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Former Barca coach Vilanova is no more

Barcelona: Tito Vilanova, the former Barcelona coach, has died of throat cancer at the age of 45.

Vilanova led the Catalan club for a season after taking over from Pep Guardiola, but was forced to resign last summer because of ill health.

Barca said in a statement: “It is with immense sorrow that FC Barcelona announces that Francesc ‘Tito’ Vilanova i Bayo departed this world today at the age of 45. He passed away this afternoon after losing his battle against an illness that had affected him since 2011.

“The club wishes to express its most heartfelt sympathy to his family, who are being joined in these moments of mourning by FC Barcelona members and fans all around the world, as well as the rest of the footballing and sporting world.”

Vilanova was Guardiola’s assistant for four years at the Nou Camp, the pair having previously worked together with the B team. He was first diagnosed with parotid gland cancer in November 2011 and the disease returned in December 2012.

Barca sent their “deepest condolences” to Vilanova’s family and said they would be opening a space in the main grandstand at the Nou Camp for people to express their condolences.

The club’s president said on Twitter: “Tito Vilanova was a wonderful person, and will never be forgotten at FC Barcelona. Thank you for everything you taught us. Rest in peace.”

Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi paid tribute to his former coach. “Tito was the 1st person who had faith in me,” Messi, the four-time World Player of the Year, said on his Twitter feed. “I was a substitute - then he started me for the Under 16s.”

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on the club’s Twitter account: “Tito Vilanova’s passing is a sad day for football, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends. On behalf of everybody at Chelsea Football Club I send my deepest condolences at this most difficult time.”       (Agencies)