x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tito Vilanova's return proves even Barcelona need a director

Tito Vilanova's return means that Lionel Messi and the rest of his Barcelona teammates will not fluff their lines the remainder of the season, writes Andy Mitten.

Barcelona wants Tito Vilanova, centre, back because the players appreciate his cool head and acumen.
Barcelona wants Tito Vilanova, centre, back because the players appreciate his cool head and acumen.

When Pep Guardiola last returned from New York to Barcelona's El Prat airport in January, he wore a hat and dressed like a scruffy backpacker in the hope that he would not be recognised.

It almost worked.

When Guardiola's successor, Tito Vilanova, made the same journey on Tuesday, there was no hiding.

Barcelona wanted him back from the moment he left for throat cancer treatment two months ago, and he was greeted warmly by the assistant Jordi Roura and a bank of television cameras.

In his absence, the Catalans were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by a Real Madrid team who beat them twice in four days, but they survived without Vilanova.

Just. Had they not come back from 2-0 down in the first leg to defeat AC Milan 4-0 in the secon Barca's season would already feel deflated, despite a huge, 13-point lead in the league.

Barcelona missed Vilanova and the argument that their fine collection of players do not need a coach was blown away in his absence.

Less intense than his predecessor, the players feel Vilanova gives them more freedom to play - yet they want his cool authority on the bench, overseeing and tweaking where necessary.

"He's crucial for us," said Sergio Busquets, one of the many Barca players who was away on international duty when his boss returned.

Vilanova's advice to himself after he first recovered from cancer a year ago was to take things easy and not rush so much.

He did not hurry back from New York, but he will find it hard not to get involved in the day-to-day running of the team at a crucial juncture of the season.

He indicated that he wants to travel to Vigo with his team Friday and planned to be at a training session Thursday to meet the majority of his stars, who returned from Spain's key victory in Paris.

The La Liga title is all but assured with 10 games to play and Barcelona's focus is on winning a fifth European Cup, starting with Tuesday's quarter-final first leg at Paris Saint-Germain.

That they could do it with a coach and a defender (Eric Abidal made his return in a B-team friendly last week) who were treated for cancer in the same season before making a recovery would be remarkable.



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