Life has a cruel habit of picking up the best laid plans and dumping them on the floor. Then booting them around a bit for good measure. Ideally, Barcelona would have been on the brink of kicking off an exciting second season under the stewardship of a fully-fit Tito Vilanova. Instead, the club are now suffering the loss of the manager, who is unable to continue in the role, and having to choose from two options to set the immediate future for the club.
Friday’s announcement from Sandro Rosell was a surprise but not a shock. In a communication lasting little more than three minutes, the distressed Barca president advised that a course of treatment in a battle against cancer for Vilanova is “incompatible with being our first-team coach this season.”
Of course, the first reaction to such news is sadness and to offer best wishes to a brave and battling man. Deep down, the future of a football club does not matter a hill of beans in comparison with such matters. However, life and therefore football must, and will, carry on. Barcelona must carry on. Tito Vilanova would not want it any other way.
A tough weekend of planning by the Barcelona leadership is now underway. A decision needs to be taken on whether a competent and experienced continuity coach can be put into place for a year with the hope that a fully-fit Vilanova can return one day, or if it is time to begin a new project. The outcome of this strategy session will determine what manager could potentially be announced early next week.
A policy of short-term contingency would be the easiest to handle. There are fine figures in the world of football who would be able to take over the hot seat immediately and keep the club ticking more than adequately. On Saturday, reader polls in Barcelona-based papers, Mundo Deportivo and Sport, saw former Bayern Munich boss, Jupp Heynckes, as the best fit. The German is available (although technically retired) and engineered the dismantling of Barcelona in the Champions League last season. That suggests that Heynckes knows the Catalan club inside out.
Marcelo Bielsa is also a manager who is currently available having just finished a two-year spell at Athletic Bilbao. Despite being obsessive, uncommunicative and more than a little odd, the Argentinean is familiar with La Liga, tactically brilliant and was the first choice for many a year ago to replace Pep Guardiola.
A longer term plan will be harder to implement as leading potential candidates are in secure jobs already. Indeed, many such as Manuel Pellegrini, Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde are beginning posts at Manchester City, Celta Vigo and Athletic Bilbao, respectively.
Although the chance to coach at the Camp Nou should be enough to tempt any manager out of an existing contract or even retirement, that may not be the case on this particular occasion. The pressures are enormous in the best of times at Barcelona but especially so this season. The new boss must find a way to make Neymar and Messi work together and find a new centre-back. Then there is the matter of another Real Madrid reboot to handle in Spain, as well as the challenge of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
Life has shown that no-one really has any say in their ultimate destiny. Tito Vilanova has had to endure this the hard way. Barcelona must also make plans without being in full control of the situation.