Former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova dies at age of 45
Former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, who has been battling cancer, has died at the age of 45.
"FC Barcelona is in immense mourning," the Spanish club said in a statement. "Tito Vilanova has died at the age of 45. May he rest in peace."
Vilanova, who had first been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor of the throat in November 2011, stepped down as Barcelona coach in July 2013.
He succeeded Pep Guardiola, who is now Bayern Munich coach, in June 2012 and led the Catalan giants to the La Liga title during his time in charge of the team.
Following the announcement of Vilanova's death, Barcelona said it would open an area of condolence in the main grandstand at its Nou Camp stadium.
"It will be open to anyone who wishes to express their sympathy and love for the late Tito Vilanova," the club added.
"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."
Barcelona also revealed plans for a religious memorial ceremony in the coming days.
The club's president Josep Maria Bartomeu said on this Twitter page: "Tito Vilanova was a wonderful person, and will never be forgotten at FC Barcelona. Thank you for everything you taught us. Rest in peace."
There have been tributes from the global football community, Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos commented on Twitter that Vilanova was, "An example of fighting and strength for all of us. RIP"
Vilanova's appointment after Guardiola's resignation came as something of a surprise to football experts. He was not well known outside Spain but was already a close member of the Barcelona family.
He began his footballing career at the Catalan club, signing to the team's junior ranks as a 16-year-old.
Unable to break into the Barcelona first team, he left to pursue a career as a midfielder with seven clubs in his native Spain before ending his playing days with Gramenet in 2001.
A switch to management followed and Vilanova soon returned to the Nou Camp, eventually becoming Guardiola's assistant coach in 2008 before being named as his successor.
In tandem, the pair won three La Liga titles and two European Champions League crowns.
Vilanova's Barcelona team, which included star players such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, started the 2012/2013 campaign brilliantly.
But just months into his reign, Vilanova took a temporary absence to undergo surgery followed by a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in New York.
He returned in March 2013 to lead Barcelona to the league title which they won 15 points ahead of rivals Real Madrid.
Club captain Carles Puyol stepped aside to allow Vilanova and former Barca defender Eric Abidal, who had been diagnosed with a liver tumor, to lift the trophy.
A relapse of his condition in July last year saw Vilanova resign as Barcelona coach.
The true potential of Vilanova's tenure at Barcelona will now remain unknown.