When the news filtered through on Friday that former Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova had lost his battle with cancer aged 45, the football community went into mourning and nowhere more so than in Cataluña.
Vilanova was the man who emerged from the shadow of Pep Guardiola to guide the best team of the last decade to a record equalling La Liga win with 100 points, but for the Barcelona fans and players, he will always be more than that.
Pep Guardiola, who met Vilanova when the latter was a 14 year old boy just having arrived at La Masia, summed it up when he spoke after Bayern Munich’s win on the weekend and said: ‘We lived through a lot together.
‘We won together, we lost together.’
Perhaps most poignantly of all, he said: ‘This sadness will follow me forever,’ and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who knew Tito that would disagree.
Barcelona took to the field against Villarreal on Sunday evening with tears in their eyes as the minute’s silence was held for the universally liked Tito. It was a game that won them far more than just three points and match winner Lionel Messi dedicated his goal to their fallen manager.
Of course, Tito was far more than a manager to the majority of the squad and the Camp Nou faithful.
The former midfielder spent his youth career at the club and played for the B side before moving on in search of first team football, but it was as a coach and later a manager where he made the biggest impact.
Returning to the club in 2002, he coached the Cadete B team that had in it 13 year old’s Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas – all of whom were visibly heartbroken during the game against Villarreal.
Moving on to coaching the B side with Pep Guardiola from 2007, the duo managed to excel and exceed all expectations with the players – and forge bonds with the young starlets who eventually broke into the first team.
After Guardiola was appointed manager of the first team, Tito followed him and under the duo Barcelona had the most successful season in their history managing to win the treble. That period will forever be known as a golden age for the Cules and one in which they won almost universal praise for their style of play.
The best for Vilanova was to come when he replaced Pep Guardiola as head coach of Barcelona and managed to return the title back to the Camp Nou with a record 100 points.
The warning signs were there during the last campaign, with Tito forced to take a couple months off in the middle of the season to undergo further treatment for his throat cancer – finally stepping down just before the current campaign kicked off due to his failing health.
Throughout it all, the 45 year old was positive, upbeat and called managing Barcelona the best therapy he could have had.
Cancer is a cruel illness and one that Barcelona only know too well, with Eric Abidal fighting off the disease and with perhaps the cruellest irony of all, announcing his return to the squad on the same day it emerged that Vilanova had suffered a relapse of his cancer.
Vilanova was a great coach but an even greater man, who was seen around the Camp Nou with his son until the very end, watching every home Barcelona game when his health allowed him to and being present in the stands to watch his son, Adria play for the Juvelin B, but the toll the cancer and its treatment had taken on his body and health were becoming all too heartbreakingly obvious.
Less and less was seen of Vilanova in public and it became clear to those who knew him best this may be one fight he could not win.
Tito passed away on the 25th of April at 45 years of age, leaving behind a wife and two children – and a whole city in mourning for the man they could never replace.
Barcelona may pride themselves on being more than a club, but Tito was more than a coach. He was a man who was loved by all and will now be missed by many.
What are your best memories of Tito? Let us know your thoughts below or tweet us @LaFootyettes.
9 years ago
excellent piece….a sad loss at such a young age