Barca play­ers, fans pay trib­ute to Vi­lanova

SundayXtra - - SPORTS SOCCER - By Joseph Wil­son

BARCELONA, Spain — Thou­sands of Barcelona’s fans gath­ered along with play­ers on Satur­day to pay their re­spects to Tito Vi­lanova at Camp Nou, a day af­ter the for­mer coach died fol­low­ing a bat­tle with throat cancer.

Con­do­lences con­tin­ued to pour in from across Europe, with Bay­ern Mu­nich coach Pep Guardi­ola say­ing he would never for­get his for­mer coach­ing part­ner at Barcelona, who died on Fri­day at the age of 45.

“We ex­pe­ri­enced a lot to­gether,” Guardi­ola said. “We lost to­gether and won to­gether. This is a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. The sad­ness will ac­com­pany me for­ever.”

The day be­gan with Barcelona’s play­ers sign­ing a book of con­do­lence and silently re­mem­ber­ing Vi­lanova.

The club then opened the tem­po­rary me­mo­rial site to the pub­lic. It said al­most 10,000 mourn­ers had ar­rived to pay their re­spects by 5 p.m. lo­cal time. The at­ten­dees in­cluded Ar­tur Mas, Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional pres­i­dent, and the club pres­i­dent of crosstown ri­val Es­panyol, Joan Col­let.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult mo­ment,” Barcelona cap­tain Car­les Puyol said. “We send our sup­port to his fam­ily and friends. A great, com­plete per­son, an ex­am­ple, has left us. This is a dif­fi­cult blow.”

Vi­lanova’s ill­ness forced him to step down as Barcelona coach last sum­mer af­ter win­ning the 2012-13 Span­ish league ti­tle.

He pre­vi­ously served as Guardi­ola’s as­sis­tant at Barcelona for a four-year run dur­ing which the team won 14 of a pos­si­ble 19 ti­tles, help­ing to es­tab­lish the club’s most suc­cess­ful era.

Bay­ern ex­pressed its con­do­lences on its web­site, un­der­scor­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Guardi­ola and Vi­lanova, which the Ger­man cham­pion’s state­ment said “went well be­yond a pro­fes­sional bond.”

A minute’s si­lence was held for Vi­lanova be­fore this weekend’s round of league matches in Spain, and also be­fore Bay­ern’s home game against Werder Bre­men with Bay­ern play­ers wear­ing black arm­bands.

Barcelona has de­clared three days of mourn­ing for Vi­lanova, whose fu­neral will be on Mon­day in Barcelona’s cathe­dral.

— The As­so­ci­ated Press

MANU FER­NAN­DEZ / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Tito Vi­lanova died Fri­day fol­low­ing a long bat­tle with throat cancer.

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