Former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has died at the age of 45, the club have confirmed, after unsuccessful emergency surgery.
The ex-central midfielder was admitted to hospital following a downturn in his health which required an operation on his stomach on Thursday, with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirming the trainer was “fighting” for his life.
However, Vilanova, whose post-playing career has been tragically plagued by cancer, was unable to battle any longer and passed away on Friday afternoon.
Vilanova’s public health problems began after he suffered a relapse of parotid gland cancer in 2012 – a year after his original diagnosis – just six months into his tenure as head coach at Camp Nou as Pep Guardiola’s successor.
He underwent surgery in December 2012, with Jordi Roura taking his place on the bench while he recovered in New York, before returning in March 2013 to see out the rest of the reason and guide Barca to La Liga victory.
However, his continued health woes saw his unexpectedly step down as coach of the Catalans last summer, with Gerardo Martino taking the reins in his place.
Vilanova has largely – and understandably – been out of the spotlight since he left his position at Camp Nou but rumours of his ill health have sadly been revealed to be true. He is survived by a wife and two children.
Following confirmation of his death, Barcelona president Bartomeu said in a statement: “Tito will be reference as a man and in terms of football for Barcelona forever. We thank him for everything he taught us. Rest in peace.”
The Catalans, whom he worked under for years before being promoted from within to head coach in 2012, also sent their condolences to the family of Vilanova.
“The club wishes to express its most heartfelt sympathy to his family, who are being joined in these moments of mourning by Barcelona members and fans all around the world, as well as the rest of the footballing and sporting world.
“The Vilanova family has asked for respect for their desire for the strictest intimacy in the moments after his death.”