Barcelona ‘Boot Room’

by Nick Balchin

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.

Author Info

Nick Balchin

A young aspiring journalist with an unending interest for all things football related. An avid yet optimistic Liverpool fan who can offer a perspicacious insight on just about anything, but cannot promise that you will like it.

This entry was posted by is filed under Featured, La Liga, Opinion and Tags: , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses

  1. DaveWestAus says:

    Re; your mention that Dalglish going as far as having Paisley join his coaching team on the bench? In actual fact he requested Paisley to come back to help him-not in coaching-but to show him the ropes of being a manager! The trophies won during KK’s first term as manager can actually be attributed to Paisley as he made all the decisions for KK!

  2. Varun says:

    Article was going alright till this

    “A ‘Plan B’ will also need to be devised”

    Author need to watch more matches.

    Or define what Plan B means, is changing entire tactical formation with crucial personnel removed NOT a change of plan, is this change done in both pre-game and IN-game NOT changing of plan.
    Is playing entire 60 game season with varying formations and varying strategies NOT change of plan.

    Only an idiot or someone who doesn’t understand football or doesn’t watches a team can use this term of “lacking Plan B” with Barcelona.

    There is no plan(or changing of them) which can remedy missing Penalties and tap-ins. Period.

    Apart for this joke assessment, article was rather ok, while also missing the points where, things like Messi playing in the middle in 2-6 Clasico victory was Tito’s idea according to behind the scene chatter.
    Plus the timeline of Tito is hushed past, there is way more information available on him that a 3 line para.

    This same author wrote that diabolical “The troublesome Lionel Messi” article weeks back.

    If this site can’t find proper Barca correspondents who write about the club why use such inept people at all.

    Constant use of misinformation(Plan A,B,C, etc) sooner or later makes people believe that’s the truth when in fact the reality has been distorted.

    1. Zain says:

      Your insecurities are so evident. If we asked the typically spoiled Barcelona fan why they lost the league this season despite having gone broke by signing Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, they would put it down to missing tap-ins and clear chances. As other teams don’t miss chances. My team would probably be a couple positions up in the league too if they had taken all their chances.

      The author is perfectly justified to say that Barcelona doesn’t have a Plan B. Now, most teams don’t have a Plan B which is a clear deviation from their original plan because there is no need for them. For Barcelona however the case is different because teams have learned to play against them. If you park the bus against Barcelona, or if you force them to play through two lines of 4, and while doing it if you can catch them on the counter, Barcelona can be beaten. You talk about the in-game tactical changes and variations in strategies as if it is something only happening within Barcelona’s dugout. Every team with a tactician in the dugout makes tactical adjustments to suit different games and to counter different situations within a game. With Barcelona the need for Plan B was made clear when Pep signed Ibra so they have a big-man to play long to when they can’t break down opposition. It didn’t work out for personal reasons but that season Ibra was vital in his contributions (what 24 goals and 15 assists?), and it showed in the games that they won 1-0 and 2-1. This season Barcelona has not lost the league because of injuries or missed chances but because of the fact that they simply haven’t matched Real Madrid’s away form. Ronaldo has 23 away goals compared to Messi’s 15. Why? Because Ronaldo can power through an opposition when nothing else works. Think about all the Barcelona away draws. If you won them wouldn’t you have won the league or at least been closer to Real Madrid? I think the need for Plan B is very clear there. Barcelona couldn’t break down the opposition, and they hit them on the counter and from there on Barcelona didn’t have other weapons to use.

      1. Varun says:

        Here comes another delusional Plan B-ist.

        Cesc has scored more headers than Ibra this season or when he was with Barca for that matter, get it? ?

        There your Plan B supposed example being not Plan B enough to being with.

        Team has scored 187 goals this season and 42 times hit the post, missing tap-ins and being reckless in front of goal was great part of the season as well.

        Chelsea didn’t play 2 bamks of 4, they were palying 5-6 in the front line. And breaking that down in not easy for any team regardless of plans, Sacchi demonstrated that vey well with his famous training ground experiemnt.

        Despite that they did break them down, over 2 legs they had 4 shots on the post, close to 40 total shots, with around 12 on target plus a lot of tap-ins.
        Re watch the match if you really think what you wrote in your last 2 lines.

        Changing mid game(formations, tactics, personal) IS going for a different Plan, that is what it means, just because other teams do it doesn’t change the Fact that A particular Team is changing its plan of action(or play).

        Away form early in the season did cost us the title, everyone knows that.
        Why away form was like that has reasons as well and they are varied (and missing chanced, lethargic individual play, injuries, refs, being unlucky, etc all played a part with no one particular aspect dominant or singly responsible on its own)

        I objected to this delusional notion of a team like Barcelona being so inept that it can’t play more than 1 way.

        And if one does assert that then that person should be prepared to be called out on facts.

        And nothing you said in your comment points to Barcelona having only 1 game plan, if you do then watch more.

        1. zain says:

          Barcelona are a team that is aerially pathetic because they are midgets. It is only logical. Of these headers that Cesc has scored, I wonder how many were free headers. Oh, I remember his header in the Clasico, pure display of grit and strength it was.

          Missing chances and hitting the woodwork might have played some part, but to the plain eye Barcelona were simply not as dominant as they should be. I’m judging this by the high expectations Barcelona fans had for the 2011-2012 season.

          Regardless of what Sacchi demonstrated, Chelsea played with two banks of 4 which played very very deep. Yes, it is difficult for any team to break down a team that camps on the edge of penalty area. The point though is that it has undone Barcelona on many occasions now: against Inter, against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey final, and against Chelsea. If they fail to pass through a defense to create enough chances, or dribble through a defense, they cannot do much else. Barcelona are no real threat from set-pieces, they cannot go wide and cross it high, and they cannot shoot from distance. All these things are an important part of the game. As for my last two lines, I didn’t mean them in context of the Chelsea game. I was talking about how they have come up short in the La Liga often. You need to look no further than their last game of the season, the Betis game, for this.

          I find it curious that you mention refs as one factor for some of Barcelona’s poor performances in La Liga, because I’ve been watching Barca and I feel they’ve gotten their fair share of game-changing penalties this season. A lot of them being wrong calls. Like the Malaga game where the ref saw gave one to Barca for a handball, or that Cuenca dive (I don’t recall the opposition).

          No, I don’t believe Barcelona have only one game-plan. Guardiola is a genius. But I truly feel that they can be more dynamic if they get a true target-man. I don’t know how anyone can disagree when Pep himself recognized this need by signing Ibra.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply