FC Barcelona's Tito Vilanova Leaves Behind a Sparkling Legacy as He Fights Cancer

David Ramos

The sad rumors were true. Tito Vilanova has stepped down as manager of Barcelona due to health issues. Despite only one year as head coach, he leaves behind a great legacy.

As many have said, Tito Vilanova is not resigning, he's just preparing for the biggest match of his life. His detractors could say a thousand things, but no one would ever dare call this guy a quitter.

Unfortunately, his next opponent is not a football club, but an illness that affects thousands of people every day. Most of us can't help but be reminded of someone we know from our own lives who has faced a similar struggle.

From a sporting perspective, what's sad is not that Barcelona have a gap to fill in the manager's bench - that's unfortunate, sure, but not a big deal. Not really.

No, what's truly sad is that Tito is not able to continue building his legacy, which, even if cut short, is still remarkable.

Vilanova was an essential part of the Barcelona team that won two UEFA Champions League titles, among many other competitions, as Pep Guardiola's right-hand man. While most fixated on Guardiola, it would be a mistake to ignore Tito's role in their collective success.

With minimal head coaching experience, Vilanova was in some manner still a rookie last year, when he was appointed Guardiola's successor.

From a purely results-based mentality, Vilanova did wonderfully. Yes, Barcelona lost big matches and suffered a heavy defeat against FC Bayern Munich in the CL semifinals, but a 100 point season - a La Liga record - really should speak for itself. His Liga win percentage is an astounding 84.1%.

That is, again, looking at it from the cold perspective of only results. He passes that test with flying colors.

Now, take into account what he was dealing with.

Everyone agrees coaching a club of the height of FC Barcelona is incredibly mentally taxing. Guardiola left after four seasons because he needed a break from it. Not too long ago, Jose Mourinho left Real Madrid, in part, as it was explained, due to the pressure of the job.

Guardiola himself spoke of the burnout of coaching that forced him into a sabbatical, while Florentino Perez, Real Madrid's president, explained that the level of pressure experienced by Mourinho was the main factor for the Portuguese wanting to leave Madrid.

For Vilanova, perhaps it was even greater because he had no previous record to fall back on. Guardiola in his final year and Mourinho in his final year both had won the Champions League twice and could point to that if things went wrong for a year. Tito did not have that luxury. He had to deliver.

This was, mind you, before you take into account his illness.

Combine the extraordinary amount of pressure the job inherently has, with the added wear of literally fighting for his life. It's hard to fathom. Vilanova's performance is nothing short of incredible.

He spent parts of the season an ocean away, giving tactical advice through a phone and speeches through Skype. Then he would undergo exhausting treatment, fly back to Barcelona and lead the team in person, and then fly back.

It's an itinerary that can make anyone's head spin, but Vilanova was strong and calm. He handled himself with class and grace, even when some fans vented frustration, despite a generally successful season, due to some important losses.

This coming season he could have built on a successful first year as many coaches do - Mourinho and Rafa Benitez are two examples of managers who are accustomed to having great second years, for example.

Instead we are left to wonder what could have been. That is the only sad thing from a sporting perspective. A man is unable to do what he loves.

His personal pain and struggle he has kept mostly private. Outwardly, he's projected only strength. His focus has been 100% on Barcelona.

Now he has to shift his focus.

But we will always have what Tito has left behind already, and that is plenty. He leaves a mark on the history of this club that is extremely positive.

And if he wants to, and the circumstances allow it, I don't know if he's done yet. Maybe there is a future executive position waiting for him. Or maybe he can be manager once more.

But let's not dwell on that, and instead, appreciate what he has already done. The thing is, Tito has given enough to the club. If he wants to do more that's up to him, but at the moment he has given more than anyone could really expect.

We wish you the best, Tito.

Read Tito Vilanova's open letter to Barcelona fans here.

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