Google+ Blueprint for Football: Barca's Quest for Style

Monday, August 12, 2013

Barca's Quest for Style

When Tito Vilanova announced the sad news that he was to stand down as Barcelona manager due to health reasons, it is fair to say that the Catalan giants could have gone for practically any top manager and got him.  And that is what practically every other club their size would have done because, according to popular wisdom, a top club needs a top manager.

Yet, Barcelona’s success in recent years has been achieved by doing things differently from other clubs.  For them a top manager isn’t defined by what he has achieved but what he can achieve or, perhaps more importantly, by how he wants to achieve it.

That is why in 2003 they went for Frank Rijkaard whose previous management experiences included a relegation with Sparta Rotterdam and failing to make it to the final of the home European championships with Holland despite possessing the most talented squad.  That is why, despite Jose Mourinho’s eagerness to join, in 2008 they went for Pep Guardiola.  That is why Vilanova, a virtual unknown with one disastrous previous experience as manager (relegated from the Tercera Division with Palafrugell), was promoted to the job in 2012.

And that is why they have gone for Gerardo ‘Tata’ Marino.

Marino, like Guardiola, is a discipline of Marcelo Bielsa for whom he played at Newell’s Old Boys in the early ninties.  He might be a bit more pragmatic than his master but he too preaches a game of football that is expansive and attractive.  His game is Barcelona’s game.

Which is why they went for him.  His successes might have been wholly based in South America and even there he hasn’t even won the premier competition, the Copa Libertadores.  Again, that did not matter to the Barcelona officials who were only interested in his philosophy and the fact that he had successfully installed it at Libertad, the Paraguay national team and, lately, at Newell’s Old Boys.

For Barcelona, their style of play is of utmost importance.  Every time they change manager, they bring in a replacement who might want some minor changes but whose grand vision matches their own.  Effectively, each time they change manager they make some updates to their system to keep it moving forward whilst ensuring that the general direction is the same.

This is vital not simply because of what happens in the first team but because every individual at La Massia is being coached so that eventually they can play in a system that favours technical players and that is based around a passing style of play.

Moving away from that style simply because you change the first team manager would ruin years of work and jeopardise your ability to develop talent at least on the short term.  It would be borderline crazy but it is the sort of craziness that most clubs don’t think twice before bringing about.

This piece originally appeared on Blueprint for Football Extra.  Sign up for your free copy.

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