When Tito Vilanova was appointed the manager of Barcelona FC after the departure of Pep Guardiola, I heard people mouth that word, which has sort of become a new internet trend, ‘meh’. I wouldn’t have blamed them too because I had my own apprehensions. Here was a man whose only incident of press fame was being the victim of a Kung Fu style eye gouge by the Special One, (or ‘The Special Needs One’ like I refer to him these days) and nothing else. How was a man who was replacing Pep going to keep up with the expectations of success that Pep had brought about? Pep was an embodiment of the passion of the Catalan club. How was Tito going to deal with the mind games Jose would throw at him, starting from the expected ‘who Tito’ he throws to the chuckle of Madrid news reporters.
The Special One was wrong. The people were wrong. I was wrong. Tito Vilanova had a cool of three feet of snow dumped by a storm. What I failed to realize and then did was Tito had been Pep’s right hand man for years, but above all, had been in the scene when Messi broke into the Barcelona youth and Barcelona B squads. So while Messi was learning his trade and growing and the world had not yet heard of him, he was coaching the little genius. He knew all the players inside out. By being the assistant of Pep, he ensured his growth as a coach. Then came the time to step into the limelight. But here was a man that didn’t let it faze him. While Pep couldn’t deal with the mind politics hurled at him, Tito did not bat an eyelid. Jose had met his match. But a complete opposite one. Tito was happy being ‘the not so special one’. The passion of Pep was good stuff for the press but with Tito everybody got to see a cool, calm, collected speaker. And a thinker.
Then there was the question of how he would set his team up. It just seemed easy to follow the footprint that Pep set up. But it was not to be. It got better. Sixteen games in, Barcelona has just dropped two points and has broken the record for the best start to a La Liga campaign. Messi is at his lethal best. The ball retention of this Barelona could realistically not be improved, but Tito’s team was making much better passes. They were taking more risks and playing more of the odd but decisive long balls. If there was anyone who is responsible for Jose to announce to the world he has never been in a position where his team has not achieved their objectives, it is Tito’s doing but unlike his arch rival, he will never prod and poke, and let his team do the talking.
As news of the reappearance of his tumor is making the press as we speak and of him stepping down, Tito Vilanova has shown that he can go beyond what Barcelona has already achieved. If only he could come back soon and finish off what he has continued and gleaned and polished, he might actually be at the helm when Barcelona will be crowned ‘The Greatest Team of The Century’.
P.S. – Tito Vilanova was also the first player to score against Jose Mourinho when he had taken over the realms for the first time ever of The Barcelona team for the Copa Cataluña. It seems he could be Mourinho’s nemesis. The funny thing is he doesn’t even have to utter a word.