Barcelona: 5 Things We Have Learned About Tito Vilanova So Far
Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova enjoyed a tumultuous first 12 months in the Camp Nou hot seat.
Whomever it was that was handed the managerial reins from Pep Guardiola was going to have a tough job on their hands, and so it is to Vilanova's great credit that he steered the Blaugrana ship through a successful and ultimately record-breaking 2012/13 season.
A highest ever points total for the first half of the La Liga season set the tone for Barcelona to equal Real Madrid's tally of 100 La Liga points set just the year before.
Set against the backdrop of the health problems that Vilanova once again had to endure—and the associated effect that this had on the playing staff—makes this season's achievements all the more remarkable.
That he carried on throughout with dignity and humility cannot be downplayed.
Vilanova will perhaps be judged more on the coming season rather than the honeymoon period of his first year.
Let's take a look at five things that we have already learned about Barcelona's man in charge and what we may expect to see from him during the next 12 months.
His Own Man
Football as a business is littered with assistant managers who have tried—and spectacularly failed—to be successful as a "No. 1".
Given that he was taking over from the most successful manager in Barcelona's history, a lot was riding on Tito Vilanova's appointment.
That he impressed many through his seamless transition in stepping out of Pep Guardiola's shadow and becoming the boss is testament to the credentials and character of the man.
Indeed, Vilanova's impact (as a manager) upon the squad was almost instant.
According to Mark Elkington of The Independent, Andres Iniesta identified with him immediately when he told reporters back in September 2012:
The philosophy and method of working is basically pretty similar [to Guardiola], but we have a new coach, a new form of doing things and we are very happy about him being with us.
He knows us very well and I am confident things will go well.
The step up in pressure, workload and status was handled with consummate ease despite his much-publicised health problems.
Barcelona's sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta was another that was very happy with the start to Vilanova's managerial career:
I don’t judge him on his results. Tito’s strength for me is the way he has developed the idea and the way he makes decision in difficult situations, such as fielding Adriano at centre back against Madrid.
We’re in good hands.
Tito's defining moment may be yet to come, but no one can be in any doubt that he is a man that does things his way.
Upholding the Traditions of the Club
The supporters of Barcelona—Los Cules—demand a winning mentality, but more than that, it is expected that games should be won with a certain grace, elegance and style. The "Barca way" if you will.
Oh, and goals. Lots of goals.
Well this past season, Barcelona, as has become customary, scored an obscene amount.
A club record of 115 La Liga goals for starters—and a preposterous 158 in all competitions.
The football has, in the main, been pleasing on the eye, and the 4-0 comeback victory over AC Milan in the Champions League remains a particular highlight.
Barca at their belligerent and all-conquering best sharpening the pressing game with which they have become synonymous. It strangled the life out of the Italians who didn't know what had hit them.
Vilanova's studious knowledge of football per se, and his loyalty to Barcelona's "tiki-taka" style, ensured that we were treated to a season full of great moments.
Perhaps the only footnotes to the season as a whole was the lack of efficiency in defence over the period—never better illustrated than this match against Deportivo La Coruna—and an over-reliance on Lionel Messi—again—for goals and penetrative bursts.
Pep Guardiola would be the first to acknowledge the part that Tito Vilanova played in the success of his Barcelona teams.
Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football says as much in his piece on the relationship between the two. Quoting Guardiola:
"You can expect the best from Tito. He’s more than skilled, the players know him… I think the club made a great choice. I was just the voice of the ideas Tito and I developed together."
Right from their beginnings in the development of youth at the club, Vilanova was instrumental in the tactical set up of the team.
Conn goes on to suggest that:
Guardiola accepted the Barça B and subsequently the first team job, because he knew he would have an equally experienced and knowledgeable coach who could offer insight, where Guardiola could not.
Vilanova even admitted...that Guardiola lacked experience as he had yet to coach a side, but added that he was 'already a coach when he was a player.'
The top job certainly held no fears for Vilanova himself. Conn again:
"I coached youth football at Barça in 2002/03 and I worked with players like Pique, Messi, Cesc and Vazquez, so I’m really looking forward to it."
Playing Adriano at centre-back during the game against Real Madrid or placing Lionel Messi as a floating presence behind Alexis as the centre-forward are just two examples of Vilanova's understanding and appreciation of the game.
Expect him to continue to find appropriate tactical solutions in the coming season.
Once Pep Guardiola had announced his decision to leave FC Barcelona the rumour mill went into overdrive.
Who could possibly replace Barca's most successful manager ever? Would any new man remain faithful to Barcelona's principles and style?
Who, in world football, would be able to command the respect of such a high-profile bunch of star players and prodigious talents?
That Barca promoted from within was genius in it's simplicity.
Frequently a sounding board for Guardiola, Tito Vilanova's appointment represented a new era for the club with the minimum of fuss or bother.
An initial reaction of surprise quickly turned to warm appreciation.
Albert Benaiges, a former youth coach at Barcelona recalls:
I was surprised when I heard, but after 10 minutes of thought I realised it was the right decision.
Tito brings continuity.
The players are happy because they know there will be no big changes.
Everything I can say about Tito is good. He was top class in a football sense.
That Vilanova merely carried on where Pep left off was the main ingredient in the teams' continued success throughout the season.
Intelligent enough to make necessary tweaks if required, the manager also adopted the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra when analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the playing staff.
It's worth noting that football players at the elite level are no fools. If someone is not up to the task they are found out—quickly.
Tito Vilanova has retained the confidence of the dressing room throughout and that speaks volumes for the man.
Mistrust of La Masia Talent?
As we approached the business end of the 2012/13 season, when there was little to play for having been knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich, one thing began to grate on the Barca faithful.
Where were the next generation of La Masia products? Why weren't they getting much-needed match time?
La Liga was a foregone conclusion so—on the face of it—why did we not see Gerard Deulofeu promoted from Barca B for half a dozen games? Why was Marc Bartra only used as an absolute last resort?
Why was the tiring Xavi Hernandez not rested to allow Thiago Alcantara a few full games within which to boss the centre of the park?
Instead Barcelona find themselves in the unpalatable position of having three stellar graduates of Barcelona's famed academy potentially looking to move elsewhere to fulfill their potential.
That must not be allowed to happen.
Surely one would have expected that with Vilanova's first-hand experience of La Masia, he of all people would have understood the associated benefits of engaging with the younger members of the playing staff in matches of little importance in general terms but of huge significance for the player.
Presently, there is still a possibility that Tito will not secure the transfer targets he desires.
Is he not making a rod for his own back if he continues this blanket refusal to promote from within the pool of talent that La Masia offers on a regular basis?