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Dec 19, 2012

Vilanova to undergo surgery

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova is to undergo an emergency operation on Thursday morning after a dangerous parotid gland tumour was discovered during a routine examination on Tuesday.

• Marcotti: Get well soon, Tito
• Blog: Open letter to Tito

Vilanova successfully underwent an operation to remove a similar tumour in November 2011, quickly returned to his then role of Pep Guardiola's assistant coach and was given a clean bill of health to take the top job at the club when Guardiola left last summer.

He is to remain as Barca manager while he recovers from his current illness problems, with assistant Jordi Roura stepping up to take charge of first team affairs in the meantime.

Vilanova was quoted in The Sun newspaper as saying he wants to pull through this difficult time for his children: "When they told me what I had it was a very tough moment and I thought of my children more than of myself.

"I felt they needed me still as they were only 14 and 17 years of age. They say I have been very strong. But I don't know if I could have withstood this if I wasn't the one who was ill but instead it was my children or my wife."

The news was announced by Barca sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and president Sandro Rosell on Wednesday afternoon, after the club had earlier released an official statement confirming that Vilanova had suffered a relapse and was to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumour on Thursday morning.

Rosell first read a prepared statement which said that the most important thing for him and everyone at the Camp Nou was that Vilanova recovered and was soon back with the squad.

"First of all, we wish to offer our unconditional support to Tito and his family," Rosell said. "The most important thing is that he recovers and is given the tranquility to do that. He is very strong and we are convinced he will soon be back with us. The players and staff are all totally behind him. The club has full confidence in its technical staff."

Zubizarreta, who denied that any attempt had been made to install former boss Josep Guardiola as an interim coach, calmly explained that Barcelona as a club were used to dealing with such issues, and the structures and coaching staff were in place to allow the team to continue along its usual path.

"Our project allows us to face these things naturally," he said. "Tito is not here, okay Jordi is here, and the rest of the staff are also here to make sure that everyone works to the best level possible. This situation has hit us before, with Tito last year and Eric Abidal. We will do the same as we have done previously when we have faced these situations."

Vilanova met with the Barca squad and staff before training on Wednesday evening to explain what had happened face to face, helping everyone to come to terms with the situation, said Zubizarreta.

"This morning we were all affected by what was happening," he said. "(Tito) wanted to tell everyone the situation himself. The dressing-room took the news with the unity it always shows, and we have always had in these situations. That includes the dressing-room, the club and the fans. The strength of Tito at the moment is the strength of everyone. We are all with him, and all we can do is not worry him too much so that he has the tranquility to deal with the situation."

The former Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona goalkeeper went on to say that Wednesday had initially been planned as a happy day, following the news that Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol were to sign new contracts, and then Abidal returning to full training for the first time since undergoing a liver transplant in April.

"This morning we had lots of things to be happy about," Zubi said. "Above all Abidal's return. Then the sun was covered a bit, but it will come back out again. We are all humans and the same things happen to us that happen to everyone else."

The spotlight now turns to Roura, 45, who came through Barca's La Masia academy with both Vilanova and Guardiola in the 1980s. A striker who made his debut under Johan Cruyff, his Barca playing career was cut short by a knee injury. He returned to the club during Guardiola's time in charge and was chosen by Vilanova as his assistant last summer.

A statement from the club's medical staff released via Barcelona's official website on Wednesday afternoon confirmed the story which had been broken earlier in the day by Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo.

"An extension of the pathology has been detected in [Vilanova's] parotid gland," said the statement. "The manager requires surgery which he will undergo this Thursday. He is expected to remain in hospital for three to four days. "After the surgery, Francesc 'Tito' Vilanova will undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment for approximately six weeks. During this time, and depending on how well he recovers, Vilanova's treatment may be compatible with his work life. Keeping in line with the patient's wishes, we urge respect and privacy during this process."

The day had seen many messages of support published via social media from well-wishers including Barca midfielder Xavi Hernandez, former club president Joan Laporta, Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal.

Madrid announced their support via their club website on Wednesday afternoon.

"Real Madrid C.F. wish to express their heartfelt support to F.C. Barcelona coach, Tito Vilanova, to whom we wish a prompt recovery," said a short statement. "Real Madrid C.F. extend this support to his club and family."

Espanyol president Joan Collet, Spanish sports minister Miguel Cardenal and the coaches of Getafe, Levante and Deportivo la Coruna were among the many other figures who also spoke of their shock at the news and hope for a quick recovery.

The day also saw many in the Spanish media rush to speculate while everyone waited for Barca to make an official statement. TV station Cuatro quickly reported that the club had already made contact with a potential replacement to take charge of the club until the end of the season. Catalan daily Sport spoke to medical experts who suggested that Vilanova could have the problem dealt with and return to work within a month.

Since taking charge last summer Vilanova has overseen the club's best ever start to a season. Sunday evening's 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou stretched Barca's lead in the Primera Division standings to nine points over second placed Atletico, with Real Madrid a further four points behind in third.

In his 27 games in charge to date, Barcelona have won 23, drawn two and lost two - to Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa second leg and at Celtic Park in the Champions League.

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