Barcelona's new boss Tito Vilanova must emerge from the shadows
The first time many football fans noticed the incoming Barcelona head coach was during last August’s Spanish Supercopa game at the Camp Nou.
Images of the controversial incident which marred the game’s climax were widely circulated, but many onlookers had to ask who was the guy in the club polo shirt being poked in the eye by Madrid boss José Mourinho.
Barca supporters recognised Francesc ‘Tito’ Vilanova, the trusted right-hand man and close personal friend of head coach Pep Guardiola.
The two first met when entering the La Masia youth ranks in the same year (1984), and although Tito was two years older than Pep they struck a friendship which continued despite their senior careers diverging.
While Guardiola was winning the 1992 European Cup and six league titles with Barca, Vilanova – also a ball-playing midfielder – left in 1990 and moved through lesser sides Figueres, Celta Vigo, Badajoz, Mallorca, Lleida, Elche and Gramanenet before retiring in 2002.
His coaching career began back at Barcelona’s ‘cadets’ – where his charges included Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fábregas and Leo Messi. He then had short spells as coach or sporting director at some smaller Catalan sides, before Guardiola offered hm the Barca B assistant job in 2007.
Often seen on the training ground or sideline, Vilanova became known in Spain as “Guardiola’s shadow”. The 42-year-old is seen as a nice guy and hard worker but many number twos have found it very difficult to make the step up over the years.
“He’s like Guardiola, only calmer,” said Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets. That calm temperment is about to be tested. Especially by his new direct rival in Madrid.
Speaking after August’s confrontation, Mourinho asked mockingly: “Who is ‘Pito’ Vilanova?” he asked. We are all about to find out.
*Born: 17 September 1969 in Bellcaire d’Empordà near Girona, Catalonia.
*Came through the ranks at Barcelona, then played midfield for clubs including Celta Vigo and Real Mallorca.
*Was assistant coach to Guardiola at Barcelona B in 2007/08, and made same jump to the senior team in June 2008.
*Was assaulted by Real Madrid coach José Mourinho during a heated Spanish Supercopa game last August.
*Underwent a successful operation last November to remove a tumour from a parotid gland.