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Tito Vilanova: Player, Coach, Survivor - An ode to FC Barcelona's former coach

Editor's Pick 26 Jul 2013, 21:00 IST

FC Barcelona v RCD Mallorca - La Liga

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”

Bill Shankly , former Liverpool FC manager

Bill Shankly said this in an interview once, half jokingly. Football, for the everyday fan, is as simple as a sport. Die-hard fans though will agree with this quote readily, because for them, it is everything.

Life and death. A phrase used in many movies and novels alike, as is mentioned above; it’s quite the dialogue enhancer, isn’t it? Life and death. This article, I hope, will help you understand that when life does come into the question, football and everything becomes secondary. And a major statement regarding this topic to the media will be – transfer news and management appointments are included in those secondary aspects!

Football, like any other sport, is full of ups and downs. Victory and defeat come hand in hand, the victory cherished and the defeat painfully remembered. Football is all about creating chances and taking them well, and putting the ball into the net; winning your team the match is the best thing that can happen to a player.

Teams often ride on the chances created by their mid-fielders and the chances taken by their strikers. Strikers are often the poster boys of their respective teams and sometimes, mid-fielders are the most famous. Defenders are great, yet most of the times they aren’t remembered just as fondly.

There is one more important entity. This entity is one which guides and nurtures the team, like a captain steering a ship through a sea full of obstacles – the manager. A manager is like the north star- a symbol, a model of guidance and hope. Managers often have it the hardest in a football team. They are expected to win every match, make sure players get enough time on the pitch, keep the owners happy and finally answer to the fans in times of defeat.

Being a manager isn’t a simple task; it is a thankless job. Respect is paid to men who have achieved many great things over long periods of time, consistently. ‘Regular’ men, as they say, are those who have achieved only small things. But whether they achieve anything or not, football managers are not ‘regular’ men, they are not your average Tom, Dick and Harry.

These are men who deserve every accolade they can get, because day in and day out, they are the ones administering the team, training the team, and travelling everywhere with the team. They are the ones who live and breathe for the team, they are the greatest fans. I pay my respect to a similar man in this article, a man whom I admire and respect. He goes by the name of Francesc “Tito” Vilanova i Bayó. Or simply, Tito Vilanova.

Tito grew up in the Spanish town of Girona, in Catalonia. He started out as a youth player at FC Barcelona in the early 1980s, as a central mid-fielder. Unable to break through the first team, he joined various Spanish teams over the course of a 13-year long career – netting a total of 26 goals in 302 matches.

After a career as a mildly successful player, he decided to set foot in the managerial world. His first stint as a manager was in the year 2002, when he took over tercera division team FC Palafrugell. After that he started working as a technical director at Terrassa FC. He was later appointed assistant manager at FC Barcelona B, under manager Pep Guardiola, with the club in the fourth level. His time with Guardiola, both with Barcelona B and Barcelona, will forever be remembered.

In the summer of 2008, after helping Barcelona B gain promotion to the second division, he was appointed as the assistant manager to Pep Guardiola (the manager) of FC Barcelona. They replaced the Dutch duo Frank Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens in their respective posts.

What followed later were four of the most successful years for Barcelona as they achieved glory, both domestic and in Europe – winning a total of 14 trophies. However, Pep Guardiola  quit at the end of his 4-year tenure at the club in 2012, and rightfully replacing him was his partner in crime – Tito Vilanova.

When Pep Guardiola left last season, it was at the end of a period of heartbreak — two matches that crushed the team’s Champions League hopes, along with one that crushed its La Liga hopes. That is life, sadly. After an extended period of such unfettered joy, the announcement came like a bang.

Some wept at the news of Guardiola’s exit. Others wondered what was next. But tears had become such a part of this club’s recent history that even as people wept, it seemed part of the status quo; the fans were used to it.

We forget that before that was a staggering, extraordinary, beautiful match at home against Getafe, that found the club playing a kind of football that had been rarely seen that season. Triumph and pain, together.

Success was achieved, hearts won over, history made. Guardiola was the architect, Vilanova the assistant.

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