BARCELONA: Veteran Carles Puyol has given Tito Vilanova the dressing-room seal of approval for his role as Barcelona coach next season in succession to outgoing Pep Guardiola.
Vilanova, assistant to Guardiola for the past four years of unprecented, 13-trophy success, has been named as new boss by president Sandro Rosell in the wake of Guardiola’s announcement of impending resignation.
Pujol, Spain’s Euro and World Cup-winning defender, said: “Tita is the ideal person to take over. He knows us all better than anyone, he has a great knowledge and understanding of football, he shares the philosophy of the team and he has worked with Guardiola for five years at the club.”
Barcelona visit Rayo Vallecano in Madrid on Sunday night in the first game since the Champions League exit to Chelsea and 41-year-old Guardiola’s decision to step down at the season’s end after the cup final against Bilbao.
The likes of Laurent Blanc and Marcelo Bielsa had been linked with the Barca post when it become apparent Guardiola was considering his future but the club’s sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta feels promoting from within was the best way forward.
He said: “We chose Tito because he represents the idea and the image. He has commitment and personality. We’ve always said that if the team needs players, we look at home first. Who do we have here at home? Tito.”
Guardiola added: “I think the club has taken the best decision possible. He is more than capable. The players know him. He will make few changes. He will give the club and these players something that I thought I could no longer give. I could have continued but that is not what Barca would have deserved.”
Vilanova, 42, has only recently returned to work after having a throat tumour removed in November last year and has maintained a low profile in his role as assistant, his biggest claim to fame coming when he was poked in the eye by Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho during the Spanish Supercopa at the start of the season.
Guardiola explained the fear of burn-out was behind his decision to walk and insisted he would now be taking time away from the pressures of coaching.
He added: “I would like you to understand that this is not an easy decision for me. But I would like to explain my reasons for this decision. I have always wanted short-term contracts. Four years is an eternity as Barca coach. In the month of October I announced to the president and to the sporting director that I thought my spell was coming to an end.
“I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries.
“The demands have been great and I have not been able to rest much. I have to recover and the only way I can do that is by distancing myself. Otherwise, we would have ended up damaging each other. I know that I’m leaving the best place to work in. I am very satisfied with the result we have achieved. I have had the great privilege of coaching fantastic players. I want to thank them.
“I don’t know what I will do now but I will not go straight to coaching.”
President Sandro Rosell hailed Guardiola’s contribution and backed Vilanova to continue Barca’s success. He said: “Pep always takes the best decision for this club. It was his decision and it’s a personal one and an understandable one. We hope to follow the inheritance that Pep leaves us with the best we can. He has made us proud.
“Tito and Andoni will now work on next season’s planning and I am sure they will do a good job.”
Guardiola succeeded Frank Rijkaard in 2008 and has gone on to become the most successful coach in the club’s illustrious history. He departs having led the azulgrana to two Champions League crowns, three La Liga trophies, one Copa del Rey, three Supercopas, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.
But last Saturday’s home defeat to Real Madrid means the Primera Division title is Bernabeu-bound while their Champions League defence ended with Tuesday’s elimination by Chelsea.
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