The former Barcelona boss will hope to mastermind a win over old foes Real and dedicate the triumph to his former friend after Vilanova passed away on Friday
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Pep Guardiola stared vacantly into space. Bayern Munich had just scored their third goal to come from behind and take the lead in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Werder Bremen, but the 43-year-old’s mind was elsewhere.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Guardiola had lost one of his best friends as Tito Vilanova passed away following a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer. Solemn, serious and wearing a black armband out of respect for his former assistant and soul mate, Pep was visibly distraught.
After that game, the Catalan coach dedicated words of support to Tito’s family. “I want to offer my condolences to his father Joaquim, his mother Maria Rosa, his wife Montse, his daughter Carlota and his son Adria on behalf of my parents, my family and my brothers and sisters.
“We were were young, we wanted to conquer the world and we did. All I can say is that this sadness will accompany me for my whole life, for ever more.”
Guardiola had seemed subdued last Wednesday in Madrid, as his Bayern side lost 1-0 to Real in the teams’ Champions League semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. And that image had been reflected by his players out on the pitch. Now, just one day after Barcelona bade a final farewell to Tito at his funeral on Monday evening, Bayern face their biggest game of their season.
Guardiola now needs to lift his players for the second installment of a tie many already expect them to lose. Tito’s loss has hit him hard and preparation for Tuesday’s game meant Pep was unable to travel to the religious ceremony in Barcelona on Monday to say goodbye to his friend. That will come later.
In the meantime, he has had to prepare his side in difficult circumstances and it is not the first time his pre-match plans for a Champions League semi-final have been interrupted by forces beyond his control. In 2009-10, with Vilanova as his assistant, Barca were left with no option but to travel to Milan by bus after the ash cloud suspended flights in Europe. The Catalans ended up losing 3-1 to Jose Mourinho’s Inter.
This cannot compare. However, it does represent one of the most challenging moments in Pep’s coaching career, which encountered its first difficulties in his final season in Spain, when Tito was taken ill originally and the perfect partnership was split up mid-season in 2011-12.
Later, when Guardiola claimed the Ballon d’Or award for Best Coach in January 2012, the former Barca boss ended his acceptance speech with a few words for his friend. “I want to dedicate this title to Tito Vilanova, my friend, my companion, my assistant, someone who is always with us,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, Tito, this is for you.”
Tito, sadly, is now no longer with us, but he won’t be far from Guardiola’s thoughts on Tuesday and Pep will want to claim another victory he can dedicate to the man who helped him to get where he is today, especially as it’s against Madrid – a rival the two men relished beating in their time together at Camp Nou. There can be no greater motivation.
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