In a recent article published in Catalan paper El Periodico, writer Ferran Cosculluela explores the origins of Barcelona’s new coach, Tito Vilanova. The following is translation of the article, the original can be found here.
Bellcaire d’Empordà has won the jackpot. Only in that way can you describe the media interest that has arisen in recent days in this small town of 660 residents. Newspapers, television and radio have all come through this quiet town, located 6 kilometers from Escala. Bellcaire has won the football lottery, because there in 1969 Francesc Vilanova was born, Tito, the new team coach of FC Barcelona who will continue the work of the incredible Guardiola.
The father of the coach, Joaquim Vilanova, said that he didn’t know the news until it was made public by president Sandro Rosell at the same press conference where he announced that Pep Guardiola would not renew his contract. “My wife and I were setting the table for lunch and we remembered about Pep’s press conference. We watched it on TV and when Sandro said that Tito would be the new coach, we both exclaimed: ‘What!?!’. We stayed with our mouths open,” he recalls.
Tito’s father, known as Talla in Escala, has an agreement with his son to not tell him “anything that cannot be repeated.” A good tip that should be followed by many people. After hearing the good news, Joaquim Vilanova and his wife, who are already old enough to be retired, went to work, like any other day, in the shops they run in Escala and Estartit. An example of the humility and seriousness of this family.
Being overwhelmed by the press for more than a week, Vilanova’s father didn’t lose his good sense or good humor, and he accepted the invitation of two journalists from Quadern del Diumenge to talk about his famous son. “Well, if we want to keep talking, at least come in,” he invited. And the conversation continues in the same courtyard where Tito tortured neighbors with endless sessions of shots against the wall. “He spent hours kicking. And the poor neighbors never complained. Sometimes, after dinner he used to say ‘I’ll play for a while’, and spent two hours kicking the ball. He was obsessed with football, a very good boy, although a little hyperactive. I sometimes scolded: ‘leave the ball, that you can’t just play football”. He recalls the cold that he and his wife survived at the football fields when they brought the child to play his games.
Like any father, Joaquim cannot hide the pride he feels because of the appointment of his son. Tito Vilanova entered FC Barcelona’s La Masia when he was 13 and debuted in the first team in May 1989, in a friendly game in Banyoles in which he replaced – a thing of fate – Guardiola and that ended 2-6. With players who played in the same position such as Milla, Amor and Pep, it made it harder for him to debut and get a place in the first team. Some say that perhaps he lacked a little patience in waiting longer in the youth teams to get a spot in the First Division.
“It makes us really excited, but also we feel a little anxiety because it is a place of great responsibility. But the real news for us is that, if he accepted that, it is because the disease has gone,” says Joaquim, in reference to the tumor that was removed from Tito’s parotid gland last November.
The father of the future first team coach does not like to appear a lot in the press. He prefers work and discretion rather than photos and popularity. A shyness that was inherited by his son. Last summer, Tito Vilanova declined the offer made by mayor of Bellcaire, David Font, to organize a tribute event for him after Barcelona won La Liga and Champions League.
“He said that he had not done anything important and that there were other people like farmers or people who have been working their whole life and they deserve more praise. He is a humble person and embodies the values that for years he has been trying to instill young people with the sport,” says the mayor. This does not mean that Tito forgot about the hometown he left when he was a child, as every summer he spent a few days there to rest.
Vilanova offered meetings or training sessions for children, says a countryman who is a little older than Tito, and once he invited several parents with their children to Barça’s training session so they could watch the players. “For kids it’s much more fun than when they’re watching a game,” says one enthusiastic father.
The new Barça coach has been a cule his whole life. This is another characteristic of his family. Joaquim Vilanova was a founder of the Penya Barcelonista de L’Escala 35 years ago. In addition to being mayor of Bellcaire for 12 years (1991-2003), Joaquim also presided over a good season for the football club of the town. Along with the teacher Jaume Hugas, who was the coordinator of the club, they implemented the great task of promoting the sport and educating boys with their values.
Tito Vilanova was one of those boys, though one day the mayor’s son disobeyed the coach’s instructions during a match. The manager asked the young Vilanova to stop trying to score and his task instead was to mark a dangerous player from the rival team. He did not listen and launched the attack. After the game came recriminations, and when the coach asked the boy why he had not followed his instructions, Tito’s honest answer cleared all anger: Tito’s mother promised to buy him a Barça shirt if he scored a goal.
The mayor is pleased that the appointment of Tito Vilanova highlighted the name of Bellcaire d’Empordà. A town which is proud of its restored castle from the thirteenth century and each year celebrates with the play “Flag of Catalonia”, which is the “essence” of the medieval history of this small town located in the foothills of the Massif Montgrí. “The appointment of Guardiola and Tito as the coach shows that you do not need to go abroad. It also embodies the values of work and the professionalism of Catalonia. They show that a way of understanding the sport is in this country,” says Font.
At a school in Bellcaire, twenty children between 6 and 7 years of age were playing in the yard. A makeshift soccer field where Tito Vilanova played during childhood, although he also studied at the Escala and Figueres before entering La Masia. All children know who their famous countryman is, which club he trains and even the reason that led him to take over as first team. “He will be the next coach because Guardiola retires,” says one of them, because of his young age, he sees the FC Barcelona coach as a very old person.
They are young but remember what Jose Mourinho said. “A person so discreet as Tito, doesn’t like the popularity he got because of the incident with Mourinho. He is quite the opposite,” says the mayor. “And for us, that aggression is a metaphor for the Catalan character: resist, even if someone puts their finger in your eye,” says Font, with his characteristic ease to turn sports events into political symbols. Jordi Pique said that Vilanova was a “good kid” and had “good grades“, although as a student he was “a little shy.” A discreet character that is still one of Tito’s features: “when I meet him on the street he greet me and still continues talking with some timidity,” he explained. A feature of the character that is very important for the future Barcelona coach who will face a certain Portuguese manager in the future.
Image: David Ramos/Getty Images