While new Barcelona manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino carries on where Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova left off, I can now reveal that it could have been a different man appointed to the Camp Nou hot seat—a man quite well-known to the Premier League.
On Friday July 19, it was officially announced that Tito Vilanova would be leaving his post (BBC Sport). My sources at Barcelona tell me that two days earlier at 1.00 am on Wednesday morning, in what was an emotionally charged conversation, Tito had told director of football Andoni Zubizarreta that his treatment for cancer was not working well enough and, consequently, its intensity was going to have to be upped. This, said Tito, meant that he would be physically incapable of carrying on as manager.
Zubizarreta has gone on record as saying that the club went into "shock" for the next 24 hours before realising something had to be sorted, and quickly. My sources tell me a list of three men was drawn up. At the top of the list was Luis Enrique, now in charge at Celta Vigo.
A former Barcelona player, manager of the Barcelona B team and Roma, ultra-marathon runner, Ironman triathlete and all-around fitness icon, Luis Enrique had a three million euro buyout clause at Celta, which Barcelona were prepared to pay.
Everything looked done and dusted, and according to my sources he asked the club for a couple of days to think about it and discuss it with his wife.
And that was the end of that. Luis Enrique never had the chance to say 'yea' or 'nay' because—according to my well-informed contacts at Barcelona—certain players in the changing room were now lobbying for the appointment of Tata Martino. Fresh from his title win with Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, and well-known for the tactical astuteness, Martino’s Paraguay had taken Spain right to the wire before being narrowly defeated in the World Cup eventually won by Spain.
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My contacts also tell me Sandro Rossell was a fan, liking the way he talks, his respect for Barcelona and the way his teams all seem to have a touch of Barcelona in the way they play. Martino admitted that the Messi family must have helped giving good reports, even though the latter denied that was the case.
In any case, job done. He was going to be the one.
But I can also reveal, though my sources must remain anonymous, that there was a third candidate—none other than Tottenham Hotspur’s Andre Villas Boas, who would almost certainly have been offered the job had there been a complication with the appointment of Martino.
A former scout of Jose Mourinho and a self-confessed admirer of Barcelona, he prepared the report when Jose Mourinho almost made it as coach of the Catalan club after chairman Joan Laporta decided to get rid of Frank Rijkaard.
Had he been offered the job, I wonder if he would have jumped at the chance. He admires Barcelona, and I can see him one day coaching the team. Should things not run out exactly to plan, don’t be surprised to see Barcelona come knocking at his door some time in the future.