Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A new era for Barcelona

It’s official. It’s a new era for Barcelona.

Tito Vilanova’s departure represents a true cutting of the Pep Guardiola umbilical cord.

Yes, it was supposed to be so when Guardiola left Barcelona last year. But, now it is official. A new direction is coming.

Tito Vilanova
First off, all wishes are with Vilanova as he once again battles cancer.

His exit as Barcelona coach, due to ill-health, was announced by club president, Sandro Rosell, at an emotional press conference on Friday evening.

Vilanova needs further treatment for the throat cancer he was first diagnosed with in late 2011. This is his second relapse. In December he had an operation before undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy in New York.

After missing two months of the season, Vilanova returned to the dugout in April guiding Barcelona over the finish line as they claimed the La Liga title – and in the process becoming only the second team after Real Madrid to reach 100 points in a campaign.

However, with his health not improving Vilanova will not be returning to defend the title.

Though Vilanova’s health struggles have always been known, this is still a traumatic moment for a club that doesn’t want to be defined by the Guardiola era.

Not a lot needs to be changed and this is a mistake Barcelona shouldn’t make.

But Barça do need to focus on hiring a long-term replacement and moving to their next chapter.

Despite reservations when he was appointment, Vilanova was undeniably on his way to creating his own legend but his untimely illness took that away for him and Barcelona

In his absence the importance of a coach, even for Barcelona, was clear and in the two months without Vilanova the side looked distinctly human.

So, hiring a replacement is not a straightforward decision. Barcelona wants to continue its Barça-DNA mantra and would prefer to again promote from within but similarly they need an established coach.

Winning has become routine at Barcelona
There are many reasons for this.

For example, Barcelona have just signed Neymar. They need a coach who will be able utilise the young Brazilian talent well and also manage all that comes with a star-studded dressing room.

The new Barcelona coach also still needs to make adjustments to the defence, presumably in the form of new signings.

And most importantly, the club needs a coach with sound tactical knowledge. It had become everyone’s favourite claim: “Anybody can manage, what, with Messi et al”. However, it was evident in that two months under Jordi Roura last season that this isn’t so.

Yes, they were distracted, but at times Barcelona were tactically inept. Perhaps this was most visible in the Champions League 2-0 loss to AC Milan at the San Siro when Barça didn’t have a plan beyond A, despite their dominance of the game.

Speaking of a plan B, Barcelona’s new coach has to find one – and one which doesn’t offend the Barcelona purists.

Purists shouldn’t forget, however: Barcelona have been successful in the past with a Samuel Eto’o – and a David Villa later – and having a direct attacking threat. They have the tools now, with Neymar and Cristian Tello, to add the penetration they didn’t show in the second half of last season.

The coach faces the challenge, as well, of keeping Barcelona at the top of the food chain.

Real Madrid will be stronger in La Liga this season and they will spend to win – as they always do.

In Europe, Bayern Munich have proved they are the business. Madrid will be strong. Chelsea under Jose Mourinho can only grow and improve. And PSG, with their money trees, have emerged as a genuine contender thanks to their signings and last season’s Champions League performance.

Luis Enrique is the man favoured to take over at the Nou Camp. As a player he enjoyed legendary status at Barcelona playing 300 games for the club after joining from Real Madrid in 1996. His first coaching job was with Barcelona B, when he took over in June 2008 after Guardiola was promoted to the first team.

All in Barca...
He immediately masterminded Barcelona B’s to a return to the Spanish Second Division for the first time in more than a decade. After three years, he left for Roma but experienced a largely tumultuous 2011/12 season in the Italian capital and left with a year remaining on his deal.

Now Celta Vigo coach, Enrique still represents a figure that will command respect. Gerardo Martino, coach of the Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys, and Swansea boss and former Barcelona star, Michael Laudrup, are also said to be candidates.

But, whoever comes in, this is a big decision.

This would have sounded insane two years ago… but Barcelona’s seat at the table with the world’s best depends on it.

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