Change always comes with challenges. Barcelona are being forced to endure change after manager Tito Vilanova stepped aside due to lingering health issues. The unfortunate turn of events puts the onus on Lionel Messi to provide leadership.
A relapse of throat cancer caused Vilanova to make the decision about leaving his post as Barcelona boss, as reported by Sid Lowe of The Guardian. Comments by club president Sandro Rosell illustrated the type of impact it will have on the club.
"Following routine tests, it was decided that he would follow a course of treatment to continue to control his illness that is incompatible with fulfilling his role as coach of the first team," Rosell said. The club's president described the news as a "terrible blow" and asked for understanding "for people first, before the club." He added: "We will present the new coach in the next few days, hopefully by early next week."
These type of stories always supersede the sport. Vilanova played a prominent role at Barcelona, helping lead the club to a boatload of success—first as an assistant, then as a manager.
Moving on will be difficult, but the clock ticking down to the new campaign doesn't stop. Barca moved quickly to find a replacement, and eventually announced on their official site that an agreement was reached with Gerardo Martino.
While the 50-year-old Argentine will need time to acclimate himself to the Spanish club, it's up to longtime members of the team—most notably Messi—to provide stability.
Messi has been with the club throughout his senior career. During that time, he's transformed from a rising star with immense potential to one of the world's best players.
One thing he's never been, however, is a boisterous leader. He doesn't make bold comments to the media about the direction of the team or anything of that nature. Instead, he tends to lead by example with his play on the pitch.
It's time for him to step up into a larger role, at least in the short term. He must ensure the squad is on track to get ready for the season opener, which is now less than a month away. And if progress is sluggish, he needs to make sure everybody knows it.
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He also must serve as a liaison between the squad and Martino. There will likely be some differences as the new manager starts to implement his style at Camp Nou. Messi needs to make sure the transition is completed without a hitch.
Making such an important switch so late in the offseason isn't easy, but Vilanova made the right decision to worry about his health first.
The smoother the transition, the better Barcelona's chances of getting off to a strong start as they look to defend the La Liga title. Making that happen is going to take a collective effort and plenty of leadership from players like Messi.
Once everything settles back down, he'll be free to return to his usual role within the club, which consists mostly of scoring a bunch of goals.
For now, Barcelona will keep Vilanova in their thoughts as they begin the Martino era with Messi leading the way.