Vilanova beacon of calmness, stability during Barcelona’s historic run

Tito Vilanova was diagnosed with parotid gland cancer in November 2011 and the disease returned in December 2012.


Tito Vilanova, who managed FC Barcelona for parts of last season, died at the age of 45 on Friday, having lost his battle with throat cancer.

"The FC Barcelona is in immense mourning," the club said on its official Twitter feed. "Tito Vilanova has died at the age of 45. May he rest in peace."

Vilanova had joined Barcelona B manager Josep Guardiola as his assistant coach ahead of the 2007-08 season. The tandem was promoted to the first team the following season, after which they captured a litany of silverware as they conquered European soccer, winning 14 titles in just four years. When Guardiola left the job after the 2011-12 season, Vilanova took his place.

But by December 2012, when he was more than a year into treatment for his cancer and had already taken a leave of absence to get treated, he had to take a second leave from the job to undergo surgery. He returned in March, but in July 2013 he resigned after the disease came back. He had been recently admitted to the hospital with complications related to the cancer.

Vilanova’s playing career had been pedestrian, but his ideological connection with Guardiola, who had played in Barca’s famed La Masia youth academy at the same time, made him the perfect complement to the manager as Barcelona’s dominant tiki-taka passing style redefined the sport. As such, he was the logical successor.

On the bench, he retained a cool that sometimes eluded Guardiola, making him a good fit for a team that was perhaps growing weary of all the turmoil and long seasons. He was a quiet sort of manager, who rarely rose from his bench and entrusted the system that he had instilled with his predecessor. No matter how frantic the game or his opposite number grew, Vilanova was a beacon of calm, seldom stirring his face from its unemotive norm.


And Barca hardly missed a beat as it rampaged to reclaim the La Liga title with a 15-point margin over runners-up Real Madrid and 24-point lead over third-placed Atletico Madrid. Their total haul of 100 points from 32 wins, four draws and just two losses equaled a record. Their goal difference was a staggering +75, having scored 115 times and conceded just 40.

In Vilanova’s temporary absence, the team came unstuck during the short rule of his own assistant Jordi Roura. But he set things right upon his return and was awarded Marca‘s Manager of the Year trophy at the end of the campaign.

Over the summer, Vilanova was succeeded by Gerardo Martino, who will likely fail to win any silverware this season. Many trace the end of Barca’s spell of total dominance back to Vilanova’s departure. And he will likely be remembered as the last man to lead the club in its halcyon heyday, now that some rebuilding looks to be in order.

The Barca community, the historical proxy for the entire Catalan region, rallied around Vilanova’s recovery, just as it had with that of left back Eric Abidal, when a tumor was found on his liver. Vilanova was one of their own. But the respect for him was universal.

"Tito Vilanova’s passing is a sad day for football, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends," said Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who had managed arch-rivals Real Madrid last season.

Barcelona will open its Camp Nou stadium on Friday night for fans to pay tribute to the former manager. Vilanova is survived by his wife and two children — one of whom, Adrian, plays in Barca’s youth academy, just as his father had in the 1980s.