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Tito Vilanova: Obituary

Sports Mole pays tribute to former Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova, who died earlier today following a lengthy battle with throat cancer.

The football world was rocked by the news that former Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova lost his lengthy battle with throat cancer this afternoon.

The club broke the news on their Twitter page as one of their most successful employees of recent times passed away aged just 45. Here, Sports Mole pays tribute to a man highly respected throughout Spanish football.

Barcelona's coach Tito Vilanova smiles as he leaves a press conference at Luz Stadium in Lisbon on October 1, 2012© Getty Images

Vilanova was born in Girona, Catalonia on September 17, 1968 and joined Barcelona as a youth player 16 years later. After four years in the youth set-up, the midfielder broke into the Barcelona B side, where he was a regular for two seasons, making 52 appearances and scoring six goals in the process.

However, he grew frustrated at the lack of first-team opportunities under Johan Cruyff, who helped to overhaul the youth system at the club, as well as brought in big names from elsewhere to craft what was soon dubbed the 'Dream Team'.

Among those involved in the Dream Team was a certain Pep Guardiola, who had played alongside Vilanova in midfield for the youth team throughout the 1980s.

Barcelona's coach Josep Guardiola and second coach Tito Vilanova hold the Spanish league trophy as they celebrate their team's victory in the Spanish League after their Spanish league football match against RC Deportivo de la Coruna at the Camp Nou stadiu© Getty Images

Vilanova soon left the club, however, joining Segunda Division side Figueres and helping them to their best-ever finish of third, only to lose to Cadiz in the promotion playoffs.

While Figueres weren't bound for the top flight, Vilanova was as he joined Celta Vigo, although his three-year stint with the La Liga outfit saw him make just 26 appearances and he soon returned to the second tier.

Brief spells at the likes of Badajoz, Mallorca, Lleida and Elche followed before he ended his playing career with minnows Gramenet in 2001 having made more than 300 league appearances.

It was on the sidelines that he made his name, however, despite an inauspicious start that saw him relegated to the fifth tier of Spanish football as manager of lowly Palafrugell.

Barcelona's coach Tito Vilanova talks with Barcelona's midfielder Andres Iniesta during the Champions League quarter-final football match between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on April 2, 2013© Getty Images

He was soon reunited with Guardiola at Barcelona B, though, becoming his former teammate's assistant manager with the club in the fourth tier.

The duo set about earning promotion back to the Segunda Division B, with their fluid playing style earning them a growing reputation that eventually saw them succeed Frank Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens as manager and assistant of the first team respectively in 2008.

With the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta under their control, Vilanova and Guardiola guided Barcelona to the best season in the club's history, becoming the first Spanish team to win the treble of domestic league, cup and Champions League.

The success continued to come for a team some now consider to be the greatest club side in football history as they won three La Liga titles in four seasons, as well as adding a second Champions League to their honours list in 2011.

Head coach Tito Vilanova and Eric Abidal of FC Barcelona holds up the trophy during the celebration after winning the Spanish League after the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Valladolid CF at Camp Nou on May 19, 2013© Getty Images

Guardiola's decision to step down ahead of the 2012-13 season saw Vilanova thrust into the limelight as he became successor to the most decorated manager in the club's history.

Things could not have started better for him, though, as Barcelona set a new La Liga record by winning 18 of their first 19 matches.

However, in December 19, 2012, Vilanova revealed that he was suffering from parotid cancer for the second time having initially been diagnosed in November 2011.

Assistant manager Jordi Roura was forced to take over on occasions when Vilanova was unable to do so, but the 44-year-old returned in March, just in time to see his side win the title with a record-equalling 100 points, having scored a whopping 115 goals in the process.

A Barcelona's supporter holds a messae in honour of former coach Tito Vilanova at the end of the Spanish Super Cup second leg football match FC Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on August 28, 2013© Getty Images

He resigned in July 2013 in order to focus on his recovery from the disease, ending his tenure having lost just eight of his 60 matches at the helm with a win percentage of almost 72%.

The likes of Jose Mourinho, David Villa and Sergio Ramos have already paid tribute to Vilanova following his death, while Barcelona have announced that a "space for condolence" will be opened in the main grandstand at the Camp Nou on Friday.

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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho prior to kick-off against Swansea in the Premier League match on April 13, 2014
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