By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The search is on. Barcelona announced on Friday that Tito Vilanova is unable to continue as coach of the Catalan club due to health concerns as he steps aside to continue cancer treatment. And as he does so, attentions turn to the man who will replace him.
Former Barca midfielder and B-team coach Luis Enrique is the favourite to replace Vilanova, with Gerardo Martino also interesting the Catalan club and a meeting with the Argentine is planned for Monday.
However, a whole host of other names have also been mentioned as Barca seek a coach to lead them to success at home and in Europe in 2013-14. Here, Goal takes a look at the key criteria as the Catalans search for the right man to build on the work of Pep Guardiola and Vilanova over the past five years.
News of Vilanova's relapse hit Barcelona hard and although the Catalan club had pre-empted the need for extra help by appointing former Girona boss Rubi after Tito took time out last season for cancer treatment, they had not expected to be looking for a full-time replacement at this stage.
Late July is not the ideal time to be searching for a new coach and that has limited the Catalans' options. Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas was installed by bookmakers as an early favourite for the post, but Barca have little or no chance of persuading the Portuguese to leave White Hart Lane just one year into a promising project and so late in the close season.
Similarly, Michael Laudrup has committed to Swansea after a successful season at the Welsh side in 2012-13. The Dane, who was heavily linked with another of his former sides, Real Madrid, earlier this summer, signed a new deal to remain in the Premier League and knows a move to Camp Nou would upset his current employers.
Luis Enrique is in a similar situation, having signed with Celta Vigo earlier this summer, but the former Barcelona and Spain star has not been officially registered by the Galician outfit and could be available for around €3 million, with Barca set to offer Rubi (also tipped early on as a successor to Tito) as a possible replacement.
Athletic Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde is another coach who has long been admired by the Catalan club. A former Barcelona player, Valverde is always mentioned when the Blaugrana need a new coach, but he has just taken over at Athletic and his strong ties with the Basque outfit mean a move is almost impossible.
Former Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes and ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson are unlikely to be tempted out of retirement and would not represent long-term options in any case, while Roberto Mancini is available after leaving Manchester City in the summer but is not high up the list of candidates.
Frank Rijkaard is also available, but his previous tenure at Camp Nou ended with two trophyless seasons and he is unlikely to be brought in for a second spell.
That leaves two Rosario natives, Marcelo Bielsa and Gerardo Martino. Both are available, with the former having left Athletic at the end of last season and the latter currently unattached following a spell at Newell's. The two men are under consideration, although Martino is the preferred option of Lionel Messi and an intriguing choice if Barcelona cannot sign Luis Enrique.
|CLUB KNOWLEDGE & CONTINUITY
Luis Enrique played 300 games for Barcelona and also worked as coach of Barca B for three seasons between 2008 and 2011. During that time, the Asturian worked closely with first-team trainer Guardiola and assistant Vilanova.
The 43-year-old has played alongside some senior members of the playing squad, such as Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Victor Valdes, while he has also coached many of the side's younger players in his time at Barca B. If the Blaugrana want continuity and knowledge of the club, there is nobody better.
Valverde and Laudrup both played for the Catalan club too, but their association with Barca is less recent and they would be much more difficult to recruit as well, while Rijkaard is not under serious consideration despite his success between 2003 and 2006, when Barca won two Liga titles and a Champions League under his stewardship. The Dutchman was appointed by previous president Joan Laporta and Rosell is keen to distance himself from his former friend - now an enemy.
Martino, meanwhile, has the advantage of being Messi's choice, but the Argentine coach is untried in Europe.
Some of Athletic Bilbao's brilliant performances in 2011-12 were reminiscent of Barcelona at their best and Guardiola sought advice from Bielsa over a barbecue before embarking on his coaching career. Theirs is a shared philosophy and Pep admitted on several occasions that the Argentine would be a great choice to succeed him at Camp Nou. In terms of playing style alone, the former Argentina boss would seem a suitable selection, although some of the Atheltic squad admitted it took time for them to adjust to the complex ideas implemented by El Loco.
Martino's philosophy is similar to that of Bielsa and he is a great admirer of Barca's play. His Newell's side played positive, attractive football on their way to winning the title and reaching the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores. His style would also be a good fit.
Laudrup's attacking brand of football has won him many admirers at Camp Nou, while Valverde is popular for the same reasons and Andre Villas-Boas' ideas are also well in tune with the Catalan club. The Portuguese is flexible tactically and a known admirer of the 4-3-3 system favoured by Barca.
So too is Luis Enrique, who, like Guardiola, has played in the system for the Catalan club and also adopted the formation at Barca B. The 43-year-old, a marathon runner and triathlon competitor, also likes his sides to be incredibly fit and that will appeal to the Camp Nou hierarchy - especially after Barca faded physically at the end of last season and were exposed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals.
Mancini, meanwhile, is not considered to be suitable due to his more pragmatic approach, although Barca may have made a move for his successor at City, Manuel Pellegrini, had Tito stepped down at the end of last season. The club have long admired the Chilean's Barca-style blueprint, but his arrival is impossible at the moment as he has just moved to Manchester.
|RELATIONSHIP WITH PLAYERS & PRESS
Bielsa's relationship with the press is tense at times, while the Argentine fell out with many of his players at Athletic, including Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente, both of whom ended up leaving the club. Barca are therefore reluctant to appoint the former Albiceleste boss, who rarely stays for more than two seasons at any of his clubs and often leaves on poor terms.
Martino is much less controversial. Not always appreciated by the Paraguayan press when he coached their national team, the former Newell's boss has nevertheless enjoyed a relatively harmonious relationship with the media wherever he has been and is popular with his players, too.
For his part, Luis Enrique was accused of arrogance after his time at Roma and is hugely demanding of his players in a similar way to Guardiola, something which Barcelona perhaps missed in the second half of last season. The 43-year-old was also a popular player and coach at the Catalan club and that will mean he is given greater leniency by the Catalan press and fans alike. It should also earn him the respect of the players, many of whom he already knows very well and has worked with on and off the pitch.
Of the other names in contention, Laudrup and Heynckes both suit the profile of a prospective coach at Camp Nou, popular as they are with press and players alike. It is worth remembering that Jose Mourinho was ruled out by Barca in 2008 due to both his playing style and his controversial relationship with the media.
A look at Barcelona's last three coaches shows silverware claimed elsewhere is not the most important criteria: Rijkaard arrived at Camp Nou without a major trophy, Guardiola had no top-level experience and Vilanova was promoted from the role of assistant. All, however, went on to be successful coaches for the Catalan club.
Of the coaches linked over the last few days, Heynckes is the most successful (with the exception of Ferguson, who would almost certainly not consider a move to Barca). Mancini has also enjoyed success, while Villas-Boas won three titles in a single season at Porto, Martino claimed the Argentine championship with Newell's (as well as four Paraguayan league wins) and Laudrup picked up the League Cup at Swansea last season.
Luis Enrique may be without a major trophy in his short coaching career, but his track record as a player and a successful boss at Barca B (where he took the team up to the Segunda Division) makes him the most suitable of any of the men mentioned. So it is easy to see why the Asturian is the Catalans' top target this summer.
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