The leader is back: Welcome home, Tito!

Posted by Francesc Tomas

After two exhausting months fighting against an incredibly stubborn tumour in New York, it fills my heart with joy to share the news that Tito Vilanova has finally returned to Barcelona.

The Catalan coach has reportedly been asked to take some more rest before retaking his managerial duties at the Ciutat Esportiva, but unsurprisingly to those who know him best, he is determined to meet the players and return to action far sooner than the doctors have advised him.

- Vilanova to return to Barcelona

It is undeniable that Barcelona players, staff and fans have missed their leader during his inevitable absence. While results have not been that terrible under Jordi Roura (eight wins, two draws, three defeats, 32 goals scored and 16 conceded), and credit must be given to an interim manager who was virtually thrown into the deep end, the truth is that the team seemed to lose their focus at times, especially in the disappointing week after losing to Milan at the San Siro.

Would results have been better if Vilanova had been in charge during this time? While it's obvious nobody will ever find out, I personally feel his presence would have given those more established, comfortable players that extra bit of motivation that was lacking. If there is one positive to take out of the manager's absence, it is the fact that all of those who were implying that Barcelona players were self-sufficient enough to coach themselves have seen their disrespectful theories rubbished by irrefutable evidence.

Fortunately, the current squad has proven time and time again that they perform better under pressure and are always ready to rise to the occasion, however challenging that may be, but it's clear that the return of their demanding manager would ensure the usual high expectations are not only reached, but also surpassed where possible.

Every team needs a leader on the bench: Barcelona are lucky to have theirs back.

What next?

Barcelona are sitting comfortably at the top of La Liga with a 13 point lead over Real Madrid with only 10 matches to be played, meaning that the trophy will be travelling to Catalunya unless an accident of catastrophic proportions happens in the next few weeks -- a scenario that, at this stage, is virtually impossible to foresee.

Honestly, I also see the Champions League as an achievable target again this season. Winning the club's fifth European Cup (or, even more impressively, the third one in five years) doesn't sound like a distant dream at all, but a beautiful challenge to fight for.

Full respect must obviously be given to other candidates such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and upcoming rivals Paris Saint Germain. But at the same time, there is no reason to feel inferior to any other clubs in the quarterfinals. A team that can field players of the stature of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi Hernandez is perfectly capable of beating any other team if they are performing at their best and are able to control those all-important minor details.

On a side note, I honestly don't care about the fact that FIFA has controversially decided to lift Zlatan Ibrahimovic's ban so he can play both matches against Barcelona as, quite frankly, any team that wants to succeed must be prepared to beat the best teams and players in world football.

Once the ten key players who have been away on international duty return to Barcelona, it will be time for the returning inspirational manager to re-establish and fine-tune the points which made the team successful in the first place: Controlling the game with an added sense of urgency whenever spaces are created, suffocating pressure whenever possession is lost and on-going player rotations so that rival defences are left chasing shadows.

Vilanova has gone through a tremendously difficult situation and, as long as the doctors are concerned, he is well enough to return to one of the most demanding, stressing jobs in world football. While being able to say that his fight with cancer is over at this stage would be tremendous, experience tells me that only time will tell how much of an improvement has actually happened as a result of two months of intense chemotherapy.

For now, Cules can consider themselves lucky to have their knowledgeable, humble leader back in charge. While it's obvious that Vilanova's health must be prioritised above every other aspect, the truth is the coach retakes control of a team in a privileged position in the two most important competitions entered and, under his guidance, hoping for silverware in the near future doesn't feel like such a distant dream any more.

Welcome home, Tito: Cules have missed you and can't wait to take the next steps forward with you.

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