‘Més Que un Club’- More than a Club – are the words proudly displayed all over the Nou Camp; a phrase that encapsulates FC Barcelona, an organization constantly involved in humanitarian efforts and so much more. To FC Barcelona, the beautiful game is far more than just that. A legendary team that has graced the pitch since 1899, when Joan Gamper and a few close friends founded Futbol Club Barcelona, to the current day where FC Barcelona represents an identity for millions worldwide in all senses of the word, from society to politics and even culture.
Over the last 15 years, FC Barcelona has been spearheaded by successful coaches including Louis van Gaal to Frank Rijkaard, and most notably Pep Guardiola. Now, with Francesc “Tito” Vilanova having replaced one of Barcelona’s most successful managers, the question has to be asked; will FC Barcelona’s legacy continue to prosper under Tito in the same manner as Chelsea did, post-Mourinho, or do they face the downward spiral that befell Blackburn after Brian Kidd, who spent 10 years under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, took over the reins of a huge club for the first time?
Can Tito Successfully follow in Guardiola’s Footsteps?
Guardiola’s legacy is one that will undoubtedly live on, and with 14 titles in 3 seasons, it will be a tough dynasty to top. Pep’s resignation, one that shook the football community the world over may still have many questioning as to whether his decision to quit was a respectable one, or simply an easy way out after a season that failed to live up to expectations. Regardless of which you believe to be true, the wheel continues to turn and with Tito at the helm, everyone is anxiously waiting to see what Vilanova will do with the squad. Will he stick to Pep’s once-foolproof formula, or will he choose a different route, one sure to lead him on his own destiny?
As Pep’s assistant for five years, it goes without saying that there may be no other person who knows the strengths and weaknesses of the team any better. But considering Barcelona’s disastrous season last year, it may be time to face the fact that Barcelona’s opponents have finally figured out the tactical methods of this once “unstoppable team”. Case in point; Chelsea FC, all it took for the Blue Lions was “parking the bus” to eliminate Barcelona from the Champions League race. Add to that the fact that Barça helplessly stood by and watched the La Liga title slip away, while we all witnessed a squad that certainly did not resemble the Barcelona we all grew to admire. Admittedly, Barcelona suffered numerous hits in the shape of injuries, and as the season went on, the defense continued to unravel in front of our eyes…but, considering the superstar line-up at Tito’s disposal, we all have to wait and see if Vilanova can turn Barça’s fate around.
The La Liga season may still be in the early stages, but FC Barcelona has already secured a safe lead ahead of rivals, Real Madrid, whose season has been off to a shaky start. Despite snatching the Supercopa title away from FC Barcelona during the return leg of the tournament, Real Madrid doesn’t seem like an immediate threat, but like I said, it’s still early in the season, and in the beautiful game, anything is possible.
Even though many a fan and critic alike took comfort in the fact that Barcelona appointed from within, and chose a person who was more than just an assistant manager, but a close friend of Pep’s, for those who expect the same philosophies and characteristics to continue, prepare to have your dreams dashed, as Tito’s strategy is the complete opposite of the former manager.
Truth be told, Vilanova’s tactical method is a far cry from that of Guardiola. Unlike the latter, Vilanova spends hours on preparation, and perhaps the greatest difference between the two men is that Guardiola focused on attacking play (and who wouldn’t with the likes of Messi and Villa), whereas Tito is a man that is known to build from the back. Judging by the shaky defense during Barcelona’s preseason games, as well as the first few matches of the La Liga season, much work needs to be done to secure that disastrous backline. With defensive gaffs by Valdes, Pique and Mascherano having already reared its ugly head, Tito’s mission is clear as day – strengthen the FCB backline, and soon!
Unlike Guardiola, who repeatedly refused to blame the Barcelona defense, Tito admitted this very fact during his first press conference as Barcelona’s manager. As always, it was that very statement that set the rumor mills into overdrive, with claims that the likes of Valdes and Busquets could lose their spots, if there is no improvement. A complete 360 turnaround from the Guardiola-era, all attention will now be on defense. The question remains: does Tito have enough experience to lead Barcelona back to the top? Only time will tell…
Stage set for the New Season?
As the new season starts shaping up, the next logical question that follows is whether the new acquisitions will indeed strengthen the team? FC Barcelona’s most dangerous weapon, Lionel Messi, seems to be well on track, already breaking his first record of the season by becoming the only player to score two goals in both of the first games in a La Liga season, which hasn’t been done since the 1928/1929 season. Villa is finally back after an injury last December that kept him off of the pitch for the better part of the season, and with a stellar midfield including the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, it seems the Barcelona offense will remain a dangerous element for any opponent. As mentioned before, it is the Barça defense that is a cause for concern at this point in time. Blaugrana fans are all hopeful that new signing, Alex Song, may be the answer to that very predicament.
Song, a surly and strong defender may be just what is needed to solidify the Barcelona backline that seemed to unravel during the last two months of Guardiola’s era, and since we haven’t quite seen a vast improvement in Barça’s defense, many speculate that Song was brought in to cover for Busquets…a player that may be shown the door sooner than expected. Furthermore, Song adds even more depth to the squad, allowing Tito to choose from three midfielders, which may open the door to even more tactical surprises for opponents.
As for Jordi Alba, a speedy youngster, who has already displayed that the chemistry between himself and FCB’s maestro, Xavi, is a guaranteed recipe for success only adds to the Blaugrana threat. Surely we all witnessed the dynamic duo during Euro 2012, and given the fact that he is only 23 years old, there is plenty of time for this pair to mature and turn into an even bigger threat. Jordi’s instant partnership with Iniesta further compliments the squad, adding a new found strength and agility to the team.
FC Barcelona’s Destiny at the Helm of Tito
The million dollar question remains, does Tito Vilanova have what it takes to lead FC Barcelona back to former glory after the disaster that was last season? And can Barcelona reclaim La Liga glory, as well as the revered Champions League title?
Tito’s wealth of knowledge regarding the squad may be his biggest strength, but unless Barcelona can keep opponents from scoring, that insight won’t lead the team anywhere. If, and only if Tito can successfully build the squad from the back, solidifying the Barcelona defense, the football nation can once again sit back and continue to watch the swift and seamlessly effortless tiki-taka grace the pitches around the world, while we all bear witness to the Vilanova-era unfolding. iVisca Barça!
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