First he helped make La Liga boring. Now his life is anything but.
Tito Vilanova is expected to step down as FC Barcelona's manager Wednesday after reportedly suffering a relapse of a tumor on his salivary gland (via The Independent). Vilanova underwent surgery in November 2011 but the problem has apparently returned and robbed Barcelona—and the entire football world—of what could have been something truly special.
UPDATE: According to FCBarcelona.com Vilanova will have surgery Thursday followed by six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. On Vilanova's coaching prospects, the report says: "During this time, and depending on how well he recovers, Vilanova’s treatment may be compatible with his work life." END OF UPDATE.
Vilanova, 44, took over as Barcelona's head coach last spring after Pep Guardiola stepped down. Guardiola led Barca to glorious heights, winning 14 trophies in four seasons and molding the team into a an aesthetically pleasing, possession-intensive unit.
Under Guardiola, Barcelona inspired awe. With leading scorer Lionel Messi leading the line and midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta bossing the ball, Barca lapped up plaudits and took on the title Best Team of All Time.
Under Vilanova, Barcelona hadn't missed a beat. For an up-and-coming manager, there couldn't be much higher praise.
Perhaps, though, the tributes that poured in Wednesday come close.
All my support and best wishes to Tito and all of the people in the world fighting every day agains cancer. Be strong #AnimoTito
— David Silva (@21LVA) December 19, 2012
A lot of spirit to Tito Vilanova, hope he recover soon and well. Get well soon.Muchos ánimos a Tito, que todo le salga bien y se recupere.— Denis Suarez (@DenisSuarez36) December 19, 2012
With Vilanova's guidance, Barcelona made the smoothest of transitions away from the era of one of its greatest managers. Messi kept scoring, the midfield kept purring and Barcelona made the best start in the history of La Liga (via The Independent). Barca were so good, in fact, that after Vilanova's men brushed aside Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou last weekend, Atleti manager Diego Simeone labeled La Liga "boring" (via ESPN FC).
One only had to look to Barca's fiercest rivals, Real Madrid, for perspective. Less than a season after beating Barca to the league title, Real are a club in turmoil. Manager Jose Mourinho is correctly considered a genius for his extensive record of successes with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real, but even he has been unable to match Barcelona's stability.
Now that stability is threatened, not by any on-pitch rival but by a potential killer within Vilanova's own body. In situations like these, immediate reactions present themselves easily. Vilanova must focus on his own health. Sporting success can wait for later.
Knowing how to feel, however, is entirely less obvious. We know and see what Vilanova has been able to accomplish through continuity and expertise. The coldness of reality has just reminded us that we might never know what could have been.
Barcelona will go on, of course, though not with Vilanova for now. Instead of finding out what Vilanova could have accomplished this season with this team, we can only wonder.