“Cherish everything that you have in life. You never know when your time will come.” Those were the words of Francesc ‘Tito’ Vilanova i Bayó (1968-2014) who’s moment sadly came too soon after continuously fighting with throat cancer since late 2011.
A graduate of the Barcelona Academy, Tito’s playing career never really kicked off. After not being able to break into the Barcelona first team he moved to another Catalan team, EU Figueres where he led the club to its best ever Segunda Division finish of third. He then transferred west to Vigo to play for Celta where he made only 26 appearances during his three seasons at the club in Spain’s first division. Throughout his career he also represented clubs like Mallorca, Elche and Lleida – although never in the top tier.
His coaching career was perhaps a contrast to his playing one. It started in 2003, managing Palafrugell in the Third Division before he was reunited with his boyhood club as assistant Coach of the Barcelona B team of his good friend Pep Guardiola. Together they achieved promotion to the Segunda Division B and after the dismissal of Frank Rijkaard the duo were together promoted to manage the first team, a risky move perhaps by the Barcelona board-but it was certainly the right one as what would follow would be unforgettable.
This 2008-09 season would end up being one of the most successful of Barcelona’s history – If not the most. The Blaugrana achieved what nobody else before had, to win six trophies in one year – every competition in which they participated. During this time Tito was not in the spotlight and at the time his work as Guardiola’s right hand man was not justly recognised as Guardiola was granted most, if not all of the praise for Barcelona’s staggering season.
However, what people do not know is that during the Pep-Tito era, Guardiola would not make a single decision without consulting Tito. In the years that followed Barcelona would go on to win more and more trophies like the Champions League of 2010 and the La Liga of 2011. However, in 2012 Guardiola’s time came and he announced that he would leave the club at the end of the season. The Barcelona board had to look for a leader of Guardiola’s calibre. Yet, they did not have to look very far to find his successor; he was standing right in front of them. Only one man could be appointed and that was Tito. The directives knew this as his experience, talent and complete knowledge of the club would be the certain keys for success. The Tito-Pep era terminated and Tito knew that this was to happen if he wanted to keep growing as a manger rather than stay in his good friend’s shadow.
Success continued to follow and after continuously fighting with throat cancer Tito’s new Barcelona side made history by winning the La Liga with 100 points and scoring nearly 160 goals throughout the season. A formidable achievement for a man who had for so long been in the shadow of Guardiola and whose presence was felt when Jordi Roura had to take over for some time while he was fighting the most important battle of his life and the team’s form certainly dipped. Yet, his successful season was unfortunately overshadowed by the embarrassing 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the Champions League for which Barca were widely criticised.
Sadly, on the July 19, 2013 it was announced that Tito would not be Barcelona manager any longer after continuously fighting for his life after he felt that he could not give Barca his 100 per cent. Tata Martino was appointed and the team changed without Tito – maybe for the worse as their 2013-14 season has been disappointing.
Sadly, yesterday, after continuously fighting for his life the 45-year-old passed away.
Rest in Peace Tito. You’re gone but not forgotten.