Barcelona's surprise decision
to promote assistant coach Tito Vilanova to replace Pep
Guardiola is a significant gamble but for a club whose
phenomenal recent success has largely been built on home-grown
talent it could prove a masterstroke.
After leading Barca to a record 13 trophies in four seasons,
Guardiola said on Friday he was quitting because he felt drained
and president Sandro Rosell announced Vilanova would take charge
of the first team from next season.
Guardiola has often spoken of his reliance on his close
friend - who was a contemporary at the club's youth academy -
and it is Vilanova to whom he turns for advice when strategic
changes need to be made during games.
The two have similar personalities. They are softly-spoken,
hard-working and methodical students of the game who are devoted
to the unique brand of fast-flowing, possession-based football
they had drummed into them at the academy.
While Vilanova, 42, may not command the instant respect
Guardiola's successful playing career afforded him, he has a
close relationship with the Barca squad, particularly the
home-grown members, many of whom he coached when they were
After his own mediocre playing career at clubs including
Celta Vigo and Elche ended, he returned midway during the
2001/02 season to take charge of a youth team featuring Lionel
Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.
"For Tito, I wish the best in this new opportunity that
football has given to him," Fabregas wrote on his Twitter feed
"We were together when I was a kid and he is not just a
great person but also an excellent manager," added the former
Arsenal captain, who shares his full first name of Francesc with
Vilanova was at Guardiola's side when they led the B side to
promotion to the Spanish third tier in 2007 and has been a
constant presence in the four seasons they have run the first
team apart from a brief period of convalescence late last year
following surgery on a tumour in his saliva glands.
Guardiola has always expressed his gratitude to former
president Joan Laporta for taking a punt in 2008 and handing him
his first top-flight coaching role with only a year's previous
experience in a Spanish regional league.
At his farewell news conference on Friday, the 41-year-old
said the board of directors had made a wise decision.
"He is a capable person whom the players already know,"
"I was just the spokesman for ideas we developed together
and he will give this club and these players what I no longer
can give them."
Vilanova will have some adjustments to make to the squad,
with players like club captains Carles Puyol and Xavi in the
twilight of their careers and full-back Eric Abidal recovering
from a liver transplant.
Like Guardiola before him, he will have a rich pool of
talent to choose from in the club's youth ranks and bringing
young players through is a trait of his former boss that is
likely to be repeated.
For now, Barca have four La Liga games left with both
Guardiola and Vilanova on the bench, as well as a King's Cup
final against Athletic Bilbao next month.
Taking a risk on an inexperienced coach but one who learned
his trade inside the club and already knows the players has
worked rather well before and could quite easily work again.
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