Tito Vilanova: Footballer and coach who with Pep Guardiola oversaw the most successful era in the history of FC Barcelona

Tito Vilanova was a relatively low-profile coach, assistant to Pep Guardiola at Barcelona but an urbane figure better known for tactics than tantrums and for helping to nurture the stellar potential of Lionel Messi, until an altercation with Jose Mourinho thrust him into the spotlight.

The setting was the Nou Camp stadium in August 2011, the occasion the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Real Madrid's Marcelo had just scythed down Cesc Fabregas. As players, coaches, physios and substitutes traded blows and insults, Mourinho, then Real's coach, strode to where the unsuspecting Vilanova stood, at the back of the melee, and poked a finger in his right eye.

The self-styled Special One, who received something between a slap and a shove in retaliation, compounded his folly at the post-match media conference. Pointedly mispronouncing the Barca No 2's name, he said: "Pito Vilanova? I don't know any Pito Vilanova."

Mourinho certainly knew it by the time Vilanova, having succeeded Guardiola the next year, led Barcelona to the La Liga title in 2012-13. In his only full season in charge, the Catalan club equalled Real's record of 100 points, lost just twice and left Mourinho's team 15 points adrift. Vilanova, who died of cancer of the salivary gland at the age of 45, was born in Girona, near the French border. In 1984 he joined Barcelona's youth academy at La Masia, where he fell in with other hopefuls such as Guardiola and Jordi Roura (who became interim coach in December 2012 after Vilanova underwent treatment). Voracious eaters all, they formed an unofficial dining club and were dubbed "The Gluttons".

The teenaged Vilanova, for whom "Tito" had already replaced his birth name Francesc, attracted another nickname, "The Marquis", because his midfield poise was complemented by a perfectionist streak concerning his kit and clothing. It must have seemed things were falling into place when Johan Cruyff gave him 45 minutes as substitute for Guardiola in a 1989 friendly, yet it proved his only first-team action.

He impatiently informed the Dutchman that if he had not progressed to the "dream team" in two seasons as a full-time player, he would be leaving. "In time I realised that it was probably an error," he said later. Guardiola bided his time, captained the Azulgrana to domestic and European honours and played 47 times for Spain. Vilanova, meanwhile, plied his trade with Figueres, Celta Vigo (making 26 appearances in La Liga), Badajoz, Lleida, Elche and Gramenet before returning to Barca as a youth coach in 2001.

Among his charges were future World Cup winners Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique, and a talented if somewhat timid Argentinian called Lionel Messi; after another coach discarded the lost boy as too great a risk, Vilanova claimed him for his Cadete B team. In 2003 he was made redundant by club president Sandro Rosell, going on to work for minor clubs Palafrugell and Terrassa.

His third spell at Barcelona began in 2007 when he was appointed to assist Guardiola with the B team, and within a year the friends were promoted to take over the senior side from Frank Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens. Their first season was the most successful in Barca's history; with a lustrous passing game, obsession with ball-retention and a life-affirming emphasis on attack, the team amassed six trophies, including La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, in which Manchester United were vanquished in the final.

The duo – a partnership of equals, with Guardiola signing David Villa and Fabregas on Vilanova's advice - won three Spanish titles and recaptured the European Cup in 2011, again outclassing United, at Wembley. However, a weary Guardiola resigned in April 2012, pleading that he felt "empty" after a Champions League semi-final defeat by Chelsea. Rosell, having released him nine years earlier, instantly unveiled Vilanova as head coach. Barca's technical director, Andoni Zubizarreta, said he "personified the philosophy of the club".

Vilanova had been diagnosed with cancer in November 2011. After an operation to remove a tumour, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he resumed work. Late the following year he suffered a relapse for which he underwent treatment in New York.

Returning to the dug-out in March 2013, he soon emulated Terry Venables, Louis Van Gaal and Guardiola by winning La Liga at the first attempt. Andres Iniesta, the metronomic Barcelona and Spain midfielder, bestowed yet another nickname, "The Encyclopedia", on him because of his knowledge of the game.

Mourinho, incidentally, waited for Vilanova by the players' tunnel before a 2012 Clasico in Madrid and warmly shook his hand. But in July last year Barcelona announced that their coach was leaving to fight his illness. The Vilanova name lives on at the club; Adria, 17, is a promising defender in the B team with whom his father cut his coaching teeth.

Francesc (Tito) Vilanova y Bayo, footballer and coach: born Bellcaire d'Emporda, Spain 17 September 1968; married 1992 Montserrat Chaure (one daughter, one son); died Barcelona 25 April 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas