Football is important, but it isn’t Life, aka “Anims, Tito”

I have learned a lot from this edition of Barça, including that football isn’t just supposed to make you weep tears of happiness.

Life does stuff to us, all the time. One of the things at which it is particularly adept is leavening joy with sadness, a karmic yin/yang that, if you were to sit down for coffee with Life, you’d probably discover that Life does it to keep us balanced.

Two weeks ago on a Tuesday night, some friends and I gathered for our usual Tuesday evening trail ride. It was a magical ride. Smooth, fast, a little fog to make things fun, lots of chatter and everybody was feeling bull-strong. Awesome. Then, at the very end of the ride, a guy who was the fittest among us had a massive heart attack and died. Bang. Life.

I am in process of making my usual season compilation DVD sets, and got to the first Chelsea Champions League match. I decided that Life isn’t going to have that fun with me, again. So I deleted both Chelsea matches, and the home Classic. Because highlights shouldn’t involve sadness, in my world.

When Pep Guardiola left last season, it was at the end of a period of heartbreak — two matches that crushed the team’s Champions League hopes, sandwiching one that crushed its Liga hopes. Life. After an extended period of such unfettered joy, bang. Some wept at the news of Guardiola. Others wondered what was next. But tears had become such a part of this club’s recent history that even as people wept, it seemed part of the status quo. We forget that before that was a staggering, extraordinary, beautiful match at home against Getafe, that found the club playing a kind of football that had been rarely seen that season. Triumph and pain.

Even at the end of the season, a celebration of football in which Barça obliterated an excellent Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Reig final, was offset with the news that its coach, its spiritual father, was leaving. Triumph and pain.

Guardiola said that the only times Barça made him weep was the CWC, and when he found out that Eric Abidal had cancer. Triumph and pain. Abidal returned, kicked cancer in the ass, hoisted the Champions League trophy at Wembley, fulfilling the rendezvous that he promised earlier that season. Then he relapsed, and had his transplant. Triumph and pain.

When Tito Vilanova was named as Guardiola’s replacement, none of us knew what to expect. Yes, his previous surgery for salivary gland cancer was well known, and the club assured us that his health was excellent, that he wouldn’t have taken the job had he not been 100 percent ready to rock. He took the helm and his club took off like a rocket. It is, as of this writing, unbeaten in La Liga. Then came the word that Vilanova’s cancer has, like Abidal’s returned. Because sometimes, cancer does that.

For me, it feels as if Life is saying that nothing can bring us that much joy and not be leavened with pain. That is balance. That is how it is Supposed To Be. But I don’t buy that. Why in the hell can’t life bring you sugarplums, then cotton candy, then ice cream, then a supermodel in a Ferrari? Why isn’t that fair?

When Abidal was diagnosed, I wrote that I would give everything back — the trophies, the accolades, the reams of spittle produced by the hyperbolic gibbering of the world’s press — if that dude could be home with his family, safe and sound and free of the grim specter that stalked him. I make the same wish for Tito Vilanova.

Right now, all that we have are rumors. And because I didn’t want to be stupid, I went online to do some learning about parotid cancer, the kind that Vilanova is battling. I wish that I hadn’t. I stopped at the second occurrence of “rare and often fatal.” It’s that Life thing again. Just this week, word came down from team doctors that Eric Abidal got the okay to start training with the team again, with an aim at playing with the club again by the end of the year. He won. We could look at Life and say “Nice try. You aren’t getting this one.” And in the same week comes the news of Vilanova.

It’s safe to say that even the most die-hard hater of this club feels some compassion, some empathy at the body blows that keep hitting this group. Karim Benzema dedicated his French Footballer of the Year trophy to Abidal. Real Madrid almost immediately posted well wishes for Tito Vilanova. Some would call these classy gestures, but I don’t. We forget sometimes, in our frenzy of dislike that at the end of it all, we are all human beings, all destined for the same fate. Along the path, we search for things that will bring us joy, and stave off darkness. But we are all human, and that humanity finds its ultimate voice in the instant cessation of all hostilities when Life comes calling. We are human, so we do what humans do when Life does what it does, which is comfort and seek comfort.

El Mundo Deportivo, in its official mouthpiece role, is closest to the club and has the most information. Assistant Jordi Roura will take over the club in the short term. Vilanova will have his surgery on Thursday, and doctors say that if all goes well, he will be home with his family by Christmas. Reports that he will step down from the job are premature, as fabricated as the quotes from our players that so riled supporters of opposing clubs. And we will hear a lot of crazy stuff over the next few days, not up to and including a return of Pep Guardiola to the helm. None of it will be true, until it is.

Adria Vilanova, a Cadete A player and the son of Tito Vilanova, has Tweeted “Thanks to everyone for the support. You’re all great, and all is well.”

For now, what we know is this: Life has done it again. All that we can do, which isn’t much even as it is everything, is send positive thoughts the way of Vilanova and the club, and hope. Because sometimes, hope is all that we have.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


    1. As Kxevin pointed out in his post today and a couple of days ago. Joy & Sadness. “Deserves” got nothing to do with it – William Munny

  1. Correct perspective.

    It just seems like, ‘Life’ as you put it, keeps happening to ONLY us.
    Why can’t the balance be restored in other ways? But I guess that these peculiar circumstances are another sign of just how SPECIAL this team really is.
    Not only have our achievements been unique and unreal, so have our trials and tribulations.

    1. Oh, no risk of being berated at all, Josep. All we know for sure is that he is having surgery Thursday for a recurrence of his salivary gland cancer.

    2. I was getting hammered on the twitters for showing my concern over something that wasn’t confirmed by the club, which it has been now.

    3. And even were it just rumors, I think it is normal to show concern.

      After all, it wasn’t unfounded. He was operated on such illness months ago.

      I would think fellow fans would understand the shock and fear and show empathy. Not a *fuck off* and go wait for the news attitude. So disappointing…

    1. Thanks. My worldview is that “death is part of life.” So while it was certainly jarring to be there as he passed away, my view of death is more sanguine. Plus, dude died right AFTER doing the thing he loved the most, surrounded by friends. Fate must have thought a lot of him to have him die in that situation.

      I have already told my wife: cremation, scattering and a big-ass party, with only funny stories allowed. She has the same wish.

    2. That’s my wish as well. No burial. Cremate my arse and scatter me in my 3 sacred spots: Rocky Mountains, Wrigley Field, & Camp Nou. The Rocky Mountains are easy enough. The Chicago Cubs have let people do scatterings for a couple of years now. The hurdle will be Camp Nou. Getting tickets low enough to the ground and being able to get away with it may be hard. Unless Barcelona allow it as well. Haven’t seen anything about it. NZM? Heck, the responsible party could even mix me in with a beer so I’d travel farther!

    3. I wouldn’t know!

      Big thing at Camp Nou (or it used to be, now that I think about it, I haven’t seen it done as much as it used to be) was to fold up the newspaper supplements that you get when entering the stadium, and make them into darts. Then the crowd would have an informal competition to see whose dart would travel the furthest onto the pitch.

      You could always get your ashes folded into a dart and launched over Camp Nou! 😆

  2. Prepare yourselves for a lot of misinformation about his medical condition.

    The fact is tumors in general, and specifically salivary gland tumors are incredibly heterogeneous. Without looking at the information the doctors have it is impossible to even make a guess at what his prognosis is.

  3. A lot of talk about Tito continuing to work during his chemotherapy and radiation schedule after the surgery. Don’t know what he will be taking, but these forms of therapy are incredibly debilitating. I would be surprised if he could continue to work during that time.

    1. Yeah, I think it would be optimistic in the extreme to expect him back to work before his treatment ends. Although I would be happy to be wrong!

    2. I’d be surprised as well. I lost a friend to brain cancer. He was an almost national-class bicycle racer, super fit and strong as an ox. Radiation/chemo knocked him on his ass.

      I think we have to adopt the “all we know is what we know” tack, as with Abidal. And see what happens from there.

    3. Doubt he would. Just as he took time off completely during his surgery/recuperation last year, all the more he should be doing so now.

      The body has to be strong to take chemo treatments. Worry/stress not conducive tp complete healing.

      UNLESS, he’s the type of person who thrives on adrenalin and it makes him stronger to worry over something else (other than his health).

      I just pray, pray, pray for him to get well soonest.

  4. That was fast Kxevin.

    Man.. We had a close call with Messi (although not a life threatening injury but it still was a scare) a few weeks ago but this is a huge one.

    I would be amazed if he can continue working just 6 weeks after the surgery. Coaching a football club isn’t a 9-5 desk job. It is far more demanding coaching a team. Would he be able to handle all the stress?

    I guess the doctor’s would know better.

    I hope Pep will fly down to be by his friend”s side. Although it could create an unwanted media attention (Pep returning to coach) and cause the players to go into a slump.

  5. Actually i don’t see a balance, you can have a great year, your first son is born, you get promoted at work, huge salary raise,and a million other great things but then you lose a family member due to age/ sickness/ accident and you will always remember that year as when your beloved family member passed away.

    Anims TITO.

  6. I wouldn’t want Guardiola to return in any capacity. It would become about the coach again, rather than the players. I like that Guardiola left, and the machine got more effective, and meaner. It’s about the players (even if mostly Messi).

    I think that some of the circus aspects, and micro-micro examination of everything, down to what Guardiola had for breakfast, wasn’t the best thing for the club. This year, with no expectations and a new coach, the gang is kicking out the jams, even as (shudder) the club isn’t playing all that WELL right now.

    Roura can run the show until Vilanova comes back. If Vilanova decides not to come back, the club crosses that bridge when it comes to it.

    1. I agree that Roura can run the show for a bit. Players like Xavi and Puyol will need to step up and be player-coaches for a while, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

      That said, if the club did need to bring in a short term replacement or even a caretaker for the rest of the season, Pep is the best man for the job.

      Except for very rare exceptions that prove the rule (Ferguson), coaches have limited half-lives at big clubs like these. Pep had reached the end of his half-life, it’s that simple. Rewriting his time at the club to say that his strong personality was bad for the club is outrageous. His strong personality gave the team an identity that it still carries and prospers from this season. Not to take anything away from Tito, but the club was in a much better and more stable place when he took over than when Pep did.

      And I disagree, the club is playing really well right now.

    2. I agree with Roura taking over. I’m 50/50 on Pep coming back as interim manager. I don’t think Kxevin was saying his “strong personality” was bad for the club. It’s the media hype around him because of his meaning to the club that was bad. We were under a bigger microscope than we normally are because he’s a homegrown, ballboy, club capt., Dream Team legend. He also represents so much to Catalans that every aspect of anything he does is media hyped. I agree completely with Kxevin that it wasn’t good for the team. Nor Pep! That’s why he looked 20 years older after 4 years at the helm. Your reading and interpreting what you want to out of Kxevin’s comments.

    3. Thanks, Messiah 10.

      The club isn’t a circus now. And that’s good. At the beginning, Guardiola began life as Vilanova has: another FCB coach that came with much uncertainty. Over time, he became Yoda. As focus grew, so did pressure, etc, etc. The Guardiola time had many different phases.

      His personality melded a group of players into a cohesive, dominant unit, with a style of play that has its roots in La Masia. I construe this as being different from an identity.

      And no, the club isn’t playing really well right now. At times it plays well. But mostly, it does okay, then gets bailed out by moments of individual brilliance. That’s working right now, and might well continue to work for the rest of the season. I define “playing well” as beginning to play to its potential, which happened the second half of Sunday’s match, as well as a few other times.

      But think about what happens if Falcao doesn’t get the yips, or that header hits the post at a slightly different angle and bounces in. When this team is playing well, those statements will be impossible to make, because it’s playing so well.

    4. I disagree with the notion that Tito and Pep’s starts were in any way similar.

      Also disagree with your assessment that the team isn’t playing well.

      I think with everything else going on, I’ll leave it at that.

    5. Just out of curiosity – which team in the world plays well consistently? As a team. That doesn’t rely on individual brilliance to be bailed out. Or even need bailing out for that matter.

      Also, which team in the world has scorers spread out throughout the team, consistently? Not relying on a “striker” or “forward” or any other person who does that job but may be called otherwise. Whose play does not involve passing or kicking it to one or two main person near the goal?

      The answer does not have to be a team now. Could be any team in the past.

      It could even be a Barcelona team as well in the past.


  7. Such sad news. We can only hope for the best for Tito. Anims.

    Kay Murray had a lovely and timely remembrance of Pep’s acceptance speech for the BdO coach of the year and his insistence on giving one part of that speech in Catalan – which of course was his dedication of the award and message to Tito:

    During last year’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, there was one thing ex-Barca coach Pep Guardiola was sure of:

    On the day leading up to the prestigious gala, all of the nominees pass through the stage and seating area ahead of the evening’s ceremony, to speak with FIFA representatives and hosts.

    When the Barcelona contingent of Messi, Xavi and Pep Guardiola passed by ahead of the 2011 event, the former coach was asked which language he would be speaking in should he receive the award for ‘Best Coach’.

    As you can imagine, there are a number of translators for such a huge global event, covering a number of languages.

    When he was asked if he could speak in English, Pep had absolutely no problem in doing so, but he revealed that he would also be using Catalan for one small phrase he had to say.

    There were no Catalan translators on the night, but Pep was adamant that there was one line that he would be saying in the language despite this.

    We later discovered that line was to dedicate the award to his then assistant and long-term friend, Tito Vilanova. Back then Tito had recently undergone an operation to remove a tumour on his parotid gland – the largest of the salivary glands.

    Pep said:

    “[From the bottom of my heart] I would like to dedicate this title to Tito Vilanova, my friend, companion, assistant, who is always there, even though he has not been with us that much lately.

    “Tito, this one is for you.”

    This morning we woke to reports that the cancer has returned. FC Barcelona are expected to make an official statement at some point.

    But whichever language we, as members of the football family speak, we are united in one voice when we say:

    “Anims Tito” about 3 hours ago

  8. Rosell and Zubi just fronted the press.

    Pretty much repeated all that’s been said.

    Tito’s strong – both physically and mentally, his focus will be to get well again.

    The team is in good shape – they know what to do and the gameplan against Valladolid has already been shaped.

    Jordi Roura will continue as interim coach – they have huge faith in him.

    One reporter (COPE – thought they were banned!) asked Rosell about Pep. Rosell said that the club’s preference was to maintain the continuity with Roura and the existing coaches.

    All 4 captains were in the room – VV, Xavi, Ini and Puyol, plus Carles Naval, who’s the big guy (team liaiason) usually prowling the sidelines and organising the subs on and off.

    My personal feeling is that it should be left to Roura & Co.

    Not sure if you’ve watched the bench this season, but Tito consults Roura and the other coaches quite a bit. Always talking going on. Lots of group decisions being made. Ultimately, Tito has made the calls, but they have been with input from the others.

    Pep coming back would be a huge distraction and take the focus away from the team.

    Let it roll. The guys know what to do, they have even more incentive to do well now.

  9. The team should at the beginning of every season take the time out to commit all the players into Gods hands ( Assuming they dont) because situations like these are unforseen and no matter how vigorously your health is being monitored you still need grace from above to give you an edge especially when dealing with cancer.
    I sincerely hope Gods mercy locates Tito and his family in this time of need.

    1. I’m sure the religious fans and members of the team/club have Tito in their prayers – hopefully that’s enough and he receives the best possible medical treatment and has the strength and support to beat this once again. Anims Tito!

  10. Shocking news, just hope he has a full and healthy recovery. Good luck to him and his family. As for the team, it’s a mentally strong group with lots of veterans, there shouldn’t be a short or medium term problem.

  11. With this, and the tragedy in Connecticut, it seems like a good time to appreciate what you’ve got and tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them.

    While not the same, I’d still like to give a shout out to everyone on this site, for creating and maintaining such a wonderful forum to share and discuss our mutual passion. BFB really does add significantly to the pleasure I get from following FCB.

    And of course, anims Tito! (I’m quite hopeful)

  12. Wow, after so many great News full of joy in the past days this happened..shocking News all thoughts are with him and his family.

    Ánims Tito, you fought and overcame it once you’ll do it twice. All my supports to you.

    Reading all the Tweets of Zubi’s and Rosell’s talks to the press i want to express my admiration for Zubis handling the Issue. Flawless answers to sometimes silly and insensitive Questions. One of the best decisions of Rosell to appoint him to the Team. Bravo,Zubi however I hope he’ll show more presence in future particular when it gets ugly with our rivals and the Medias from central Spain..

    1. Zubi was immense.

      Yes, stupid questions were thrown at them, but the press will take whatever opportunity comes their way to ask them. They don’t often get Rosell in front of them, and you could see why tonight.

      He only answered one question and his reply was to read the same words off the press release which he had just read out.

      Zubi took charge and was wonderfully calm and reassuring. Much like he was in the conference when Pep announced his resignation.

    2. Yeah it’s business as usual unfortunately. At least the question if this increase Barcelonas Legend made me wonder of that Journos brain condition.

      Indeed all Sandro did was reading out loud and was once again outshone by Zubi. Thought his speeches at Abidal’s first time Cancer illness as well his speeches at Laureus awards made a positive impact but now that was weak.

      Zubi didn’t leave room for speculation and that is a big thumb up couldn’t say if Rosell achieve that.

  13. Good post Kxevin, just very sad news, if its balance life needs, then we’ll have Tito back in no time.

    and to the “why us?” cules out there, I ask why ANYONE? That’s life.

  14. After just having lost my 10 yr old niece to leukemia this past summer, this is so sad coz Barca is my like my ‘OTHER’ family, although i don’t even know them personally. I’m still struggling to get over the lose of my beloved niece and i hope that Tito recovers well and quickly so his family doesn’t suffer.

    ANIMS TITO!! (weired as it is, replace the O in Tito’s name with an A and that was her nickname)

    1. I’m sorry for your loss. No child should not enjoy full and loving life. No parent should have to go through the loss of a child. Thoughts are with you and your family.

  15. I just got the news last night before going off to bed. And now I feel kinda empty. It feels like someone I know personally is going through a really tough time. I don’t even know Tito.

  16. Interesting match-ups – some cracker games to watch:
    Galatasaray – Schalke 04
    Celtic FC – Juventus
    Arsenal – Bayern
    Xakhtar – Dortmund
    AC Milan – Barça
    Madrid – United
    València – PSG
    Porto – Màlaga

    1. Very strange goings-on, if this article is to be believed.

      UEFA performed a mock draw yesterday, and the real draw today produced exactly the same results!

      What are the chances of that?

      See the comment in the Live Ticker, timestamped 10:52am UTC which reads:
      So there you have it – in a truly bizarre turn of events, the draw has matched EXACTLY the mock draw performed yesterday! What a round of fixtures we have on the cards..

    2. Whoa. What are the odds you would think. If it was just a round of 4 teams, semi-final, it would’ve been believable but this is a round of 32 teams. All 16 draws were correct!

      What were the potential teams that we could be drawn? I’m ok with AC Milan. It should be easier without Ibra, Seedorf and Silva.

      Madrid vs Man United. Hmmm I hope Man United will go through bit I doubt it. The only team that can stop Madrid besides us are Bayern, Dortmund and Juve.

      Celtic nearly got a draw and and got a win against us over 2 legs. Could they do it against Juve?

      I’m still waiting for a message from Celtic to Tito/Barca.

    3. Not so sure about that, United have the right tools to stop counter madrid: a decent right back in rafael who can frustrate ronaldo and go forward to help in attack and the best traditional winger on the planet in valencia. Those two will have a field day against marcelo with TB unwilling to track back.

    4. Not sure if you’ve been watching the Madrid games of late, but Ronaldo is definitely tracking back in defence.

    5. Even though Man United is first in EPL but they’re not convincing at all. Madrid is one or 2 level above them.

      To me it’s like this.
      Barca is the undisputed king.

      2nd batch you got Madrid, Juve, Bayern and Borussia.

      Third batch Man United.

      Forth batch Arsenal and PSG.

    6. United’s defense has been horrible this year. They’ve been shipping goals by the dozen. Rio Ferdinand looks like a shell of his former self and Vidic is always injured. United do have the strikers to do damage, but Real’s defense is not bad. EE should win that tie.

    7. The draw happened already? That was early!

      Damn, I’m tired of playing Milan. Puyol will be happy, though. And we’ll get to see Bobo again.

      Poor Celtic are going to get their asses handed to them.

      I will be fascinated to watch Madrid – United. What fun!

    1. Really??! Based from past experience, the Gooners were the worst bunch. I can’t recall many Milan fans trolling here.

  17. So. Advancing are


    Those are my picks and I’m sticking to them. If United buys a midfield in the January window that pick could change. Otherwise, I just see Alonso standing there and picking them apart, wing damage that RM will suffer notwithstanding.

    1. Have you seen United’s defense? They are mediocre at best. I don’t see how they can stop EE. They may keep up with them in terms of scoring though. I just can’t see United progressing past EE.

    2. I think United’s defense is a bit less leaky than EE’s right now. But you never know what’ll happen in Feb/March. I think its best to speculate a week or two before the games..

    3. I second Gogah on both RM and dortmund. Also hoping for a celtic miracle against Juve, doubt it will happen though, they’ve been so solid.

  18. Don’t understand people counting out united so soon. Assuming Vidic is back for the game along with anderson and kagawa, not to mention RVP and rooney scoring freely (highest scoring duo in europe) they can cause RM a lot of problems.

    Both teams are heavily reliant on counter attacking, so the game will be cagey as hell. Also, no way in hell is fergie gonna leave alonso to do as he pleases.

    I for one hope united go through to the final, assuming we get there it will make for a fantastic rematch at wembley.

    1. If United don’t buy a midfield in the January window, they have zero chance of advancing. You give Ozil, Jughead and Alonso space and opportunity, and they will kill you every time.

    2. Completely agree. United need another top notch CB and there aren’t any. Evra is aging, Ferdinand looks 3 steps slower, the twin isn’t bad, but I can’t see United withstanding EE’s pace and power. Ronanldo will definitely be UP for this tie as well. EPL is overrated and United’s 1st place position is flattering. Check out how many goals they’ve conceded and who they’ve conceded against. They needed 4 goals to beat Reading I believe.

    3. @Momo

      Yeah Man United would be the perfect finalist for us if we get there that is.

      You seem to rate Man United very highly. You mentioned their strikers. It is no doubt their biggest threat but compare it to Madrid.

      Ronaldo, Benzema, Higuain, Di Maria are much of a bigger threat. Ozil will tear them apart and the English fans will worship him like how they’re worshipping Pirlo and Falcao now.

    1. lol or they would just lock him in his hotel room. Would love to see Dirty Tackle do one in this like how he did on Ronaldo.

  19. EPL flavor of the week Adel Taarabt claims that Barca is after him. Do note that I read it on ESPN news so I am taking it with a pinch of salt.

  20. It seems that La Masia is both churning out incredible players and coaches. Pep, Tito and now Roura. Did’nt know he was in charge of the games earlier in the season against Valencia and Getafe when Tito was sent to the stands against OsaTUNA!

    1. Hello.

      Wow. I can’t imagine how much time in total they spent to write this. They must’ve spent many hours analyzing 1 match and can you imagine in total?

      I would’ve preferred them to publish this many years later though when this batch of players are retired.

  21. FIRST: sounds like everything went according to plan with Tito’s operation. GREAT NEWS.

    my maths might be bad here. ignoring that teams can not play against other teams from their own league (but not ignoring that they cant play a team from their group) the odds of any particular draw taking place are 1 in 7! = around 1 in 5000.

    this exact same draw taking place twice would be (1/7!)^2 = 1 in 25 million.

    the actual odds would be less because teams from same league cant face one another.

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