The former Barcelona coach, Tito Vilanova, passed away today, Friday 25 April, at the Catalan capital's Quiron Clinic. The 45-year-old had fought a long battle against cancer after being diagnosed with the disease in 2011.
"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," Barça said in a statement confirming the sad news, continuing: "The Vilanova family has asked for respect for their desire for the strictest intimacy in the moments after his death."
A two-and-a-half year battle
Vilanova was diagnosed with a tumour in his parotid gland back in November 2011, when he was still Pep Guardiola's assistant at Barça. After undergoing surgery, he returned to work just two weeks later.
Following the departure of Guardiola, who always credited his No2 with a large part of his success at the club owing to his tactical know-how and set-piece expertise, Vilanova was promoted to the top job. He immediately oversaw the club's best ever start to a league season and Barcelona subsequently reached 100 points on the way to wrapping up an historic title. However, in December 2012 the club announced that the coach's cancer had returned and Vilanova spent a couple of months in New York receiving treatment.
Though Tito took up the reins again in the latter stages of the campaign, in July 2013 he stepped down in order to focus on battling the disease, which continued to progress in recent months until ultimately claiming his life.
A central midfielder, Francesc Vilanova i Bayo came up through the ranks at Barcelona. Having been unable to break into the Azulgrana first team, in 1992 he signed for Celta Vigo, with whom he made his top-flight debut. After three years in Galicia, he dropped down a division to enjoy stints at Badajoz, Mallorca, Lleida and Elche, before ending his career with lower-division Gramenet in 2002.
After hanging up his boots, Tito worked as a coach at the Barça academy, taking charge of a U-14 team including the likes of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique. He subsequently spent a few years managing lower-league Catalan clubs before joining Guardiola's coaching staff, initially with Barcelona B and then with the first team, eventually replacing his friend at the helm in 2012.