The former Barcelona B team coach Luis Enrique has emerged as the favourite to become the Catalan club's new first-team manager after Tito Vilanova's decision to step down, with Gerardo Martino, the coach of the Argentinian side Newell's Old Boy coach, also among those that have been contacted.
Luis Enrique became manager of Celta Vigo less than six weeks ago and Barcelona would be obliged to pay €3m (£2.6m) to release him. They hope to announce their new manager in the next few days and do not intend to promote from within.
Barça's president, Sandro Rosell, said on Friday evening that Vilanova would not be continuing. A routine check revealed that the 44-year-old Vilanova has suffered a further recurrence of the throat cancer that was first diagnosed in 2011, when he was assistant coach to Pep Guardiola. He will undergo a new course of treatment that the president described as "incompatible" with managing the first team.
Vilanova had a tumour removed from his parotid gland in November 2011 and appeared to have beaten the cancer but suffered a first recurrence in December last year, a few months after he succeeded Guardiola as first-team manager. He missed two months of last season while receiving treatment in New York, leaving the team in the temporary hands of his assistant Jordi Roura, and returned to help lead the side to the title.
Rosell described the news as a "terrible blow" but insisted: "Life goes on." He added: "We will present the new coach in the next few days, hopefully by early next week." The speed suggested that Barcelona had a candidate in mind and that some talks had already taken place but the timing complicates matters for the club. Barcelona had a contingency plan in place and had talked to Vilanova about the possibility of him not taking charge of the team this season but, until these latest tests, the coach was adamant that he wished to continue.
The man lined up in case Vilanova did not carry on was Ernesto Valverde, who had been Barcelona's second choice before they opted for Vilanova when Guardiola left at the end of the 2011-12 season. But with Vilanova believing he was well enough to carry on, Valverde eventually joined Athletic Bilbao.
Given that situation, Vilanova's preference is understood to be Luis Enrique and he had been alerted to the club's interest in him but he returned to Spain to coach Celta Vigo, signing a deal with them in early June. Barcelona are proceeding with discretion but are understood to be optimistic that they can reach an agreement with Celta and Luis Enrique, who declined to comment yesterday from his club's pre‑season training camp in Portugal.
Barcelona have also though spoken to Martino to sound out his availability. The Argentinian had been among the candidates for the job at Real Sociedad earlier in the summer and his profile and philosophy fits the Barcelona model. Leo Messi would also welcome his appointment.
As a player, Luis Enrique joined Barcelona from Real Madrid and went on to play 300 games for the club. His first managerial appointment was as coach of Barcelona B, taking over from Guardiola in 2008 when Guardiola moved up to the first team. Luis Enrique guided Barcelona B to a return to the Spanish Second Division for the first time in more than a decade and then led them to a third-placed finish, although league rules mean that B teams cannot be promoted further. After three years, Luis Enrique left for Roma but he experienced a largely turbulent season. Among his first signings for Celta were the two former Barcelona B team players Rafinha and Nolito.