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Barcelona, Spain – New Barcelona head coach Tito Vilanova said he's undaunted by the challenge of following in Pep Guardiola's giant footsteps, while also recognizing that his chances of being as successful as his mentor are slim.
Vilanova became Barcelona's 16th head coach on Friday after signing a two-year contract with the Spanish club, which Guardiola - with Vilanova's help as assistant - led to 14 of a possible 19titles during an unprecedented run over past four seasons.
"I am not worried about comparisons. I'm aware I will lose all with Pep, but I am not here for that. I'm here to work," Vilanova said, adding that he knows that with stars like Lionel Messi on his squad his margin of error is almost nonexistent.
"I don't ask the fans for patience, they will want to see the team continue to win like it has in recent years."
Vilanova acknowledged that carrying on Guardiola's winning ways and mesmerizing playing style will be a hefty challenge. But he added that both his role in shaping the team and his players' hunger to keep adding to their trophy haul should see the team through.
"I know that it will be difficult, probably no other coach has taken over in this situation, after the club's most successive period ever," said Vilanova. "It will be very tough to repeat. (But) I have an advantage because I formed part of the team that won so many titles. This is a group of players who have won everything but who want to keep winning and maintain our way of playing."
Vilanova appeared for his first press conference as head coach minutes after signing his contract with Barcelona president Sandro Rosell. He was wearing in a dark suit as opposed to the athletic wear he wore in the dugout beside the dapper Guardiola.
And although he displayed the same calm demeanor as his predecessor, Vilanova still lacks Guardiola's public flare, reading somewhat nervously from notes at the beginning of his presentation.
"Pep was the communicator, but we shared the decisions," he said in his low, monotone voice.
Like Guardiola, Vilanova's roots lie deep in the Catalan club.
As a teenager, Vilanova joined Barcelona's "La Masia" youth academy with Guardiola in 1984 and spent the next six years training alongside his future sideline companion.
While Guardiola went on to become a key piece of Johan Cruyff's winning teams in the 1990s, Vilanova only managed to play three unofficial matches with the first team before moving on to play for clubs such as Celta Vigo and Mallorca. When a knee injury ended his playing career, Vilanova returned to La Masia as a coach to help bring up a generation of first-team players, including Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.
After another stint away from the club, the 42-year-old native of the Catalan village of Bellcaire d'Emporda joined Guardiola as his assistant when the former midfielder took over Barca B in 2007. Together they helped the team win promotion to the second division and earned themselves the chance to take over the first team in 2008 after the exit of Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard.
"I thank Pep for giving me the chance to come back to Barca and work at his side," said Vilanova. "Thanks Pep for the past five years, my friend, my brother."
Guardiola refused to sign on for another season this summer, saying he needed a break from football.
Having never before sought the spotlight, Vilanova is best known for his altercation with Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho in last season's ugly Spanish Supercup clash when the Portuguese manager poked him in the eye during a team scuffle. Vilanova responded with a shove.
Vilanova said that as head coach he would not lose his cool if Mourinho continues in his abrasive manner.
"I will be very calm. I don't get nervous," he said. "I think that the day of my presentation as head coach it is not the moment to speak about other teams or other coaches."
The Spanish league opens on August 18-19. Barcelona will look to re-establish its dominance of the domestic competition after losing the championship to Madrid last season, breaking a run of three consecutive titles.
Vilanova will miss the first game of the two-leg Spanish Supercup as he serves a one-game suspension for retaliating to Mourinho's eye poke. The Madrid coach received a two-game ban and will therefore miss both matches to be played in August when Barcelona looks to defend its title – Sapa-AP