Ever since Tito Vilanova took the reins at Barcelona, the pundits started speculating about how he would compare to Pep Guardiola as a manager.
Would Vilanova carry on Guardiola's legacy?
Would he change Barca's approach? And ultimately, will he be as successful?
It's far too soon to answer the final question. But, Vilanova will have to do more than just win trophies if—in the final reckoning—he wants to be placed in the same category as his predecessor.
In terms of those trophies, it's clearly too soon to predict how many Vilanova will win, and whether he might match or surpass Guardiola. Thus far under Vilanova, the team have experienced the dizzying highs of a record-breaking start and an incredible Champions League comeback, along with the disappointing lows of successive Clasico defeats and a miserable midseason dip in form.
Vilanova is fully capable of getting the team to play some brilliant football and win matches.
His next test will be motivating them to consistently play their best as the season enters its most crucial phase. The team will surely have gotten a huge boost in confidence and morale from the Milan triumph, and should soon see another in the form of Tito's return.
Can he keep them firing on all cylinders as the season winds down?
Beyond that, can he keep them playing their hearts out into next season and the one that follows? A few of Barca's best may be entering the twilight of their careers but a solid core could and should be around for years to come.
In light of the incredible success they've already experienced, they will need someone to keep them motivated each season.
And even more so, can he keep the players' egos under wraps and intact should they continue to be as successful as Guardiola's side?
With the exception of a few instances, Pep seemed to be in control of the dressing room, and was able to hold on to the players that mattered most.
By contrast, in January, it seemed that Barcelona and Vilanova were hanging on to David Villa by a thread, after he was rather snubbed through the fall campaign. But where would the team be right now if he hadn't stuck around?
Bounced out of the Champions League, most likely. And after a fabulous performance at the weekend, it seems Villa will play a crucial role for Barcelona down the stretch.
Perhaps, Vilanova played the situation perfectly, always knowing he would keep Villa around to be there when needed. It seems to me more likely that Villa's gotten a raw deal, and Vilanova's lucky to be retaining his services through May.
In the end, even if Vilanova proves adept as a tactician, a motivator, and a manager-of-personalities, he may reign perpetually in Guardiola's shadow. After all, of the players who will define his stewardship—or at the very least its initial stages—most rose to prominence during the Guardiola era.
And Guardiola didn't just bring those players—Messi, Busquets, Iniesta, and even, to a certain extent, Xavi—to the pinnacle of their form. He essentially carved out—or at least was there as they carved out—a defining style and winning mentality.
Vilanova can improve on the results, and even, perhaps, the football, but he probably won't revolutionize the team.
And why would he?
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