the first time with Celta Vigo. Again he moved on to look for more football though and never returned to La Liga. Instead he turned out for Badajoz, Mallorca, UE Lleida and Elche before retiring aged 34.
He became technical manager at Terrassa FC before Guardiola brought him into the Barcelona B setup, gaining promotion to the third tier almost instantly. Guardiola then secured the first team job after Frank Rijkaard departed in 2008 and loyally took Vilanova along with him. 13 trophies in three years later (possibly 14 if Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final in May) and Vilanova finds himself at the pinnacle and with a team of players widely regarded as the best on the planet.
Despite having to overturn Real Madrid from next season, Vilanova’s toughest battle has already passed after having a tumor on his parotid gland removed last year. He does have previous with Mourinho however as the Portuguese’s much publicised eye-gouging of a Barcelona management staff member was Vilanova himself.
Barcelona sporting director, Andoni Zubizaretta has said that Vilanova’s appointment is a logical decision because he represents the same style of play and same philosophy as Guardiola and seems to have the players backing and respect.
But having to follow a haul of trophies reminiscent of that to your very own game of FIFA won’t be easy whatsoever, Vilanova has his work cut out already.