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Apr 25, 2014

Peter Vermes remembers Tito Vilanova

ESPN FC's Sid Lowe expresses his personal memories of the former Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova.

The sadness accompanying the death of Tito Vilanova was felt worldwide on Friday, and that impact extends to former teammates and players in the United States.

Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes played with the late Tito Vilanova at Figueres from 1991-92.

Hunter: Tito gone too soon
Tributes to Vilanova

The former Barcelona manager lost his battle with throat cancer on Friday, passing away at the age of 45. And for Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes, the loss of Vilanova is keenly felt. In the early 1990s, the two were teammates at then-second-tier Spanish side Figueres.

Vilanova had landed at the club in search of first-team soccer in 1990, after having been unable to break through at Barcelona. Vermes arrived a year later from Dutch side Volendam after a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Vermes recalled not just an outstanding player and coach, but an exceptional man.

"I'm just very sad today," Vermes said. "Vilanova was a great guy. He was always class act as a person, and an honest player as well on the field. I had a lot of respect for him, even outside of soccer. It’s a really young guy passing away. It’s just terrible."

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Uri Rosell was on the books of Barcelona's B team during Vilanova's time as both an assistant and manager of the first team, and he recalled a coach full of positive messages.

"When we trained with the first team, he was a guy who always encouraged us to be who we are, don't be shy," he said. "He told us, 'This is also your team. You have to play with confidence.' And he was always telling us what was correct and how we could improve. That was very helpful for the guys on the second team. You could see that he wanted to help, and get the best out of you.

"It's very sad because all these things, you can never know when it will happen. It's very sad for the world of soccer. He was a great coach."

Vermes recalled how at Figueres, Vilanova wasn't the super-outgoing type, but he was the kind of person who looked after new players.

"It's never easy when you're a foreign player coming into a team," said Vermes. "But Tito always took time for me, especially when I was trying to learn Spanish so I could communicate with my teammates."

Also on Figueres' books at the time was current U.S. national team assistant Tab Ramos. Ramos was stationed on the right side of midfield, Vilanova played centrally, and current Barcelona assistant Aureli Altimira occupied the second striker role.

Ramos recalled that Vilanova the player was very much in the mold of longtime friend and former boss Pep Guardiola.

"Vilanova was very technical, very simple," said Ramos. "He was a very clean player, very much what you would think of when you think Barcelona. He was very much a connector. Any balls that came to him were cleaned up and delivered the right way."

It was also clear to Ramos, even back then, that Vilanova's future lay in coaching.

"I just always remember Vilanova as a very studious player of the game," said Ramos. "And someone in particular who loved Barcelona. Life has these difficult turns, but in the end he was able to coach Barcelona and that was his ultimate dream."

Yet as successful as Vilanova was as a coach -- first as an assistant to Guardiola, later as manager -- it was the way Vilanova treated people that resonated. Vermes reconnected with his former teammate in December of 2012, after Vilanova had taken over as first team manager from Guardiola. Vilanova invited Vermes to get an up close view of how Barcelona operated.

"Vilanova was very open with me, everything the club was doing," he said. "I was at all the trainings. He was just so inviting. It was the same way when I was playing with him."

It's an approach that will be missed by all.

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