SOCCER

Three names for one bench

Barcelona is set to announce Tito Vilanova’s replacement on Tuesday

Enrique directs a Celta training session in Portugal.
Enrique directs a Celta training session in Portugal. SALVADOR SAS / EFE

Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has three names on his list to replace Tito Vilanova as first-team coach: Luis Enrique, Gerardo “Tata” Martino and André Villas-Boas. “They are options with a reputation, to be chosen between,” say sources at the club.

Barça knew Vilanova would be undergoing key medical tests relating to the cancer affecting his parotid gland in September and had drawn up an emergency plan just in case. Following Friday’s announcement that Vilanova would be stepping down as head coach after reportedly suffering a relapse, it is the plan the club is now putting into process — albeit with a few differences.

In September, the new Liga season would have already started and an agreement had been made to pay the buyout clause of a coach in a foreign league, given that the club didn’t want to get into a spat in the domestic competition. Now, however, there is a bit more freedom.

Luis Enrique is the preferred choice of Barcelona president Sandro Rosell. The current Celta Vigo coach managed Barça B from 2008 to 2011, earning it promotion to Segunda where it acquitted itself comfortably, playing good soccer. Hiring him would require paying a buyout clause of 10 million euros — though this is likely to be much less given the good relationship between the Galician and the Catalan clubs. But while the path for Enrique — who is currently in Melgaço, Portugal with Celta — looks free, the question of whom he would bring with him would still need to be resolved. The former midfielder has a coaching staff of four: goalkeeping coach Juan Carlos Unzue, a psychologist, a physical trainer and assistant Roberto Moreno.

Luis Enrique is the preferred choice of Barcelona president Sandro Rosell

Also on the list, Argentinean coach Martino carved out a name for himself in Paraguay with Libertad and Cerro Porteño, winning four league titles, as well as with the Paraguyan national team, which he took to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup. More recently he has won fans and respect at Barça by reaching the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores and winning the last Apertura tournament with Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina. Zubizarreta on Saturday sought out first-hand information on the Argentinean, who, among other things, is the idol of Leo Messi’s father.

The other name attracting the Barcelona sporting director is Villas-Boas, who earned prestige by winning the Europa League, as well as the Portuguese league, cup and supercup with Porto, and has been named as the successor to José Mourinho. But Villas-Boas burnt his copybook as coach of Chelsea, where he was unable to adequately steer Russian magnate Roman Abramovich’s multimillion-pound project. Under him, Chelsea played good attacking soccer, but the dressing room rebelled against his changes and the team was 20 points behind the league leader when he left the club on week 27 of the season. It was around that time that Villas-Boas took advantage of two weeks to travel to Barcelona’s training facilities to see how Pep Guardiola trained the group as well as talk to Zubizarreta. Since then he has recovered his reputation as boss at Tottenham, and has now indicated his availability — enough for Barcelona to include him on its shortlist, even though hiring him would require paying a buyout clause of around 14 million euros.

On Tuesday we will find out who the chosen one will be: Luis Enrique, Gerardo “Tata” Martino or André Villas-Boas. Three names for one bench.

On Saturday Pep Guardiola sent a message of support to his old assistant coach Vilanova from Germany. “He is a very good friend of mine and I love him so much that this is very tough for me,” said the former Barça boss following Bayern Munich’s 4-0 friendly win over Hamburg. “I can only wish the best for him and his family, and that they face this difficult moment with strength.”

Guardiola recently attacked club president Rosell for using Vilanova’s “illness to damage me.”