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Football world, fans react to Tito Vilanova's death

FC Barcelona''s employees place a black sache mid-field in respect to late former FC Barcelona''s coach Tito Vilanova at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona.
Tito Vilanova, the coach who succeeded Pep Guardiola at Barcelona and won the Spanish league title in his only season in charge, died yesterday following a long battle with throat cancer. He was 45.

Vilanova, who has battled a recurring tumour in a saliva gland, was admitted to a local hospital in Barcelona last week. He reportedly had emergency surgery on Thursday.

“It is with sadness that Barcelona must announce that Francesc “Tito” Vilanova has died today at the age of 45,” Barcelona said in a statement on its website. “The death of our former coach occurred this afternoon when he could not overcome this disease which he had battled since 2011.”

Vilanova’s death prompted an outpouring of condolences from players and coaches across Europe.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi said that is was a “moment of profound pain for Vilanova’s family, and also for Barcelona and its fans.”

“All of us who shared Barcelona’s locker room with Tito are deeply affected, considering what he gave us as a person and as a professional,” Messi said in a statement. “I, personally, will always hold dear the things he shared and went through with me, which I will never forget.”

“Tito was the first person who had faith in me,! four-times World Player of the Year Messi said on his Twitter feed. “I was a substitute — then he started me for the Under 16s.”

Former Barcelona defender Eric Abidal, who recovered from liver cancer and a liver transplant to help hoist the 2012-13 league trophy with Vilanova, wrote on Twitter: “For everything we went through together, I will always remember you, my friend. Thanks for fighting.”

Spain’s royal family and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also sent telegrams to Vilanova’s family and Barcelona, according to the Europa Press news agency.

Vilanova first became ill in November 2011, while still an assistant to Guardiola, and took a leave of absence after undergoing surgery. The soft-spoken Vilanova returned and took over from Guardiola the next season, when he led Barcelona to the Spanish league title with a record-tying 100 points.

Vilanova had a second tumour removed in December 2012 and travelled to New York several times during the season to receive further treatment before returning to the sidelines.

In April 2013, Vilanova said he felt fine and “had never thought about quitting.” He finished the season before suddenly being forced to resign following a relapse in July.

As an assistant, Vilanova helped Guardiola propel Barcelona into its most successful period and transform a team led by Messi into the world’s best.

With a team that also included several of the players that led Spain to the World Cup title in 2010, Barcelona won 14 of a possible 19 major trophies from 2008-12 under Guardiola before adding the league title with Vilanova in 2013.

Vilanova will also be remembered for his role in a brawl in the 2010 Spanish Super Cup won by Barcelona, when Real Madrid coach José Mourinho poked him in the eye.

Mourinho, who is now at Chelsea, also sent his condolences “at this most difficult time.”

“Tito Vilanova’s passing is a sad day for soccer, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends,” Mourinho said.

Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque said: “It’s a tragedy. A man of 45 years has left us with half his life ahead of him. I was able to speak to him also when it was known he was ill and he was an approachable person, always ready to help.”

His funeral will be on Monday at Barcelona’s cathedral.

Following are some reactions from the world of football after Vilanova's death:

"He is an eternal human and footballing reference for FC Barcelona," club president Josep Bartomeu said on Twitter. "Thanks for all that you have taught us. Rest in peace."

"For all that we lived together. I will always remember you my friend. Thanks for the fight. My love and support to your family," said former Barca and France defender Eric Abidal who now plays for Monaco and also had a fight with cancer during his time at the Nou Camp.

"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, a former assistant coach at the Nou Camp.

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

"It's a tragedy," said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque. "A man of 45 years has left us with half his life ahead of him. I was able to speak to him also when it was known he was ill and he was an approachable person, always ready to help."

"Spanish football is in mourning," said Jorge Perez, general secretary of the Spanish football federation. "After (former Spain coach) Luis Aragones (died in February) now this tragedy has happened. Our condolences for Barcelona and all his family."

"I'm speechless. You have been and will be always an example. I will never forget you," said Barcelona and Spain playmaker Andres Iniesta.

"Tito Vilanova, one of the best coaches I had in my career. Thanks for everything you gave us," Barcelona and Spain goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

"Thanks for everything Tito. May your soul rest in peace," said Barcelona and Cameroon midfielder Alex Song.

"Lots of support to all of Tito's family and friends. An example of fighting and strength for all of us," said Real Madrid and Spain defender Sergio Ramos.

"I'm saddened by the death of Tito Vilanova who was a great fighter in life and on the pitch. We will miss him," said Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

"Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Tito Vilanova. So talented, so admired, so young," said former Barca and England striker Gary Lineker.

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Tags:  Tito Vilanova  cancer  death  reactions  





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