Tito Vilanova, the coach who succeeded Pep Guardiola at Barcelona and won the Spanish league title in his only season in charge, died on Friday after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 45.
Vilanova, who has battled a recurring tumor 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," the club said on their website. The death of our former coach occurred this afternoon when he could not overcome this disease which he had battled since 2011."
Vilanova first became ill in November 2011, while 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-equalling 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 their most successful period and transform a team led by Lionel Messi into one of the world's best ever. Barcelona won 14 of a possible 19 major trophies from 2008-12 under Guardiola before adding the league title with Vilanova in 2013.
Despite the impressive league display, Vilanova was unable to win another Champions League title last season. Barcelona lost to the eventual champions, Bayern Munich, 7-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals.
As Guardiola's assistant, Vilanova provided the tactical know-how that helped the coach build one of the best teams in the history of the sport winning two Champions League titles in their impressive haul.
Vilanova will also be remembered for his role in a brawl in the 2010 Spanish Super Cup won by Barcelona, when Real Madrid's then coach,José Mourinho, poked him in the eye.
As a young player, Vilanova was at Barcelona's training academy from 1984-89 but never made it to the first team. Instead, he went on to play for clubs such as Celta Vigo and Mallorca before his career was cut short by a serious knee injury.
Vilanova then went into coaching and got a job with Barcelona's cadets, tutoring players such as Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fábregas and Messi. Vilanova left to work as the sport director at third-division Terrassa before returning to Barcelona to take over the club's "Barca B" feeder team.
Barça sent their "deepest condolences" to Vilanova's family and said they would be opening a space in the main grandstand at the Camp Nou for people to express their condolences.
The club's president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, said on Twitter: "Tito Vilanova was a wonderful person, and will never be forgotten at FC Barcelona. Thank you for everything you taught us. Rest in peace."
Mourinho, now Chelsea's manager, said on his club's Twitter account: "Tito Vilanova's passing is a sad day for football, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends. On behalf of everybody at Chelsea Football Club I send my deepest condolences at this most difficult time."
Vilanova is survived by his wife, Montse Chaure, and two children. His son Adrian is in Barcelona's youth academy.
Anima Eius Requiescat In Pace