La Liga leaders Barcelona have been rocked by news that coach Tito Vilanova was to have surgery on his saliva glands yesterday, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy over the following six weeks.
“While monitoring his parotid gland a change has been detected in his condition that requires surgery,” Barca said in a statement on Wednesday.
The 44-year-old Vilanova stepped up from assistant to replace Pep Guardiola at the end of last season after having surgery on a tumor in his saliva glands in November last year.
No news was given on who might stand in on an interim basis, with the side still to play Valladolid away in La Liga on Saturday, before the two-week mid-season break.
Local media speculation has centered on his assistant Jordi Roura or even the return of the out-of-work Guardiola.
“His time in hospital will be about three to four days,” Barca said. “During the period after his operation, depending on how he recovers, an attempt will be made to balance his treatment with his working life.”
The news about Vilanova’s illness had been filtering out during the day, drawing messages of support from around the soccer and sporting world.
“Real Madrid wish to express their love and support to Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, to whom we wish a prompt recovery,” Barca’s archrivals said in a statement. “Real extend this support to the club and his family.”
Former tennis world No. 1 Rafael Nadal said: “All my strength and support for Tito Vilanova! We are all with you to overcome this next hurdle.”
Vilanova was out of action for about three weeks after surgery last year, but returned to the dugout to help Guardiola for the last six months of the 2011-2012 campaign.
The quietly-spoken Catalan, at his presentation in June, said the experience had left him with a different perspective on life.
“I had an important operation a few months ago,” he said. “I spoke with the medics and my family about the job, but they all said I was perfectly okay and there was no problem.”
“Having overcome this operation it gives me a different view on life. Perhaps, after what has happened, training Barca will be like child’s play,” he said.
Vilanova has guided the team to the top of La Liga with 15 wins in 16 games, nine points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, and into the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners.
He is the second member of the Barcelona squad to be afflicted with cancer after France defender Eric Abidal had to undergo surgery to remove a tumor from his liver in March last year.
The 33-year-old returned to the field of play later that year, but also suffered a relapse and underwent a liver transplant in April, from which he has yet to return to action.
Reports said Abidal has been given the all-clear to return to full training.