Barcelona's coach Tito Vilanova has stepped down after suffering a further relapse of throat cancer. Tests detected that the disease that was first diagnosed in November 2011 required a course of treatment that has forced Vilanova to step down, the club's president Sandro Rosell explained. Barcelona cancelled a planned trip to Poland for a pre-season friendly.
Barcelona expect to announce the new manager in the coming days. Until then, the first team will be run by the assistant coach Joan Francesc Ferrer Sicilia "Rubí", who only joined the club from second division Girona in the summer. But the new permanent manager will not be an in-house appointment.
Rosell appeared before the media alongside the sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta on Friday night. Vilanova was not present but the press conference was attended by coaching staff from all levels at the club and those first-team players who have returned for pre-season training in Barcelona, including Leo Messi and the captain Carles Puyol. All were ashen-faced. There were no questions and Rosell spoke for just three minutes.
"Following routine tests, it was decided that he would follow a course of treatment to continue to control his illness that is incompatible with fulfilling his role as coach of the first team," Rosell said. The club's president described the news as a "terrible blow" and asked for understanding "for people first, before the club". He added: "We will present the new coach in the next few days, hopefully by early next week."
Vilanova, 44, missed two months of last season after travelling to New York for treatment on a relapse of his cancer. In his absence, the team was coached by the assistant Jordi Roura. Although Vilanova returned for the denouement of the season, which ended with a title success and Champions League elimination at the semi-final stage, Barcelona held concerns over his medium- and long-term health. Vilanova remained determined to continue but a further 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 radio therapy and chemotherapy. He returned to work after just 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 last year, following a routine check-up carried out at the Vall d'Hebrón hospital in Barcelona on the previous day. Cruelly, that was the very day that defender Eric Abidal, who had suffered liver cancer, finally rejoined his team-mates in training.
The coach underwent surgical intervention and although he momentarily returned to work in early January, he flew out to New York for two months on 21 January. Barcelona remained adamant that Vilanova would remain their coach for as long as he wished to continue and resisted some calls to hire a permanent replacement. Barcelona won the league title, equalling Real Madrid's record by reaching one hundred points. The title was widely referred to as "the league of Tito and Eric".
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, meanwhile, insisted that he would continue to coach Barcelona unless doctors demanded otherwise. Although the club had prepared contingency plans and expressed their concerns to the coach, the decision was always his.The speed with which Rosell said Barcelona would act suggests that their search for a new manager is already advanced but finding a new full-time coach with less than a month remaining before the season begins is not a simple task.
A number of potential candidates have already committed themselves to other clubs for the new season, including Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini, the former Barcelona B manager Luis Enrique, who is now at Celta Vigo, and the new Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde.