A sideways look at Spanish football
In the end, Barcelona fans were only able to celebrate the news of the contract renewals of three pillars of the club - Leo Messi, Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol - for 24 hours. “Eternal” read the front cover of Wednesday’s edition of Mundo Deportivo, alongside the faces of the three footballers; an indication of the joy this had brought to a club already buoyed by being top of la Liga, 13 points ahead of Real Madrid.
Later the same morning, an announcement was posted on the Barcelona website that all the club’s official activities, including a speech by club president Sandro Rosell and a Christmas lunch for the media, had been suspended. Mundo Deportivo then reported that Tito Vilanova had suffered a relapse and a new tumour had been discovered during a routine check-up on Tuesday at the Vall d’Hebrón hospital, where the 44-year-old was treated for his original cancer. Truly awful news for a rookie manager already seemingly at the peak of his powers just seven months into one of the most demanding jobs in world football - making the best club in the world even better.
However, such is the impatience of this modern internet-heavy world of ours, speculation as to who would be taking over from the Barça coach was already rife, despite the fact absolutely no confirmation of any kind had been made by the club in regards to Vilanova’s condition, or anything else for that matter. Indeed, clubs, players and various organisations were publishing official declarations of support for the Camp Nou manager’s battle even before Barcelona themselves revealed what that fight may be.
That moment didn’t arrive into the early on Wednesday evening, once the Barcelona players were informed of the situation, with a brief medical report published on the club website stating that there had been “a change of condition” for the Barça manager, and that surgery would be taking place on Thursday morning, followed by three to four days in hospital. A course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy would then take place for a period of six weeks, though the coach “may be able to mix work with the treatment.”
Sadly, it’s a horribly familiar scenario for Tito Vilanova. On the November 22nd 2011, Barcelona announced that their then assistant manager needed urgent surgery to remove a tumor from his parotid gland. After six days in hospital, Vilanova was able to return home, and by December 7th he was back taking training with the first team. Even more positive news was to come on the 12th May this year, with the announcement from the Barça manager’s doctor that Vilanova was “well, cured and free of illness.” By that time, the Catalan had been appointed as Pep Guardiola’s replacement for upcoming campaign, a season that by now has seen the club make a record-breaking start with 15 victories and a draw from the side’s first 16 matches. Indeed, such a serious illness having been overcome just a year before was often overlooked such was the way that a confident Vilanova had been taking everything in his stride.
There’s no doubt Vilanova has a challenging time ahead over the coming months, but he has the support of an outstanding club, players and millions of fans and well-wishers around the world to help him through. However, for Tito, the battle against his condition does not concern himself and his own troubles, but his family. In an interview recorded in September with television station TV3, Tito Vilanova spoke about the impact the diagnosis from the previous year had had on his life. “When they told me what I had, it was a hard moment and I thought more about my children than me. I believed they still needed me.”
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