Vilanova steps down as Barcelona coach due to recurrence of illness
League winner has suffered a recurrence of throat cancer
Barcelona players, including Carles Puyol, second left, and Lionel Messi, centre, attend a press conference at the Sports Center FC Barcelona Joan Gamper in San Joan Despi, Spain yesterday to announce coach Tito Vilanova was stepping down because of a recurrence of a throat illness. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images)
Tito Vilanova has stepped down as Barcelona coach after suffering a further recurrence of throat cancer. Barcelona called an 8.30pm press conference at which they made Vilanova’s departure official. He will be temporarily replaced by the assistant coach Joan Francesc Ferrer Sicilia, known as Rubi, who joined the club from the Segunda Division side Girona in the summer.
“We inform you that Tito Vilanova needs further treatment which makes it impossible for him to continue as head coach,” said the club president Sandro Rosell. "A new manager is to be appointed next week."
Vilanova (44) missed two months of last season after travelling to New York for treatment after a relapse.
In his absence the team were coached by Jordi Roura. Vilanova returned for the end of the season, which ended with a league title and Champions League elimination in the semi-finals. But Barcelona held concerns over his health. Vilanova was determined to continue but a worsening of his condition appears to have made that impossible.
Vilanova first had a tumour removed from his parotid gland in November 2011 and underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy. He returned to work after only 18 days and at the end of the 2011-12 season he was given the first-team manager’s job. The news of his relapse broke on 19 December, following a routine check-up carried out in Barcelona. Cruelly that was the very day that the defender Eric Abidal, who had suffered liver cancer, finally rejoined his team-mates in training.
The coach underwent surgical intervention and, although he returned to work in early January, he flew out to New York for two months on 21 January. Barcelona were adamant Vilanova would remain their coach for as long as he wished to continue. Barcelona won the league title, equalling Real Madrid’s record by reaching 100 points.
Abidal departed Barcelona in the summer after he was offered a post with the youth academy but not a place in the first-team squad. Vilanova insisted he would continue to coach Barcelona unless doctors demanded otherwise.
Although there are footballing considerations that will come to the fore in the near future, the immediate concern is Vilanova’s health.
The news comes in a week marked by a verbal conflict between the former coach Pep Guardiola and the Barcelona board about Vilanova’s illness that threatens to create another divide at the heart of the Catalan club.
Guardiola accused the Barcelona board of using Vilanova’s illness to attack him. Vilanova was Guardiola’s assistant and has been his friend for almost 30 years.
Barcelona president, Sandro Rosell, denied that accusation and Vilanova said Guardiola was “mistaken”. He also admitted he had been hurt that the new Bayern Munich manager had not visited him during the two months he was in the United States. “Pep is my friend and I needed him,” he said.
Barcelona will now begin the search for a new full-time coach, with less than a month before the season begins. A number of potential candidates have already committed themselves to other clubs for the new season, including the former Barcelona B manager Luis Enrique, who is now at Celta Vigo, and new Athletic Bilbao coach, Ernesto Valverde.
Sicilia led Girona to the promotion play-offs last season, only to be defeated by Almeria. He is well respected and has a reputation for attention to detail and attacking football.