Farewell, Tito Vilanova, aka “The ‘boat’ loses an important plank”


What makes you weep for a complete and total stranger?

Some people wonder that as we reel from the punch in the gut that was the news that our Mister, Tito Vilanova, succumbed to cancer at the age of 45.

It’s one cell. One cell that you can’t see with the sharpest eyes decided his fate. One cell that is causing culers, socis and anyone who loves FC Barcelona to weep, pay tribute and spend the day like me, doing ordinary things while feeling that lump in the throat, that notification that tears are right there.

So you try to do stuff … work, play, hanging with friends … you don’t want to give in somehow, as if to acknowledge the grief is to also acknowledge yet another bit of cruelty from fate.

Cancer, miscarriages, more cancer, hope, exultation, battles on and off the pitch in newspaper pages and courtrooms, blow after blow that makes you wonder what Barça has done to anyone, wonder if the indescribable joy of that Treble season came with a karmic price that is being extracted in heartache. You wonder how much culers are supposed to take, and then the next thing comes.

None of us are naive enough to believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. But you like to think that somewhere Fate is keeping a ledger, that written down next to a name is: No more for this one.

Tito Vilanova started with Barça in the club’s youth division. That he wasn’t good enough didn’t dissuade him as he left the club and went on to a solid professional career, even scoring a goal in 1998 against a Jose Mourinho-coached Barça (he and van Gaal swapped responsibilities in the Copa) as a player for Llieda. He started coaching not long after his retirement as a player, and joined Pep Guardiola as part of the team that took over Barça B, leading the team to Segunda promotion. When Guardiola was named to run the first team, there wasn’t a question that Vilanova wouldn’t be at his side as they engineered greatness.

When Guardiola left and Vilanova took over, nobody really knew what to expect even as we all had expectations of the brains behind the genius. When the news came down that Vilanova would be heading off to New York, in the U.S., to undergo treatment for salivary gland cancer, we were worried but not overly so. Everything was going to be fine, we were told. But even if we hadn’t been told that, Eric Abidal had just kicked cancer’s ass so we had a success template already in place.

You can’t have this one, either.

He grabbed many of us in just one season at the helm, beginning the season trying to engineer a revolution before beginning a much more difficult and important fight. He returned to cheers, neck wrapped in a stylish scarf. We tracked his ups and downs. “He looks good.” And we resumed the task of evaluating a man who really should have been sitting at home with his family, rather than showing his devotion and how much he loved his club by attempting to run it from near and far, Skype and sitting in the shadows of the Camp Nou dugout.

Maybe it was that fight that grabbed us. Maybe Vilanova made the choices that he made because he wanted to leave a mark, because deep down somewhere in those recesses where we hide things that we don’t want to deal with, he somehow knew that a single, glorious season would be it and he wanted to make a mark.

100 points. Now top that.

In a massive feat, Vilanova led the first team to a 100-point, record setting Liga championship that many of us celebrated even as others snarled about a season that somehow became defined by Champions League failure. Even the Liga success was tainted as so many claimed that the drive for 100 points cost us a talented youth player in Thiago as Vilanova/Roura opted for a conservative lineup rather than working in players who were tapped to be part of the team’s future. It was a championship year that was never allowed to feel like one.

Yet those who weren’t ripping at an ill man’s player management and accomplishments were looking forward to seeing what Vilanova was going to do his second year at the helm, now that he was in remission and ready to take charge. Then came the body blow, that Vilanova would be stepping down and Gerardo “Tata” Martino stepping in to manage FC Barcelona, and we began to wonder. It wasn’t worry, but it was wonder.

The season progressed and everybody squabbled about everything. A grainy photo of Vilanova in attendance at a match kicked off speculation about how he was doing, and then silence. His name came up again very recently, as people wondered how he was, as he hadn’t been heard of/from in some time. Then suddenly, we got the news that none of us wanted to receive: he had been admitted to hospital for an emergency procedure, prognosis uncertain.

On April 25, word came down and my first thought was that Barça had lost a family member. Mes que un club. Even if you don’t live in Catalunya, Barça is everything: politics, sport, Catalan culture and pride, a symbol of the region’s struggle for independence. It’s a great many things even before it becomes the thing that unites us all in discussion: talented men kicking a sphere around a giant lawn.

Barça is, for many, family united in love of a common entity. Because of that link you don’t run and hide to support another club when things aren’t going well. Supporters wax and wane, come and go. Family members, culers, stay. It isn’t even a question. Never will the love for a football club be purer than when the team isn’t winning because in many ways failure unites us more effectively than success. Success is fleeting, a sliver of time in the overall arc of a team’s efforts that are far more often than not, defined by failure. In 115 years of existence, the club has won 22 Liga championships. Success is special.

It isn’t just because Vilanova was part of the club during so much success, helping to bring along many of the youth players who are now the team’s stars, that this loss feels so comprehensive and soul-crushing. It’s because Vilanova was part of the club, a club and a family that is diminished by his passing. For me he was an iconic figure in the club not only because his success as part of the club’s coaching staff became the stuff of legend. Vilanova is Catalan with Masia roots. He IS Barça, and Barça has lost something irreplacable today.

After death, life goes on. It has to. For Barça, that is even more important as the team prepares for a renovation of sorts. But it is at a time like this that all of that stops as we wonder what to do with our grief, that weird emptiness that is as impossible to deny as to define. I say embrace it. Weep if you want, and understand that your tears are of loss and love, tribute to a man that most culers have never met even as he is part of a family to which we all belong. Half-staff flags, black armbands and weekend matches that will have a minute of silence in a wonderful man’s honor.

There are no clubs, no enemies, no rivals at a time like this. We’re all human, part of the same frail group that mourns, that feels, that can be felled by one stupid, microscopic anomaly as our body betrays us. It’s terrifying and humbling.

Many of us understand the feeling of losing a loved one to cancer. We understand being part of the immediate blood family and struggling with any and everything. You’re hungry, but you can’t eat. You’re thirsty, but all you want to do is hold someone and cry. I can’t imagine, even as many of us know all too well, what Tito Vilanova’s family is going through right now. All you can do is wish them strength, and spare a thought for them. And right now, when words fail and you sit around with that blank face you have when there really isn’t anything to say, you hope that they are somehow buoyed by the massive outpouring of love from a family local and global, who held their loved one in such high esteem.

Adeu, Mister.


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. Cancer sucks. Breast cancer claimed aunt rose at the tender age of 42 a few years ago, very similar to how Tito ended: sudden. It was a slower death; she lasted a week and we all got to say our goodbyes, but the pain never truly goes away. All we can do is offer our condolences and pray for the family

  2. In a world that venerates the crass and the crude, here was a man who was kind, decent, and exemplary. And such a winner, on the pitch, in the coaching booth, and in life. R.I.P.

  3. I, for one, am learning so many interesting things about this humble and intelligent man. What seems clear is how integral he was in the rebirth of the club. He seemed most comfortable out of the limelight, working tirelessly to make sure that Pep and the team were able to rise to heights that brought so much delight to those who never thought this sport could be so compelling and played so magnificently .

    Interesting interviews on Sky Sports about Tito:

  4. Such poignant and fitting tribute. As always, you have a way with words that many of us cannot eloquently express. Thank you, Kxevin. Your writing has soothed and comforted many cules. Indeed, it is during challenging and most difficult times that strengthen our resolve and unite us. Gracies, Tito. You have been an inspiration to us.

  5. R.I.P, Tito Vilanova


    You’ve been dealt a cruel blow

    By no other than that vicious soul

    You were brutally claimed by the spookily gaping hands of death

    Never to be seen again; forever to be laid to eternal rest

    Our friable hearts severely engulfed in grief

    Our pliable fates ensures no relief

    Your future story will remain untold

    Your previous history now’ll begin to unfold

    A moment outside time where nothing else matters

    Just the memory of you that excrutiatingly lingers

    You’ll remain in our bleeding hearts

    Forever immortalised!

    When we are rid of pain; whe’re comforted that we’ll meet again.

    Arrivederci, Tito.

    1. Thank you for sharing that. It made the hairs on my neck stand up. Class act & consideration by the supporters.

    2. Was gonna share the photo. Made me shed a tear when I first saw it. So touching.. Thank you Roma and Milan fans! Just shows how much people respected him. People hold him in high regard.

  6. No way I could say it better than Kevin. All the love in the world for his family. I’ve lost two family members to cancer, and both times it was hardest to deal with their absence. Tito was first and foremost a man who was easy to admire, a man that we could readily point to and say, “If I was manager, I’d want to be like him.” He’ll go down as a great among Barca greats.

    I wasn’t sure what to do with myself yesterday, so I made this small tribute: http://imgur.com/gallery/ynv1l

  7. Absolutely gutted. My heart is heavy & hurting. R.I.P. Tito. Your pain is now eased & you are in a far greater place. My thoughts & condolences with his family.

    1. I hope I am not being too petty, but now I would love to see Bayern thrash Real in Munich. It would be a nice tribute to Tito to see attacking football win out.

    1. Read it earlier. Thanks for sharing.

      From what I understand from the letter, Tito was already in the hospital last week because that’s where they met.

  8. Silence for Tito perfectly observed. By RM and their fans. Many thanks to them. For some reason I found that quite difficult knowing the recent history between the two clubs. There’s something special about even your “enemy” acknowledging one of yours.

  9. Hope everybody is okay.
    All of you must be grieving, I don’t know what to say to make you guys feel better.

    1. I’m gonna say that this letter continues to build in me a sense that this is a guy who could serve the club well. The tone comes across to me as not only sincere but very personal without ever descending into platitudes . Unbelievable that Tito was still offering to help up to a few days ago. Makes me realise my own failings.

      I struggled a bit when I read the ps, I have to admit.

      Btw, thanks for sharing the video of the youngsters celebration, Peter. Moving.

    2. Very nice gesture from young guys.
      For the record, Munir looks like he’ll be a great footballer

  10. Am still yet to come to terms with his demise and I wonder how the players mood will be for the up coming game. In other news, the parked bus is having a field day yet again at Anfield

    1. And speaking of buses, Atleti have ground out yet another 1-0 win, this time at the Mestalla. It really does look like they’re going to take the league. They have the head-to-head with EE, so they only have to end with the same points as them. Are we going to have a dead rubber game vs them?

  11. most probably, they just have to win their next game and we’ll field our B team in the last game. From another perspective, I’d fancy chelsea to go through if EE also go through cos Chelsea’s bus looks more unbreakable than AM’s.

  12. Well, we’re down 1-0 at the half. Hard to fault the team for playing this way, although we did have some decent chances. We’d probably be up 2-0 if the Messi of old had appeared for his chances!

  13. If we lose today, then I think it is time to bring in the B team. I would hate to see any of our players’ dreams for world cup glory end because of a freak injury.

  14. How about that Busi pre-assist! Busi to Cesc to Messi – signs of the future Barca maybe?

  15. Fabregas changed the game tonight but I don’t expect him to get any credit.

    It took something special to beat Asenjo tonight… Well 1 something special and two things crazy

    1. He changed the game against AB last week as well, but nobody mentioned it. Not literally, but the goals came as soon as he substituted Xavi.

      Anyway, i liked the way we played, and showed some more determination to run.

    1. villareal got really tired of our pointless crosses till they finally gave in ;” There… can u plz stop it now ?”

  16. I don’t know how the players got it up to play today. Xavi said after the match that in effect, the most difficult part was playing today. Everyone just looked devastated. Busquets wiping the tears away after the moment of silence really got to me. Messi dedicating his match winner to Vilanova just iced it.

    I love this club.

  17. Kxevin, thank you for that post.

    This was a weekend of an emotional roller-coaster. I have wept, cried, laughed while tears were running down my face(rest assured the grass will be taken care of), cried some more, prayed, clenched my teeth, then screamed with joy while my tear ducts engaged of their own once more. Barcelona lost a beatiful mind of football, a pitch general the likes of whom we’ll maybe see once more if we’re very, very lucky and behave ourselves. The Vilanovas lost a father and a husband, football lost one of its very own.

    Cherish the life of this person. Weep for that he is no longer with us, because like our ancestors gathered round a fire, we are selfish and greedy and don’t want to part with the best of us. Remember what he did, the good and the not so, because it was all a part of him.

    My fellow culers, out great family today is a little smaller. It depends on us to continue, to earn the continued gift that was robbed of one of our best. So I say to you: Earn it! Show the world that you can assume a small particle of the weight, that you can carry some of the burden. Show the world what being a supporter of Barcelona truly is. Celebrate the life of Tito Vilanova, by being a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger. Take strength from him. Have his unconquerable soul as a guiding light. If Barcelona is truly more than a club, then that makes you more than a supporter.

    I am not sure I can add anything else, because my tear ducts opened once more. In any case, be sure that he is watching. Make him proud. Whatever you do, make him proud, for he deserves it.

    I will leave you with a CANAL+ video(in Spanish) of his year, in three parts:


    and a poem to help you through the difficult moments, be they may be in your own life or in Barcelona:

    Out of the night that covers me
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole
    I thank whatever Gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced, nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the horror of the shade.
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds… and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how straight the gate
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate.
    I am the captain of my soul.


    1. Thanks, Peter. Obviously my profile has been low of late. It’s all been hard as hell to deal with. Great words from you, and excellent thoughts. Thank you for those, and being part of the family here.

  18. And as I said on Twitter, I have no interest in discussions about this player or that player, who is or isn’t up to snuff or doing his job. Not for the rest of this season at least. Because I can’t even begin to fathom the fortitude and mental courage it must have taken to go out there and even kick a damn ball, never mind doing it well enough to beat a team that was playing very well. They are warriors, one and all, fighting for themselves, and us, the supporters, and Barça.

    They could come back to win the Liga, they could lose it. I don’t care. With all that this team has been through, they have kept on striving to be as good as they could be, even when that good enough was insufficient to meet our at times unreasonably high standards.

    They say that to understand someone’s humanity is to gain empathy for that person. I think of Iniesta, after their miscarriage, coming out and playing a brilliant match. I see people on Twitter, questioning the players want on today, of all days and it blows me away. Even if this team doesn’t always get what it wants, nobody can tell me that it doesn’t want, this tribe of warriors.

    I have nothing but respect for this group of players, now and forever.

    1. Today was the most difficult for our boys. One should not forget that Tito was not only their manager last season. He was the first lieutenant of Guardiola earlier. That means for most of these players he was their guardian when they started their first team career.

  19. #somostodosmacacos #weareallmonkeys are trending worldwide on twitter.
    Great initiative by Dani, Ney and their families.

    1. Three contenders for MOTM:
      1) Tito
      2) Own Goal
      3) Villarreal banana-throwing fan for starting a worldwide movement.

  20. At 2-0 down, I only wanted to do one thing, stand up, go to bed and sleep away the misery and fortunately or not, it started raining and the signal was lost for about 30mins only for it to return with the score now 2-2 and 2-3 seconds later. Forgive my over optimism but my gut feeling tells me we will la liga. And there you have it, Brendan complaining that Mou ‘parked two buses’. Lol! He should have known better and I don’t hear people talking about a liverpool lack of plan B

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your loss my friend. Just last week I was wondering where you have been and now my questions are answered. Hope you’re well.

  21. It took me this while to write about tito because i’m the kind of person in which sadness or grieve doesn’t hit hit me instantaneously all at once, It tends to grow and grow, It’s like being hit with a sudden strong slap on the face and in that moment you don’t feel anger or even pain, You just feel blank, Trying to process what exactly just happened.

    You can’t help but to feel jealous of tito, Knowing that no matter how much we love this club, He loved it even more, From his time as a young boy until the day he died, Not only he loved it, He served it, As a player, A coach, And a figure of inspiration, And to think that such a true barcelonista no longer alive, It makes my heart ache.

    I always and still have the belief that tito had as big of an influence on our recent success as pep had, But there can only be one person named head coach, One person to attend the press conferences, One person to make the headlines, There is no room for two.

    After the former coach decided to leave claiming that he can no longer motivate the players, Tito didn’t believe in that, He still believed in our team, He still had faith in them, Otherwise he would’ve never accepted the job, And i don’t think tito spent any less sleepless nights watching video tapes or missing birthdays more than pep in those 4 years of glory with him.

    His achievement in liga is nothing short of astonishing, To think that we lost points just because of silly errors in the last minutes like against bilbao or celta vigo, Or we losing a 2 goal lead advantage against real sociedad because of pure complacency from the players, We would’ve easily reached a 107 points!, That’s mind boggling!.

    He should be always remembered, Cherished, And loved, He is an example for us all fans of the greatest club in the world.

  22. What does it mean to be the Special One? It does not involve winning leagues in three countries or dominating life in any way, it is a life well lived. A life of purpose, honor and integrity. It is the life of Tito Vilanova as he grabs the mic at a press conference and looks at a man that is separated by ethnicity and nationality, a man that has struggled, a man that the considers a brother; He looks at Eric Abidal and says, “We will wait for you as long as it takes.” Tito Vilanova a man of purpose, honor and integrity, a truly Special one.

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