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    La Liga: Vilanova steps out of Guardiola's shadow at Barca

    Tito Vilanova will step up from his role as assistant at the end of the season and replace Pep Guardiola.

    Madrid: Barcelona's new coach is about to become famous for a whole lot more than having his eye poked by Jose Mourinho.

    Tito Vilanova will step up from his role as assistant at the end of the season and replace Pep Guardiola, who announced on Friday that he was ending his four-year spell in charge.

    Until now, Vilanova has been renowned as the man who was poked in the eye by Real Madrid coach Mourinho during a typically heated clasico match in August.

    Guardiola endorsed Vilanova's promotion, saying he was an integral part of the club's most successful period when they won 13 of 17 trophies since 2008.

    "I think the club is right on [choosing Tito], he is more than qualified, and the players know him," Guardiola said on Friday during his announcement that he was stepping down. "He will change very little of what we do, and he will give a lot to the players and club."

    Vilanova and Guardiola's strong friendship is born out of their time coming up through Barcelona's La Masia youth academy together. But while Guardiola went on to become captain and help the Catalans to their first European Cup in 1992, Vilanova never really succeeded as a player.

    The 42-year-old native of the Catalan village of Bellcaire d'Emporda was assistant to Guardiola when he took over as coach of 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.

    Guardiola backed Vilanova from the moment he decided to step down in December, advising sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta to promote his right-hand man.

    "Why Tito?" Zubizarreta said. "Because he represents the game, the analysis, the preparation, he puts the extra hour into preparation, he has the capacity and the personality to be here because we know him. So we decided to look inside our house and it was easy."

    Zubizarreta said Vilanova's appeal was his inside knowledge of the club's La Masia youth system, which Guardiola had increasingly relied on over the years.

    Vilanova spent six years at La Masia — from 1984-90 — but never made it to the top-flight team, going on to play for clubs such as Celta Vigo and Mallorca before his playing career was cut short by a serious knee injury. That injury led Vilanova into coaching and to Barcelona's cadets, tutoring current first-team players Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.

    Vilanova moved on from Barcelona to work as sport director at third division club Terrassa before answering Guardiola's call to help him lead Barca B up from the third division.

    "I never imagined [coaching] until Pep put the idea forward and then I never doubted it," Vilanova said in an interview with El Mundo Deportivo in 2009. "These things happen this way."

    Vilanova has the players to maintain the club's philosophy of play that has seen many label it one of the greatest teams of all time, although he may need his youth academy insight sooner rather than later, with players like Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol approaching the end of their careers.

    He will also have to combat a rejuvenated Madrid side, led by Mourinho, that is poised to end Barcelona's three-year stranglehold on the league title.

    Mourinho, though, is a very familiar foe for Vilanova.

    La Liga