As football fans we can moan and gripe about the abilities of our management or the performance of our team but it all pales into insignificance when there is such shitty news as the announcement this evening that Tito Vilanova will have to stand down as Barça’s coach due to his need to try a new treatment against his parotid gland cancer which will leave him unable to fulfil his coaching role.
The news is dreadful in two ways. On the personal level it means Tito still has a big fight on his hands against his illness. It’s a terrible thing for anybody to go through and it is of course extremely tough also on the family and friends of the victim. It is also a big blow for Barça as a club, as well as the emotional strain, the club is left without a coach with little time to prepare for the new season. In May we were told that doctors had advised Vilanova to continue working. It might be considered that this advice was indeed best for Vilanova at the time as often work can be better than having nothing more to do than think about the illness. However, whether this was the best advice with the future of the team in mind is another matter.
Tomorrow’s preseason friendly at Lechia Gdansk, which was to be the first of the 2013/14 season, has been cancelled and Joan Francesc Ferrer ‘Rubi’ has been appointed caretaker coach for now though a new coach is expected to be announced next week. The policy of promoting from within looks likely to be abandoned due to Rubi and Jordi Roura and Eusebio’s relative lack of experience. This leaves Barça with the choice of finding an unemployed coach who fits the bill of understanding the Barça philosophy and style, or poaching a coach from another club which will not be taken well by any club on the receiving end of such a move.
There are quite a few names already being mentioned as possible candidates. Unattached coaches include Jupp Heynckes, Marcelo Bielsa, Luis Carreras and Frank Rijkaard while coaches currently working at other clubs who have been mentioned include Luis Enrique (Celta), Oscar Garcia (Brighton), Alejandro Valverde (Athletic Club), Frank de Boer (Ajax), Andre Villas-Boas (Tottenham), Michael Laudrup (Swansea) and Ronald Koeman (Feyenoord).
Poaching a coach, as well as being a pretty ungentlemanly thing to do so close to the new season, is also most likely to involve the payment of compensation. Here I feel the club may have been a bit short-sighted in not bringing in Luis Enrique as another assistant to Vilanova with the knowledge that he could step up when Tito was unavailable. However, Celta have just signed the Asturian and in the same way we missed getting back Oscar Garcia who has joined Brighton. If the club went for either of these options now, it would highlight its previous negligence. Valverde, De Boer, Villas-Boas, Laudrup and Koeman all have their qualities but none of them stand out for me as the obvious choice.
I can’t get too excited about any of the other names mentioned. Heynckes might be seen as a Bobby Robson-type who could come in for a short period before a better candidate was found, but he is not going to be seen as a long-term option. A year ago I would have been reasonably happy with the option of Bielsa but last season he seemed to lose the plot a bit at Athletic and he might be a bit risky. Carreras seems an exciting young coach but whether he could coach Barça as well as he managed at Sabadell is a big doubt, while Rijkaard should not really be considered after his inability to control the dressing room at the end of his first spell at the club.
It’s going to be a difficult job to find the right coach. Personally I would like to see Luis Enrique but knowing the type of professional he is I think it is most unlikely he would leave Celta after signing for them unless Celta were persuaded (by Barça) to offer their approval for such a deal.
However, the toughest situation now is for Tito Vilanova. He won La Liga in his one season in charge while equalising the maximum total ever of 100 points. His season in charge might have been even better if he hadn’t been forced to miss two months through earlier treatment. The illness has robbed him of the chance for further success for now. Hopefully he will respond well to the newly proposed treatment and kick the disease into touch once and for all.