Pep Guardiola inherited something great. He improved it, but didn’t see it through to completion. He will step down as FC Barcelona manager at the end of the season, and Tito Vilanova will take his place. His task is to continue Guardiola’s work toward making Barcelona play a more perfect brand of soccer, and it should be an easy one.
Barcelona is already the finished product. It boasts a squad of superstars which won 13 trophies since 2008. It was one of the world soccer’s elite teams in 2011-12, winning three major trophies including the FIFA Club World Cup.
The Catalans were a few inches left, right, up or down from reaching the UEFA Champions League final. There is every reason to believe that if Eric Abidal and David Villa were not long-term absences, or a concussion hadn’t forced Gerard Pique out of the climactic semifinal, it could have outlasted Real Madrid to win La Liga and brushed Chelsea aside in Europe.
The team Villanova inherits is more than capable of reaching those exalted heights next season and beyond.
If Barcelona wanted to look outside the club for its next manager, it could choose from some of the world’s top bosses. There would be no shortage of agents pitching their clients for the job, but no one would have been a better choice than Vilanova.
As Guardiola’s assistant for the last five years, he knows the club — its players, personalities, strengths and weaknesses — better than anyone other than Guardiola.
A manager from outside the club would have come onto the scene with new ideas and methods that may not have fit with the current squad.
We’ve seen how important it is to have every player on board in the case of the Chelsea camp. Just two months ago, it was on the verge of implosion under Andre Villas-Boas. He was fired, and Roberto di Matteo is taking the Blues to both Wembley Stadium and the Allianz Arena (for the finals of the FA Cup and Champions League).
Barcelona knows how important it is to have everyone pulling in the same direction. That’s why its directors are so bullish on the choice of Villanova.
“We’ve always said that if the team needs players, we look at home first (Barcelona B). Who do we have here at home? Tito [Villanova],” sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said.
Guardiola endorsed the move to promote his longtime assistant.
“I think the club has taken the best decision possible,” he said. “He is more than capable. The players know him. He will make few changes. He will give the club and these players something that I thought I could no longer.
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell gave the third (and largest) stamp of approval.
“We hope to follow the inheritance that Pep leaves us with the best we can,” he said. “He has made us proud.”
Villanueva has an easy job on his hands. All he needs to do over the next year or two is continue to focus the team on what it does so well — score goals and win soccer games — and improve on its few weaknesses.
As long as he remembers that the Barca project, his inheritance, is bigger than him, he should have few major problems. He owes it to himself. He owes it to Guardiola. He owes it to Barca fans. And he owes it to all those who love the beautiful game.
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