Cules Corner : Gracias Pep, Welcome Tito
A decision that has rocked the footballing world, Pep Guardiola has decided to leave Barcelona and will be replaced by his assistant Tito Vilanova. Cules Corner’s Tom Conn says goodbye and welcome to the duo.
- By Tom Conn Follow @thomasmconn
“I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries. The demands have been great and I have not been able to rest much. I have to recover and the only way I can do that is by distancing myself. Otherwise, we would have ended up damaging each other.
“I know that I’m leaving the best place to work in. I am very satisfied with the result we have achieved. I have had the great privilege of coaching fantastic players. I want to thank them.”
And with that, we usher in a new chapter for Barcelona. For four emotionally draining, gratifying and passionate years, we have watched the mystique of Barcelona penetrate our core. The last four years have transcended the sport of football; it has revolutionized and modernized it. We must now cope with the fact that, the driving force behind all our glory and happiness, will no longer be on the front lines. Success, as we have just witnessed, comes with a dire price.
What would cause a man who has money, power, success, and adulation from his peers, give it all up? The answer lies in Barcelona itself.
Barcelona has taken on a new life under Pep Guardiola; he has transformed this club a finely tuned, trophy hoarding force. But such success comes with consequences. While we have seen this Barcelona squad reach the pinnacle of success, they have played an exhaustive 239 matches in four seasons to get there. Players play 90 minutes, they train a few hours on the off days, but they have the luxury of time to themselves.
For four years, Pep Guardiola has planned, researched and managed 239 matches. We all know how competitive he is, which means 239 sleepless or restless nights, resulting in a loss of 1912 hours of sleep. It may seem like a dramatization, but I can assure you, it is hardly close to the actual number. He has not had the luxury of time off as his players have in the summer; he is working to make the team better during that time.
He has a three-year old daughter that has seen him only in passing. I realize he said family did not factor in his decision, and it may not have, but sheer mental and physical exhaustion did. His heart has not been in it since October. He finally realized that the very thing he loved the most, was actually the thing destroying him.
This is the perfect time for Pep Guardiola to leave Barcelona. He didn’t leave on top with two more trophies in his case, but he has left the club in the best possible position any manager has ever left a club in the history of football.
So now, as we lament the departure of a man, who in four years, managed to change the way we think about the game, we look to the new custodian of the club he has left behind.
Enter Tito Vilanova.
For me, there is no finer replacement for Pep Guardiola. Vilanova was not just an assistant; he was Guardiola’s best friend, confidant, and managerial equal. There is no doubt in my mind that without Tito, there would be no ‘Pep’.
“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.”
The bond between Tito Vilanova and Guardiola can be traced back to a time when both were enrolled in the now legendary La Masia, with big dreams of becoming first team players for the Catalan giants.
However, both players took very different paths throughout their careers, both learning lessons, that combined, would shape the foundations of their revolutionary style.
Guardiola’s dream came true at 19 years old, being promoted to the first team in 1990, and spending the next decade as a staple in the pivot roll of Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team‘ backfield. As a player, Pep received numerous accolades and recognition. After leaving Barcelona, Pep bounced around and spent time in Italy, Qatar, and finally a spell in Mexico, before retiring in 2006. Less than a year later, he was made manager of the Barcelona B squad and made Tito his assistant.
While both Pep and Tito received the same instruction and guidance from La Masia, Vilanova was unable to break into the first team, and decided to make his way north. His next club was also in Spain, UE Figueres, with Vilanova helping the team to its best ever second division classification, in the 1991–92 season (third place); the club would eventually face Cádiz CF in the promotion playoffs, losing 1–3 on aggregate.
His performances caught the eye of several first division clubs, and Vilanova moved to the top-level with Celta de Vigo, but appeared sparingly over the course of three seasons. He then returned to Division two in 1995, representing CD Badajoz, RCD Mallorca, UE Lleida and Elche CF, before retiring at nearly 34 with lowly UDA Gramenet, in his native region.
Tito then began his managing career, working as a technical director for Catalan club and Barcelona suburb Terrassa FC. However, his break came in 2007, when he was reunited with his former youth teammate, Pep Guardiola, to be an assistant for the struggling Barcelona B squad.
Together, Tito and Pep lead Barcelona B from the 4th tier to the 3rd, and at the conclusion of the season, they were promoted on a personal level to take over from the departing Frank Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens with the 1st team.
Hours after Barça B got back into the third level and during the celebratory dinner at the Camp Nou, Guardiola praised the hard work of his players, but specifically thanked Tito:
“Thanks, Tito, because last summer you turned down offers to move up a division to be with me.” Guardiola reflected that even though he had head coaching offers he decided to stay as an assistant with Barça B. Barcelona B was where these two managers’ differing life experiences played the biggest role. Vilanova’s experience in the lower divisions was key when it came to making the choices about new players.
His extensive knowledge of the Second Divisions A and B and the Third Division was crucial in signing players who have been extremely successful with Barça B. 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 at the start of the season 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.”
However, as we all have witnessed, Vilanova had no doubts about Guardiola’s knowledge and drive to succeed and therefore didn’t think twice about coming back to the club:
“I coached youth football at Barça in 2002/03 and I worked with players like Piqué, Messi, Cesc and Vázquez, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The rest, as they say, is history. In the summer they took over the first team, they cleaned house, sending Zambrotta, Ronaldinho, Deco, Edmilson, and Dos Santos packing. Pep laid down the law and cast out the ‘lazy, prima donnas’ and stated that the Barcelona under his direction would be focused on hard work, but a more personal touch with his players. On Tito, Guardiola and director of sport, Txiki Begiristain began to lay the foundation of the greatest team in the world.
Dani Alves and Seydou Keita from Sevilla, Gerard Pique from Manchester United, and Sergio Busquets and Pedro from the youth system, have all been instrumental in Barcelona’s 13 trophies in the ‘Guardiola Era’.
Last October, Vilanova was hospitalized and had emergency to remove a tumor on his parotid gland. The operation was a success, and there have been no reoccurrences, but you can tell that this was a blow to Guardiola. His coaching philosophy was not just as a master tactician, but as a coach that had an intimate knowledge and bond with his players.
Ironically, this philosophy would ultimately be his downfall, as he was so close to the situation that he was no longer able to separate his working life from his personal feelings.
We now know that last October, Guardiola informed the front office that he was no longer able to continue as manager. This is not coincidental; these two incidents are cause and effect. The loss of Vilanova by his side, just for a few months, put things in perspective.
There is no denying that Guardiola got the most out of his players, achieved great success, and as a representative of the club, carried himself respectfully and ethically. However, eras must end while another will inevitably begin. There is a monumental task ahead of Vilanova. He is preceded by a man, which can only be surmised by this quote from Former President, Joan Gaspart:
“In more than 110 years of history, it’s the first time a coach leaves without the fans wanting it.”
However, in this end, Barcelona picked Vilanova, the exact replica of Guardiola tactically and mentally, so may even say the brains behind it all. But for all these two men accomplished as one team, they couldn’t be more different. Tito brings an entirely different perspective. Vilanova has proven he is the most qualified due to his intimate knowledgeable of the current squad, his keen eye for talent, and most importantly, he is the co-originator of their current tiki-taka system. He has the loyalty of the players and the trust of the front office and board members.
He has everything a manager could want at his disposal; all that’s left is to see how it plays out, on and off the pitch.