"Bringing in Txiki was the best decision I ever made." — Joan Laporta, former Barcelona president (via The Guardian)
Aitor "Txiki" Begiristain, Manchester City’s director of football, has undoubtedly emerged as the leader of the new power base driving the club in 2013, and his influence can now be seen across everything City do. Brought in by chief executive Ferran Soriano in October 2012, Begiristain is charged with overseeing player recruitment and was the man who worked long and hard to bring Manuel Pellegrini to the club in the summer. It could be argued he is now the most important person beneath Sheikh Mansour in the City hierarchy.
Begiristain is a former professional footballer himself. He earned 22 caps for Spain and played over 200 matches for Barcelona. He became director of football at the Camp Nou in 2003 and oversaw a period of huge success, as the Catalan side won two European Cups and five La Liga titles in just seven years.
Indeed, when Frank Rijkaard left the club, it was Begiristain who decided Pep Guardiola would be the best appointment, a move questioned at the time, but which turned out to be one of the finest decisions of recent years. Guardiola had been a coach for just one year, and that was with Barcelona B, yet Begiristain saw in him the qualities that now mark him out as one of the best in Europe.
Barca’s blueprint for success was built on the “holistic” approach that has become the watchword at City, with one style of play rolled out across the club—from junior players right up to the first team. Begiristain was keen to implement an attacking style at Barcelona, with rampaging full-backs who play like wingers and ball-playing centre-halves. Every player had to be able to play the Barca way; a system altered for no one.
That’s why Pellegrini, a manager known for his attacking style, became Begiristain’s No. 1 target once Guardiola’s deal to Bayern Munich was confirmed. Begiristain had seemingly grown tired of Roberto Mancini's inflexibility and confrontational style, and took the difficult decision to get rid of the Italian, despite his popularity amongst the City fans.
Begiristain has a clear idea of how he wants City to play and felt Pellegrini was the best man to realise that vision. It's an appointment that appears to be bearing fruit. City have scored 79 goals in all competitions, look well-placed to win the title and find themselves in the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Then there was the summer recruitment drive, a far more focused, well-executed process than during the previous summer.
In came Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Fernandinho, all signed before the end of July (via BBC Sport). Such a slick approach allowed City to steal a march on their rivals, who were left floundering, and allowed Pellegrini the longest possible time to mould his new squad during preseason.
It was the clearest example yet of Begiristain's influence, and it's unlikely under his stewardship that the catastrophic summer of 2012 will ever be repeated.
Begiristain himself seemed happy with his work and was looking forward to a better season for the Blues (via The Independent):
When you start the season you have to always think you will do better than the last one.
We have to fight for the Premier League as we love this competition. We have to do better also in the Champions League.
There's no minimum target. We are big club, with big players and with a manager with big experience.
We are very, very happy with our squad. We have a minimum of two very good players in each position so it's deep enough.
With City’s future set to enter the next phase when the Etihad Campus opens next summer, Begiristain's vision for the club looks set to continue apace. It's clear that he is the head of the day-to-day operation at the Etihad, and over the coming years his influence will continue to increase.
This year was certainly the year he stamped his mark on the club.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.