'An example of strength and spirit to us all' – Football world mourns Tito Vilanova's passing

The man who led Barcelona to a record-equalling haul of 100 points in last season’s Liga-winning campaign has passed away at the age of 45

The world of football is in mourning following the untimely death of former Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova on Friday.

The Catalan had been fighting a lengthy battle with cancer but the news of his passing felt both sudden and shocking. Vilanova was just 45. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu stated that while Tito may now be gone, he will never be forgotten.

“He will be an eternal human and footballing reference for FC Barcelona,” the Blaugrana supremo stated. “Thanks for everything you taught us. Rest in peace.”

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta was left numbed by the news.

“I don’t have words,” the Spain international confessed. “You were and always will be an example. I am proud to have been a part of your life. I’ll never forget you. Strength to your family. Rest in peace, boss.”

Cesc Fabregas also revealed that Vilanova had left an indelible mark on him – both as a player and a person.

“Tito, thanks for everything that you gave to football and Barcelona,” the attacking midfielder said. “All the fans will be eternally grateful.

“Personally, I met you when I was 14 and I can say that there are few people like you. Thanks for your confidence and your help in my career and in my life.

“My condolences to Montse, Carlota and Adria and for all your family and friends. Rest in peace, Tito.”

Barcelona No.10 Lionel Messi also had a heartfelt message for Vilanova’s loved ones: “I will never forget Tito. Forever with you. All my love to your family.”

Meanwhile, former Blaugrana defender Eric Abidal, who had a tumour removed before then being forced to undergo a kidney transplant during his time at Camp Nou, revealed that the pair had formed a unique bond on account of their respective battles with illness.

“For all that we’ve been through together, you’ll always be in my thoughts,” the Frenchman said. “Love and strength to your family.”

And there was regret expressed, too, from Uefa president Michel Platini.

“He was a great person and a fantastic coach who will always be remembered for his work at FC Barcelona. I send my condolences to Tito’s family and to the club,” the Frenchman stated.

Vilanova, of course, first served as assistant coach to Pep Guardiola during the most successful spell in Barcelona’s history before taking on the top job himself in the summer of 2012.

It was while working under his friend that he was infamously gouged in the eye by Jose Mourinho during a heated Clasico clash – but the current Chelsea coach was among the first to pay tribute to his former adversary.

“Tito Vilanova’s passing is a sad day for football, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends,” the Portuguese stated.

“On behalf of everybody at Chelsea Football Club, I send my deepest condolences at this most difficult time.”

The way in which football unites when it loses one of its own was further underlined by the commiserations of Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos.

“Great strength and love to all of the family and friends of Tito Vilanova,” the Spain international wrote on social media. “An example of strength and spirit to us all. RIP.”

Madrid captain Iker Casillas added: “A very sad day for the world of football. RIP Tito Vilanova.”

Meanwhile, Blancos president Florentino said everyone should try to focus on the positives and cherish the achievements of a man who was universally respected for how he conducted himself on and off the touchline.

“I want to express my regret about the death of Tito Vilanova and send on behalf of Madrid our condolences to Barcelona and his family, especially to his wife and his sons,” he declared.

“Today is a sad day to all the football fans. We must praise his career.”

However, former Barca president Joan Laporta could not shake the devastation that Tito had been taken too soon.

“His story was beautiful – but ends too early. He fought until the end and was an example to us all. Best regards to his family.

“His image always will be linked to Pep Guardiola because they built the best Barcelona ever.”

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