Barcelona announced on Friday that TITO VILANOVA, who served as the club's head coach in '13, died of throat cancer at the age of 45. Vilanova came to the club as a player at the age of 15, in the '84-85 season. He had just turned 16 when he stepped into Barcelona's La Masia academy for the first time, and remained there as a resident until '89. He was an assistant coach at Barcelona for four seasons under PEP GUARDIOLA and he won 14 titles as an assistant. The illness had affected him since '11. The club opened a space in its main grandstand at Camp Nou for fans to express their condolences (Barcelona). MARCA reported approximately 53,000 people "said goodbye and paid homage to Vilanova on Friday and Saturday." Early on Sunday, the club closed "the stadium gates after two days with lines full of fans who wanted to show their respect in the goodbye to Vilanova." On Saturday, 20,802 people came to the stadium between 9:30am and 11pm, as "Barcelona set aside an area featuring a massive photograph of the former coach." Camp Nou's flags "are at half-mast and will be until Monday." There is "also a large black ribbon painted on the playing field that will remain there" (MARCA, 4/27).
PAYING TRIBUTE: MARCA reported that MotoGP drivers in Argentina honored Vilanova with a minute of silence while at the Termas de Río Hondo circuit in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. The drivers who participated included DANI PEDROSA, JORGE LORENZO and ALEIX ESPARGARO, who held a Barcelona shirt during the tribute (MARCA, 4/27). In Barcelona, Ferran Cosculluela reported in Vilanova's hometown of Bellcaire d'Empordà, which has a population of 700, "the news stunned his neighbors." Bellcaire d'Empordà Mayor DAVID FONT "decreed two days of official mourning" and appeared "very affected by Vilanova's death." Font said, "In these moments we just have to send a strong hug to his parents, his wife and all of his family. When such a beloved and young son of Bellcaire is lost, it is felt by all of us." Font added that it is "too soon to know what the town will do to honor Vilanova" (EL PERIODICO, 4/25). The EFE reported Spanish Superior Sports Council President MIGUEL CARDENAL said, "Tito wrote the most important pages in the club's story. Seeing the reaction of the public at Camp Nou demonstrates the love and affection that he left with the club and its fans. Tito was a brave man, inside and outside of football" (EFE, 4/27).
'GONE TOO SOON': ESPN's Graham Hunter wrote Vilanova was a "man of elegance, of potential, of ideas: of conviction." Vilanova was "firm, ambitious, principled -- in no way weak." He said that "getting all the families and staff together on nights like the one in London's Natural History Museum to celebrate the Champions League final win" of '11 were "almost more important to him than the trophy itself." He also spoke about the need, which "he had embraced, to treat victory and defeat as two impostors." He spoke about the "healthiness of being a sporting loser, about acknowledging that life will bring blows as well as laurel wreaths -- he spoke like a healthy, honest, decent man who was above the petty squabbles, the venal jealousies." What we "are mourning, what we have lost, is one of the architects of a truly great, artistic and life-affirming football era." Rest "in peace, Tito Vilanova" (ESPN, 4/25). In Barcelona, Santi Nolla wrote "the line of Barcelona supporters and all sorts of football people outside Camp Nou to say goodbye to Vilanova was impressive." Vilanova "entered the heart of 'Barcelonismo' some time ago and will never leave it." The "homage at the Camp Nou is not simply sincere recognition of all that he gave, it also shows that he left a footprint more with his values than with his success." Tito is "the natural expression of a good person" (MUNDO DEPORTIVO, 4/27).
TAKING TO TWITTER: ESPN reported "notable figures from across the world expressed their condolences" on Vilanova's death (ESPN, 4/26). Below is a compilation of some of the tweets in Vilanova's honor:
- Barcelona tweeted from its @FCBarcelona account, "The flags at the Camp Nou are flying at half mast #TitoEtern."
- La Liga side Athletic Bilbao tweeted from its @AthleticClub_EN account, "We send our prayers and thoughts to the family of Tito Vilanova. He will be remembered as a fighter and a hero"
- Chelsea tweeted from its @chelseafc account, "....On behalf of everybody at Chelsea Football Club I send my deepest condolences at this most difficult time.' #CFC"
- Bayern Munich tweeted from its @FCBayern account, "FC Bayern mourns Tito Villanova. With dismay and deep morning FC Bayern has gained knowledge of his death."
- Serie A side Juventus tweeted from its @juventusfcen account, "Antonio Conte: I’m saddened by the death of Tito Vilanova, a great example of a fighter both in life and on the pitch. We will miss him."
- Barcelona President JOSEP MARIA BARTOMEU: "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 midfielder ANDRES INIESTA: "I have no words. You have been and are an example, I am proud to have formed part of your life. I will never forget you. I wish your family strength through this moment. Rest in peace coach. Kisses."
- Barcelona midfielder CESC FABREGAS: "Thank you Tito."
- Atlético Madrid striker DAVID VILLA: "My deepest sympathy to Tito Vilanova's family and friends. He has been an example to us all with his fight. We will never forget him. Rest in peace."
- EPL Everton winger GERARD DEULOFEU, on loan from Barcelona: "Rest in peace Tito Vilanova! Lots of strength to his family."
- Real Madrid defender SERGIO RAMOS: "Lots of support to all of Tito's family and friends. An example of fighting and strength for all of us. RIP"
- Former U.S. women's player MIA HAMM: "So sad to hear of Barcelona's Tito Vilanova's passing. Prayers to the entire Barca family."
- BBC presenter GARY LINEKER: "Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Tito Vilanova. So talented, so admired, so young. #RIPTito"
- ManU goalkeeper DAVID DE GEA: "A very sad day, Tito Vilanova has left us but his fighting remains as an example. RIP great hug to all his family"
- RAFA NADAL: "Today a great man has left us. My condolences to Tito's family and friends."