Tito Vilanova was a player, an assistant, and a manager. His work, especially as an assistant to Pep Guardiola and as a head coach of FC Barcelona, deserves to be recognized more often.
Today marks two years since his sad passing, which occurred after he had resigned as coach due to health issues. I want to talk about a narrow, but important part of his legacy.
Tito was appointed as FC Barcelona's manager immediately after Pep Guardiola's departure. Tito had been Pep's assistant since the latter took over as B team coach, and the two had formed a wildly successful partnership that dominated European football.
(As an aside - why does no one wonder whether Pep's more muted success with Bayern Munich was in part because he did not have Tito at his side? But I digress.)
Guardiola left a team that was very good, but also quite disappointing in its previous campaign. Barcelona had captured the Copa del Rey title, but they went out against Chelsea in the Champions League. They also finished 9 points behind Real Madrid, and many had said the tide had finally turned and Jose Mourinho's team had surpassed the Blaugrana for good.
The club didn't spend all that much money during the summer, only getting Jordi Alba and Alex Song. And to be fair, the season as a whole was far from an unmitigated success.
Tito was hampered from controlling the team the way he really wanted to. He had to go to New York for cancer treatments. There's no way around it: despite his Herculean effort, it was difficult for him to manage while fighting cancer an ocean away.
This was one of many problems that led to disappointing results - a thrashing against Bayern in the Champions League, most memorably. There was also a string of poor Clasicos, including a 1-3 loss that knocked Barcelona out of the cup.
But too many people only remember the lows, and don't celebrate the highs. There were some great performances, even in that doomed UCL campaign. A memorable 4-0 win against Milan that capped a great comeback from a 0-2 first leg loss, Messi on one leg helping set up a late goal to knock PSG out...
And then there's the league. Tito won 18 of his first 19 games, not losing until the 20th game. He only lost 2 all season, and won 100 points, tying Real Madrid's record in one league season. This wasn't just some bogey league where it was easy to beat everyone. Just ask Real Madrid, who finished a full 15 points behind. Yeah, 15 - a record-setting gap.
People at the time weren't too impressed, which just seems weird. That 100 point Real Madrid season is rightly considered the apex of Mourinho's three-year stint with Los Blancos. Mourinho is considered one of the world's best coaches, and to this day, about half of Real Madrid fans considered him such a complete success at the capital that they wanted to rehire him.
Tito had one chance, not three, and possibly not even one full chance, and he matched it. He went out in the CL semifinals, exactly the same record as Mourinho's best year at Madrid. And he went out in the Cup semifinals, whereas Mou's team went out in the quarterfinals.
Maybe it's time to give that campaign, and by extension, Tito, the recognition it deserves.