'Tito Vilanova was football in its purest form', says Guillem Balague
Messi had all of the admiration and respect in the world for Tito...
Last Updated: 25/04/14 8:05pm
Vilanova - who led the Catalan club for a season after taking over from Guardiola in 2012 - died of throat cancer at the age of 45 on Friday.
The pair formed a strong bond while working with Barcelona's B team and although Vilanova's passing wasn't unexpected after he was first diagnosed with parotid gland cancer in November 2011, Balague said it is a huge loss to the global football family.
"Guardiola will be destroyed by this," he reflected. "Tito was one of his closest friends. When Pep took charge of the 'B' side he had no doubt whatsoever who he had to ring to be his assistant.
"There were a group of players and coaches from the lower ranks that played together and since they were 18 or 19 they always met together at least once a month - they called themselves 'the fat ones', the ones that liked to eat. Pep and Tito were in that group - they were that close.
"It was a fascinating relationship where Pep Guardiola had his first experience as a coach and he had Tito Vilanova keeping him to the limits; Pep would try a lot of things and Tito would be the common sense and bring him down to earth.
"When Pep Guardiola started being distant with players as a strategy to regain some authority, Tito Vilanova was building bridges with the players; he was always there. He was a discreet number two and when he was given the opportunity to be the number one, the first thing Tito did was ask Pep 'can I?' And Pep said 'go ahead'."
Vilanova was forced to miss four months of the 2012/13 season to undergo surgery and treatment but he still managed to win the La Liga title before calling time on his Barcelona reign last July.
Revista de la Liga expert Balague said Vilanova represented football "in its purest form".
"It is very sad news even if it was expected," he said. "We've known for a while that he wasn't well and the situation was getting worse but he went to hospital on Friday and we were all warned that it was just a matter of hours. He was 45.
"He was football in its purest form - a man who had no enemies, really. He'd been in Barcelona a long time, so much so that in the juveniles he was coach of Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi. He was the first man to put Lionel Messi in the formation and the place on the pitch that he likes to play.
"Messi had all of the admiration and respect in the world for Tito and the other guys. When he replaced Pep Guardiola it wasn't a surprise to anybody; he was just accepted by the team straight away because they all knew that he was the answer. He was able to develop relationships with players when Pep Guardiola couldn't."
He added: "I'm sure we're going to see a lot of homages, private and public, to Tito Vilanova because he was someone who was respected throughout the club.
"If you think about what has happened to Barcelona in the last two, three and four years and how they have had to overcome strong stuff but still the team has been mentally strong enough to combat that and compete at the highest level even though I think some of the things that are happening now - and some of the players will admit that they have been affected by it.
"So there will be homages to Tito Vilanova and homages to the team too, for having to overcome all that."