Tito Vilanova’s departure as Barcelona coach at the end of last week, forced as a result of a relapse in his battle against throat cancer, raised a major question for the Catalan giants.
How would they go about replacing Vilanova, and who was to be the man given responsibility for continuing the good work of Vilanova?
When Vilanova himself was appointed last year, the transition was seamless following the departure of Pep Guardiola. Continuity was the key. The question they faced was whether they could make an appointment that will continue that tradition of keeping things running the way they always have been at the Camp Nou? Jordi Roura, Vilanova’s assistant last season hardly distinguished himself when in charge last year and so the club looked to the outside.
Luis Enrique was the early favourite and an obvious choice. He continued Guardiola’s good work with the Barcelona B squad when Guardiola took over the senior team in 2008. He then went to Roma, charged with bringing Barcelona’s philosophy to Serie A. That did not work, but Enrique remains a talented manager. Indeed he was recently appointed as coach of Celta Vigo, and so his appointment would mean that he leaves Spain’s west coast without having coached his new team in a competitive match. But he knows Barcelona’s traditions, he has played there and understands the philosophy. There was a logic there.
Instead it turned out that the man they really wanted was Gerardo Martino. The former Paraguay coach joined from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina and seems to share the Barcelona ethos and would be a popular choice with the world’s best player – Leo Messi, a Newell’s Old Boys fan. Martino said as much after his appointment: “I’m sure they (the Messis) were asked their opinion and we’ve come to this outcome,” said Martino.”
It would be no surprise either. Not only do they come from the same city, Rosario, and Martino coached Messi’s boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys to the Clausura championship in Argentina as well as the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores this year. And significantly Adrian Coria is a key part of Martino’s staff – and he was the one who discovered Messi as an 11 year old and developed him for the next two years before his departure to Barcelona.
Most significantly though, Martino buys into the Barcelona philosophy. Consider the following comments that he has made. “I go for possession, attacking, putting a lot of men in the opposing half, taking risks, making sure the defenders look back and for there to be forty metres between them and the keeper, for them not to stop playing the ball, when they have to move up, they move up, when they have to use the wings, they use the wings, and the ball shouldn’t be in the air unless there’s a reason.”
These were comments made to Perfil last May and illustrate Martino’s belief in a style of play not only similar to Barcelona’s, but to Marcelo Bielsa. Bielsa of course influenced Pep Guardiola before he became Barcelona coach, and is one of the most important coaches in modern football.
At Barcelona the choice appears to be mainly about the philosophy of the man involved rather than their acheivements. Guardiola, Frank Riijkard and Tito Vilanova were not noted for any achievements in management before being brought on board at the Catalan giants, yet all were successes in their different ways. Martino buys into the same Bielsa inspired philosophy and he could well be the perfect fit for the Camp Nou outfit going forward.