Playing for Tito: How Barcelona Can Learn from the Indianapolis Colts

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

MALLORCA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 11:  Head coach Tito Vilanova of FC Barcelona looks on prior to the La Liga match between RCD Mallorca and FC Barcelona at Iberostar Stadium on November 11, 2012 in Mallorca, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

For the first time since March, Eric Abidal returned to training with FC Barcelona on Wednesday.

The Frenchman has been absent from proceedings for nine months following the discovery of a cancerous tumor on his liver, and announced his return to work on his Facebook page.

On the same day the Blaugrana welcomed the defender back with open arms, however, they held a press conference confirming the news that the cancer that affected Tito Vilanova's parotid gland has relapsed. It is the same condition that kept the current manager from assisting Pep Guardiola for three weeks last year.

Following surgery on Thursday, Vilanova will undergo a six-week treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Doctors expect he may be able to work during the treatment, and Barcelona has insisted they will stand by the 44-year-old former midfielder. The Guardian quotes sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta:

Tito is, Tito was, and Tito will continue to be our coach. [Assistant coach] Jordi [Roura] will sit on the bench in Valladolid but Tito is our coach. We will continue as naturally as possible. Tito is not here, Jordi is. All of [Tito's] team is.

While support has poured in from all over the world—even Real Madrid have overlooked sporting rivalry to express their best wishes—the Catalan giants must now face the prospect of continuing the season without their leader.

In this time of difficulty, Barcelona could look to the NFL and the example set by the Indianapolis Colts.

In September, coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and given an indefinite leave of absence.

Without the guidance of the 52-year-old, many expected the Colts to falter. However, they have rallied behind their leader and displayed wholehearted support: many players and several cheerleaders shaved their heads in solidarity. Perhaps more importantly though, they used his strength to inspire victory on the field.

Led by No. 1 draft pick (and soccer fan!) Andrew Luck, the team that finished last year's season with a dreadful 2-14 record are flourishing with an unexpected 9-5 record and a shot at the playoffs.

One of the most inspiring moments of the Colts season—and the NFL season in general—came after their victory over Miami, when Pagano left the hospital for the day to deliver a rousing locker room speech.

Thankfully, the Colorado native's cancer is in remission and he may even be fit enough to return for the Colts' final regular season match with the Houston Texans on December 30th.

If Barcelona's players draw from the strength and spirit that Tito Vilanova will need in the coming weeks, they can keep inspiring themselves to live up to and exceed expectations, just like the Colts did.

Illness and American football aside, it is also worth noting this season has shown us it is possible to lead a top European league without a permanent manager on the sidelines.

Without Antonio Conte, Juventus managed to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League lead Serie A right up until his return on December 9th. Granted, Conte was still working with the current Scudetto holders on a day-to-day basis at training, but his symbolic absence during games will surely act as a positive precedent for the Spanish league leaders.

The entire world of sport wishes Tito Vilanova a speedy return to full health, while many in Catalonia hope that he picks up the reigns of a team at the top of La Liga before the season's conclusion.