Ex-Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova dead at 45

AFP| Updated: Apr 26, 2014, 00:05 AM IST

Barcelona: Former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova died on Friday at the age of 45 after a long fight with cancer, the club announced, plunging the sporting world into mourning.

Vilanova lost his battle with a cancer of the salivary gland that was diagnosed more than two years ago, forcing him to step down as Barcelona boss last July.

"FC Barcelona is sad to inform that Francesc `Tito` Vilanova Bayo has passed away today at the age of 45," Barcelona said in a statement.

"The death of our former coach came about this afternoon after he could not overcome the illness he had been fighting since 2011.

"The club wishes to express its deep condolences to his family, with whom we share this painful moment along with the club members, fans and the whole world of football and sport."

Barcelona said space will be opened at their Camp Nou stadium for those wanting to pay their respects over the next few days.

Vilanova leaves behind his wife Montse Chaure-Vilanova and two children.

Tributes poured in from around the world of football to the man that played a huge role in one of the most successful eras in Barcelona`s history.

"A difficult person to forget. We will always remember him. All my love to Tito`s family," four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi wrote on his official Facebook page alongside a picture of him with Vilanova."Tito Vilanova was a wonderful person, and will never be forgotten at FC Barcelona. Thank you for everything you taught us. Rest in peace," Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu tweeted.

"Tito Vilanova is one of the best coaches I have had in my career," added Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes on Twitter.

There were also messages of support from players of Barca`s rivals Real Madrid and former Real boss Jose Mourinho.

"On behalf of everybody at Chelsea Football Club I send my deepest condolences at this most difficult time," said Mourinho.

"Lots of support and strength to all the friends and family of Tito Vilanova. An example of fighting and strength for all of us. Rest in peace," tweeted Real defender Sergio Ramos.

As a player, Vilanova came through the ranks at Barcelona where he became close friends with former Barca boss and current Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola before leaving the Catalans to further his career at a lower level, most notably with Celta Vigo and Mallorca.

He began his coaching career at tiny Catalan club FC Palafrugell, but after a short stint as sporting director at Terrassa FC, he was called upon by his old friend Guardiola to be part of his coaching staff at Barcelona B in 2007.

When Guardiola graduated to first-team coach a year later he was joined by Vilanova and the pair would enjoy phenomenal success as Barca won 14 trophies in four seasons and are widely recognised as one of the greatest teams ever to play the game.

However, Vilanova was diagnosed with cancer in November 2011 and had to have tumour removed from his throat before returning to his coaching duties in March the following year.

Vilanova then succeeded Guardiola when he stepped down at the end of the 2011/12 season and presided over the best first half of a league season in the club`s history.

The club was rocked again in December 2012, though, by the news that the cancer had reappeared and Vilanova spent two months in New York receiving chemotherapy treatment before returning to the sidelines towards the end of the season.

Having amassed a huge lead in La Liga, Barca comfortably sealed their 22nd Spanish title with a record 100 points tally.

Yet, they were not so successful in the Champions League where they were swept aside 7-0 by eventual champions Bayern Munich in the semi-finals.

Vilanova expressed his intention to stay in the job at the end of the season, but just two weeks before the start of the current campaign was forced to resign as he had to undergo further treatment.