Former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, who had first been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor of the throat in November 2011, died after was taken to the emergency room on Thursday for surgery when his health worsened.
“FC Barcelona is in immense mourning,” the Spanish club said in a statement. “Tito Vilanova has died at the age of 45. May he rest in peace.”
Vilanova first became ill in November 2011, while an assistant to Guardiola, whom he succeeded in June 2012, and took a leave of absence after undergoing surgery. The soft-spoken Vilanova returned and took over from Guardiola the next season, when he led Barcelona to the Spanish league title with a record-equalling 100 points.
In December 2012, the cancer returned, forcing him to leave the team for 10 weeks while he underwent surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments a continent away in New York.
Though his assistant, Jordi Roura took charge of the day to day work at the club, Vilanova remained the boss. And in March 2013, he returned to the touchline to lead Barcelona back to the Liga title after they failed to win it in Guardiola’s last season.
However, after one season in charge, Vilanova was forced to step down as he suffered another relapse and needed to focus solely on his treatment. Nevertheless, the legendary coach continued to inspire players and football fans. In October 2013, before a match against Real Madrid, the 98,000 fans at the Camp Nou participated in a mosaic dedicated to Vilanova.
Tito and his family received overwhelming support from media and fans in the struggle that ultimately took his life after various unsuccessful treatments. Lionel Messi led the tributes to his former coach, saying on his Facebook page: “A person difficult to forget. I will always remember you. All my love to the family of Tito.”
The club’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, said on Twitter: “Tito Vilanova was a wonderful person, and will never be forgotten at FC Barcelona. Thank you for everything you taught us. Rest in peace.”
Following the announcement of Vilanova’s death, Barcelona said it would open an area of condolence in the main grandstand at its Nou Camp stadium.
“It will be open to anyone who wishes to express their sympathy and love for the late Tito Vilanova,” the club added.
“The club wishes to express its most heartfelt sympathy to his family, who are being joined in these moments of mourning by FC Barcelona members and fans all around the world, as well as the rest of the footballing and sporting world.”
Mourinho, now Chelsea’s manager, said on his club’s Twitter account: “Tito Vilanova’s passing is a sad day for football, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends. On behalf of everybody at Chelsea Football Club I send my deepest condolences at this most difficult time.”
Vilanova is survived by his wife, Montse Chaure, and two children. His son Adrian is in Barcelona’s youth academy.