When you have someone fighting for his life, it's strange to even think about its implications on football. Unfortunately, Barcelona fans have been confronted with just those thoughts a lot recently.
Last season, they may have asked whether the team would have won the Champions League with the steady Eric Abidal patrolling the left flank, not fighting a liver tumor. This season, they wonder if the unimpressive results of the past few weeks are partly due to the absence of coach Tito Vilanova, who is receiving treatment from cancer.
Some of these results have included an acceptable but wholly unspectacular 1-1 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal against Real Madrid and a tepid draw with Valencia last week.
Jordi Roura has taken over in the interim, although Vilanova is in constant communication with all of the staff. Roura, a scout under Pep Guardiola's regime and in his first year as assistant manager, does not have such an impressive CV as manager.
His lone head coaching job was at CE L'Hospitalet, a team in the Spanish third division that fired him before being relegated into the fourth division.
But with Vilanova's life on the line, who cares about Barca's matches? Well, Tito himself does, for one.
It's been reported that Vilanova watches the games on the internet and sends his recommendations via mobile phone. It's probable that he has final say in team selection and strategy. So while Roura is the maximum authority on the field, it's still Vilanova's team.
Then, does it really make a difference? Would Vilanova really have made more subs in the game against Madrid or rotated the squad more against Valencia, both concepts the fans demanded after the results had come in?
Maybe, but probably not. Vilanova has made it a habit to make his subs late, and while some fans hoped to see David Villa subbed in against Madrid, Vilanova did no such thing in the previous meeting between the sides when he was on the field.
However, picking lineups and making subs is but a small part of the puzzle that entails being a manager. In fact, it's probably the easiest part. Here, I can pick a lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Iniesta. Sub in Villa, Thiago, and Alexis. Or whatever.
The behind-the-scenes is what really can make a manager, and something I probably can't replicate. It's the small adjustments, the observations in training, and even the halftime speeches. Sure, Vilanova sends his recommendations but it's not quite the same.
In-game, they arrive with a delay as the TV signal goes to the internet and travels to New York, and as he types his message, which travels back to Europe.
In training, Vilanova cannot observe how the players are doing first-hand. Any decisions he makes are filtered. It's not a huge handicap, but it's not ideal.
Any words he has for the team are filtered as well, by phone, written word, or video chat. It's just not quite the same.
While Roura is talented (again, he was a successful scout that studied other opponents under Guardiola and has done a good job given the circumstances), undoubtedly Vilanova is the better manager of the two.
So, is the team affected by their manager being away? Yes, but not by much. It's not an excuse, but it's only logical.