Messages of support for Barca's Tito Vilanova as cancer returns
'Tito is very strong – we will wait for him,' says Barcelona president as coach faces chemo
BARCELONA coach Tito Vilanova has suffered a relapse of the cancer in the salivary gland that was first diagnosed 13 months ago. The 44-year-old was Pep Guardiola's assistant at the time of the initial surgery, and he returned to work after just 18 days. A year on and Vilanova has replaced Guardiola at the helm and in some style, Barcelona remaining unbeaten in the Spanish league this season after 16 matches.
It was thought the cancer had gone and only last weekend Vilanova was on local television discussing the past year. "It was hard," he told the interviewer. "I thought about my children and the fact that they still needed me."
Then, on Tuesday, Vilanova underwent a routine check-up in Barcelona and it was discovered that the cancer had returned. He will have immediate surgery followed by a six-week course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy but doctors say he could return to work once he's left hospital in a few days' time.
"Tito is very strong," said Barcelona's president, Sandro Rosell. "He has shown that before and we hope that he will be back with us very soon." Until then the Spanish league leaders will be coached by Vilanova's assistant Jordi Roura, though after Saturday's match against Valladolid the league has a two-week Christmas break. "We will wait for him," Rosell said of Vilanova.
Vilanova was appointed in April after it was announced that Guardiola was resigning after four years in charge of the club. In that time he steered Barca to two Champions League crowns and three La Liga titles.
Guardiola's were big shoes to fill, but Vilanova has proved himself a formidable successor. Barcelona are nine points clear at the top of the Spanish league, having dropped just two points in 16 games, and later today they will be one of the 16 teams pulled out of the hat when the knockout phase of the Champions League is revealed.
Asked if there was a possibility Guardiola might return to lead Barcelona at some point next year, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta replied: "No, at no point… Tito is, Tito was, and Tito will continue to be our coach."
Messages of support have been flooding into the Camp Nou ever since the news was announced, not just from Barcelona supporters and players, but from the wider Spanish football community. "Tito has shown himself to be a fighter, overcoming a very serious illness, and I hope that it's going to be the same this time," said Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ander Herrera. "He has all of my support and that of the club."
Arch rivals Real Madrid posted a statement on their website, offering their "support and best wishes for the coach of FC Barcelona, Tito Vilanova, and [we] wish him a very rapid recovery".