Tito Vilanova, the trusted assistant of Guardiola, would be taking the reins at the Catalan giants from next season. Rumours had swirled viciously in regards to who would be the man, to replace, well, the man. Marcelo Bielsa, praised for his exploits with Athletic Bilbao, Ernesto Valverde, who knew Barça inside-out, Luis Enrique too, and André Villas-Boas, a young free thinker like Pep himself. All these names and more had been thrown around, some certainly more than others.
In the end, the answer was under our noses. Vilanova, the man Guardiola deemed as a like-minded individual, the man Guardiola deemed as his confidant, counsellor and friend. To those on the outside looking in he’s recognised as the man in the tracksuit, operating within Guardiola’s shadow. The one time he stepped out, a certain Portuguese coach was to prod him in the eye.
It all started in La Masia, with conversations between the young Vilanova and Guardiola taking place while playing for Barça B, declaring their hope to play at Camp Nou one day. That they would end up sharing a bench together there never crossed their minds. They went their separate ways for a while during their playing careers before eventually being reunited at Barça B in a coaching capacity, which was to much success. A significant moment then came when Frank Rijkaard’s tenure at the club ended, and Guardiola moved into the hot seat. The one beside him, he reserved for his good friend Tito.
What happened next was historic. Barça embarked on a glorious haul of six trophies in that first season with the duo on the Camp Nou bench. Success continued to flow, and the relationship that began in 1984 only blossomed further. Guardiola and Vilanova would rigorously overlook various new formations, including many which we have seen this season, including the three man defence and four man attacking line, as well as players to integrate into these systems.
The blow to the players of hearing Sandro Rosell sound the words of Guardiola’s departure was softened by Andoni Zubizareta’s regarding the incoming Vilanova. A man Andrés Iniesta refers to as “The Encyclopaedia”, and the man Carles Puyol declared as “perfect” for the role. The universal praise and acknowledgement of his work is there to see, and importantly his work is the Barça philosophy. A staunch believer and preacher, the best interests of the club's famed ideals are very much at heart, and also the head. In Guardiola’s own words, Tito was part of the idea process that he voiced.
In a recent interview he was asked about various players, each time speaking intelligently and precise, be it Pedro’s positional awareness, Fàbregas’ versatility to operate deep or high, or David Villa’s acknowledgment of working between the lines. He also declared Messi “the sponge” because of his football understanding and ability to absorb even the most acute of details.
Compliments are all fine and well, but soon the real work will begin for Vilanova. The next step in Barça’s cycle is one of great magnitude. With La Liga surrendered on their own turf to the great rivals from the capital, and their tactics negated by a blue wall from London, the evolution of one the greatest sides of all time will be on his watch.
New faces will arrive, and others will go. There will certainly be new facets to their tactical approach. The one thing which will remain the same, and most important of all, is that the hands Barça are in learned to craft in La Masia.