Barcelona have called a press conference for 2.30 p.m. ET on Friday, where it is widely expected that coach Tito Vilanova will step down from his post. The 44-year-old former assistant to Pep Guardiola has been in charge for just one season. It was a campaign that was greatly disrupted around the New Year by a relapse of the cancer in the parotid saliva gland that forced Vilanova to undergo another operation as well as spending several weeks in New York for treatment. The news of his Vilanova’s departure was broken by Barcelona-based publication Sport, which suggests that he has suffered and a further setback in his recovery and decided that he now needs to focus fully on his health.
Everyone’s thoughts will now be with Vilanova, but for Barcelona the attention has to turn to finding a replacement as they continue their preparations to defend the Primera Division crown they won with a record points haul last season and to restore their dominance in Europe. Spanish sports daily AS has reported that Joan Francesc Ferrer Sicilia, known as Rubi, will temporarily take charge of the team. Rubi, who led Segunda Division side Girona into the playoffs last season, only joined Barcelona’s backroom staff this week.
Barcelona are a club that likes to appoint from within, but with little experience now in their backroom set up, a manager from outside looks likely to be sought. Still, crucial to the ethos of the club is maintaining a playing philosophy first created by Rinus Michels in the 1970s and furthered by his protégé and fellow Dutchman Johan Cruyff with the so-called “Dream Team” in the early 1990s.
Barcelona’s past two coaches Frank Rijkard and Pep Guardiola were both former Barcelona players and continued the same basic aesthetically-pleasing game plan. One candidate who would fit that mold and has also enjoyed recent success is Frank de Boer. The former Barcelona and Netherlands defender has won three consecutive Eiredivisie titles since taking up his first head coaching job with Ajax in 2010. The 43-year-old is tipped for bigger things, but it would still be a significant step up to take the Barcelona job at this stage of his career.
The same could also be said about another possible target Luis Enrique. Having played at the Camp Nou for eight years, the former Spain international returned to lead the club’s B team after Guardiola stepped up to take the main job in 2008. Enrique’s managerial career did not have the best of starts, however, as he endured a disappointing single season in charge of Serie A side Roma in 2011-12. Having just taken the reins at Celta Vigo, his release could well be difficult to negotiate.
It is not unthinkable too that there may be interest from Barcelona in Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas. While having no direct connection with the Catalans, the Portuguese coach has embraced the high-pressing approach that was such a feature of Barcelona’s success under Guardiola. In his short managerial career, the 35-year-old led Porto to a treble in his only season in charge before a short, ill-fated spell at Chelsea. But he has firmly restored his reputation in leading Tottenham to their highest-ever Premier League points total last season. The former member of Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan rejected an approach from Paris Saint-Germain earlier in the summer.
It would be an unwanted extra complication at this late stage of the summer to extract a manager already employed elsewhere and Barcelona would surely prefer to find someone who is immediately available. The list of realistic targets who fulfill that requirement will be short, but top of it could well be Jupp Heynckes. The German led Bayern Munich to an incredible treble last season before Guardiola stepped into his role for the coming campaign. It was widely expected that the 68-year-old would retire, but, while he has said that he has no intention of coaching again, he has not ruled it out entirely. An offer from Barcelona may prove just too good to refuse. How Barcelona fans would feel about his time in charge of bitter rivals Real Madrid is, perhaps, a different matter.
Whoever takes charge will be faced with immediate challenges, chief of which will be signing the leading central defender that is so visibly needed at the Camp Nou. Thiago Silva is Barcelona’s primary target, but the Brazilian’s club, Paris Saint-Germain, continue to refuse to negotiate his departure.
Taking things a step further this week, the French champions have said that if Barcelona meet Thiago Silva’s release clause then they will do the same for Lionel Messi. “If Barca pay the buyout clause of Thiago Silva then I will meet Messi's buyout clause," PSG president Sheikh Nasser Al-Khelafi said, according to Sky Sports.
Messi’s release clause stands at €250 million, but that would still not prove beyond reach for PSG’s Qatari owners, while they would also doubtless try to tempt the Argentinean with an unimaginably large contract offer. Still, it is hard to fathom any scenario in which Messi will decide that his future lies in Paris rather than the club for which he is so synonymous.