It was a philosophy that became a mainstay for Liverpool football club throughout their many decades of success, From Shankly to Paisley to Fagan and then Dalglish. It was a 32 year long period that yielded 13 league titles, four FA Cups and four European Cups.
The ‘Boot Room’ philosophy is the theory of promoting from within the club. It has somewhat been lost in modern times as fans demand big name coaches with a wealth of experience. But is evident in Barcelona’s decision to originally appoint Pep Guardiola and now replace him with assistant Tito Vilanova.
When Pep Guardiola was appointed to succeed Frank Rijkaard in the managerial hot seat in 2008, his only previous experience came as head coach of Barcelona ‘B’. In essence a Barcelona reserve team. He had also only had one season in this “illustrious” position. Yet, then Barcelona president Joan Laporta was convinced that this was the man who could lead Barcelona back to glory. As a player he captained the side and appeared in the famous red and navy shirt over 400 times. Current midfield maestros Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas even go on record calling him a hero, and an advocate of the ‘tiki-taka’ game they now adhere to.
In 4 short years, Guardiola did lead Barcelona back to glory winning three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies amongst others, a truly Paisley-esque type return. So what was it that made this inexperienced young manager such a success?
The old Liverpool boot room was known for educating those lucky enough to venture inside about the ‘Liverpool way’ without them even realising it. The likes of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish had found themselves being buttered up for what was to be their destiny.
So was Pep’s knowledge of the ‘Barcelona way’ enough to lead him to glory? He was lucky enough to play under the guidance of the great Johan Cruyff who had introduced the total football style Barcelona continue to utilise. Cruyff brought Guardiola into his Barcelona side when he was just 20 years old and the defensive midfielder quickly became a first team regular for the Dutchman. Following Cruyff’s departure Guardiola remained a key member of Bobby Robson’s and then Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona sides.
So what of Tito Vilanova? As a player he was part of the Barcelona youth set up but unlike Guardiola never made the “big time”. In 2007 he joined his former youth teammate at Barcelona B as his assistant. This was his first job in coaching. Tito found himself following his boss to the Nou Camp dugout, once again as assistant coach. Although, once Guardiola announced his inevitable resignation from the Barcelona hot seat in April for once Tito did not follow his companion and was immediately announced as Guardiola’s successor.
For many this was a shock. The rumour mill had already hit full pace spurting out big names left and right. Tito Vilanova has no experience as a manager. Yet he has found his way into one of the biggest jobs in world football. Does President Sandro Rossel see something in Tito? This is the sort of action that would lead to mass fan protests in England yet Barcelona fans have accepted this. Is the boot room philosophy now well and truly in place in Catalonia?
It does seem there is a bigger picture to all this, that a long term aim is lurking in the darkness. Tito Vilanova is for the most part not a long term appointment. The only way he can become one is to better the feat set by his predecessor. Barcelona are looking ahead and they may see a current member of the Barcelona squad as their future manager, whether it is Puyol, Xavi or even somebody else you cannot be sure. The only way to ensure the football philosophy they have so much faith in remains on the bill is to appoint somebody who already knows the ins and outs of the tiki-taka style and will not feel too much pressure to shrug off the legacy of Guardiola. Many managers will enter a top club and look to rid any presence of their predecessor. Brian Clough learnt the issues of doing this when he succeeded Don Revie at Leeds United in the 70’s. At Liverpool this wasn’t such an issue, Kenny Dalglish even went as far as to have Bob Paisley join his coaching team on the bench.
It would be a surprise if Tito was to try and rid Barcelona of the spirit of Guardiola, a friend whom he learnt under and coached under for 5 years. He will understand the issues that come with having a legacy to live up to but will understand the job that is at hand. In all respects, he is there to keep the seat warm for the next member of the Barcelona boot room to take up and therefore continue the tradition. He may prove to be a huge success; it would be hard to believe that any man could take a squad of such talent and achieve nothing.
There will even be aspects of Guardiola’s Barcelona that Tito will have to improve. Barcelona’s defence will certainly need working on; they have looked rigid and especially poor when defending set pieces. A ‘Plan B’ will also need to be devised. As shown in the Champions League semi-final defeat against Chelsea, the team were unable to break the defence down by simply passing the ball around. It was not the first time this happened either, Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan managed to manoeuvre their way past Barcelona using the all-out defence tactic in 2010. Many would have thought Guardiola would have learnt from this, clearly not. Barcelona therefore need to work out what to do now they may have been figured out.
Tito certainly has a tough job at hand but if he can figure out how to continue winning traditions whilst holding onto their playing style but also advancing it as well as the team; he could be a real success and an advocate for their boot room. If not Barcelona chiefs may be forced to submit defeat and appoint the external option who could prove to put the philosophy to bed.