Tito Vilanova is about to face one of the toughest challenges ever in world football during his debut season: Succeeding Pep Guardiola, the most successful coach in over 110 years of Blaugrana history.
Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta... The golden generation which took our club to 14 out of 19 trophies in just 4 seasons are still here but the big question is whether they can recover from the loss of their inspirational manager and respond to the assistant who has been his shadow during that period in the same manner.
Preseason has gone smoothly, with players talking wonders about Tito Vilanova's coaching style within the dressing room and how he has already made the transition from assistant to head coach with ease.
Results also seem to be going Tito's way, with Barcelona still unbeaten after 5 preseason matches and scoring a total of 14 goals in the process. I am obviously fully aware that these were only friendly matches where the priority was increasing fitness and adapting to minor formation changes but, in terms of increasing players' confidence for the tough season ahead, a win is a win, no matter when or where.
Under Pep Guardiola, winning became second nature. Tito Vilanova has no intention of introducing dramatic changes so our focus on victory and working ethos should remain the same. In a club where fans expect not only titles but also excellent football in the process, it simply couldn't be any other way.
Last season was definitely the weakest under Pep Guardiola. Sure, it was remarkable to win 4 out of the 6 competitions we entered but failed to grab the 2 most desirable trophies. At the Camp Nou, a year without either La Liga or the Champions League can simply not be considered a total success.
Looking back, it seems clear that Barcelona simply didn't have what it takes when it mattered the most. You can argue the unfortunate long-term injuries David Villa, Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, Eric Abidal or Carles Puyol picked up didn't help. It must also be said that Pep Guardiola's decision to constantly swap our successful 4-3-3 formation with Johan Cruyff's classic 3-4-3 backfired, with new players such as Cesc Fabregas ending up feeling confused and key man Dani Alves feeling pushed out despite having excelled for years. A very poor overall performance from Gerard Piqué, reportedly due to disagreements with Guardiola, was also a hindrance.
Can the above be considered excuses? Of course not, they are only factors that influenced last season's outcome and, as such, the focus now must be on looking back at what went wrong and ensure those previous mistakes are never repeated again.
There are many reasons to be optimistic about the new season. Tito Vilanova ensures the continuation of the Pep Guardiola methods and philosophy. The core of our team remains unchanged. The addition of Jordi Alba adds fresh blood and blistering pace to our left wing. Dani Alves seems geared up again and full of confidence. Gerard Pique performed excellently at Euro 2012 and should be back to his best. Sergio Busquets continues to grow into a commanding midfielder. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are fit and ready to apply their "death-by-tiki-taka" turture once again. Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez begin their second season, meaning their adaptation period should now be truly over. David Villa and Pedro are back to fitness and determined to score the 20+ goals per season that Barcelona so dearly missed last season. Gerard Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto are beginning to show glimpses of greatness. And last, but definitely not least: Lionel Messi is still Lionel Messi.
I am fully aware that teams such as Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG or Manchester United are in a much stronger position than us when it comes to signing new players and, as a result, have managed to gather a remarkable amount of stars within their squads. While we respect the progress our rivals may have made, Barcelona's the expectations must be, quite simply, to lift every trophy we compete for. Only time will tell whether we end up winning them all or failing miserably. One thing is non-negotiable though: We expect nothing but 100% commitment from all our players and coaches. From then on, what will be, will be.
Pep is gone, Tito is our leader now. In football, the past counts for nothing. Time to write the future.
Tots Units Fem Força!!! (in English: Together We Are Stronger!)