Tito Vilanova’s journey from the mortal life to that of immortality

Goalden Times pays tribute to Tito Vilanova — a ‘great football strategist’ but, above all, ‘a deeply honourable human being’.


Francesc ‘Tito’ Vilanova i Bayo bid farewell to this world on Friday, April 25, 2014 at the age of 45 after battling with throat cancer for more than 30 months. His passing has immersed the entire football fraternity in mourning. Tito has led an exemplary life of courage and integrity. Even in the most difficult times in his life, Tito said football was his best therapy. The man, who mostly preferred to stay behind the scene, significantly contributed to the making and shaping up of the footballer we know as Lionel Andrés Messi today.

Tito started his playing career at UnióEsportivaFigueres, football team based in Figueres, a town in the Girona province of the autonomous Catalonia. In 1984-85, at the age of 15, he came to FC Bercelona for a trial and joined La Masia where he stayed for five years. Some of his close associates in those early days included Pep Guardiola, Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira. Who would have thought that they together would create the dream Barcelona team later!

He played his club football with Barcelona B and a number of other clubs including his native Figueres, Celta, Mallorca and Elche. Tito was a lanky midfielder and particularly known for his free-kicks. No wonder Messi started getting better with his free-kicks under Tito!

In 2002, Tito joined La Masia’s coaching staff and started working with the young Messi, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas among others. After a spell as technical director at Terrassa FC, Tito joined Barcelona B as the assistant manager under Pep Guardiola and their coaching, promoted the team to Segunda Division B. Pep was given the charge of the senior team in the following season and he took Tito there along with him . Tito was a master tactician; it was his idea to play Messi in the false 9 role for the first time when Barcelona annihilated Madrid with a 2-6 win in the Spanish capital on May 2, 2009. Fourteen major titles in four years and playing some of the most breathtaking football that the universe has ever seen, the Pep-Tito tandem created the dream Barcelona team.

When Pep took a sabbatical in 2012, Tito was asked to be the main man in charge and, what a season he had at Barcelona! In spite of him missing four months of the season due to surgery, Barcelona won the 2012-13 La Liga with a record 100 points equalling Real Madrid’s record from the previous season. Upon their feat, Iain Macintosh, the UK- based sports journalist, tweeted: “Tito Vilanova orchestrated a title-winning campaign from his hospital bed even while desperately ill. The man’s a legend.”

Tito Vilanova was the first manager in Spain to field a team with 11 home grown players. His team won 32 of the 38 games (84.21% win rate) in La Liga, more than any other coach in this millennium. The team scored 115 goals in 38 games and set a new goal-scoring record.

Tito was first diagnosed with parotid gland cancer in November 2011 and got his tumour removed. But the cruel cancer relapsed in 2012 December and he went to New York for treatment where he was given chemotherapy and radiotherapy before he returned to Spain in March to see his Barcelona take the Spanish title.

Tito Vilanova, Eric Abidal and rest of the Barcelona players after winning La Liga 2012-13
Tito Vilanova, Eric Abidal and rest of the Barcelona players after winning La Liga 2012-13

Tito was set to continue as the manager of the team. But on July 21, 2013 Tito Vilanova sent an emotional letter to FC Barcelona explaining that he had to leave the Blaugrana bench to continue medical treatment. His health condition just did not allow him to continue his football therapy any more.

On April 18th, 2014, Tito was operated for a gastrointestinal complication and within a week he was rushed to Hospital Quirón’s emergency room where he quietly retired from football and life, forever.

With homage pouring in from all corners of the sporting world, ex-Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes’s words echo the loudest: “…Tito is a great football strategist. He’s hard-working, reserved and valiant, and has a direct, fluid relation with his players. He has a positive sense of human values. He has not only set an example for the sporting world, but for the world in general with his outstanding elegance…”. Perhaps this world was never meant for one as beautiful as Tito.

Andy West, the Spanish football writer, has concluded aptly, “And more than that, he should also be recalled as a deeply honourable human being who met adversity and triumph alike with humility and dignity.”

Goalden Times extends their sincere condolences and prayers for the family — wife Montse and children Carlota and Adrià. With Tito up there, I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.

Photo credits: Talk Sports