Thousands gather in memory of Barcelona’s coach

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) More than 20,000 of Barcelona’s fans gathered along with players to pay their respects to Tito Vilanova at Camp Nou on Saturday, a day after the former coach died following a battle with throat cancer.

Condolences continued to pour in from across Europe, with Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola saying he would never forget his former coaching partner at Barcelona, who died at the age of 45.

”We experienced a lot together,” Guardiola said. ”We lost together and won together. This is a very difficult situation. The sadness will accompany me forever.”

The day began with Barcelona’s players signing a book of condolence and silently remembering Vilanova.

The club then opened the temporary memorial site to the public. It said 20,802 mourners came to pay their respects. The attendees included Artur Mas, Catalonia’s regional president, and the club president of crosstown rival Espanyol, Joan Collet.

”It’s a difficult moment,” Barcelona captain Carles Puyol said. ”We send our support to his family and friends. A great, complete person, an example, has left us. This is a difficult blow.”

Vilanova’s illness forced him to step down as Barcelona coach last summer after winning the 2012-13 Spanish league.

He previously served as Guardiola’s assistant at Barcelona for a four-year run during which the team won 14 of a possible 19 titles, helping to establish the club’s most successful era.

Bayern expressed its condolences on its website, underscoring the relationship between Guardiola and Vilanova, which the Bundesliga champion’s statement said ”went well beyond a professional bond.”

A minute’s silence was held for Vilanova before this weekend’s round of league matches in Spain, and also before Bayern’s home game against Werder Bremen, with Bayern players wearing black armbands.

Barcelona has declared three days of mourning for Vilanova, whose funeral will be on Monday in Barcelona’s cathedral.