BARCELONA: Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova’s cancer surgery on Thursday went “very well”, his captain Carles Puyol said, after an unexpected relapse shocked the Spanish League leaders.
Vilanova, 44, has led Barcelona to their best league start ever but the club said he will be in hospital for four days and then need up to six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“The first message I have received is that the operation has gone very well,” Puyol told a news conference after surgeons operated on Vilanova on Thursday, just over a year after he underwent a similar operation on his salivary gland.
“It is very tough news, a very hard blow,” Puyol said.
Sports media quoted Vilanova as assuring players “I will be back soon,” the evening before his surgery, which media said was at Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron hospital, where there is a specialist oncology unit.
Barca had yet to give an official update on Vilanova’s condition on Thursday afternoon.
“We will have to try to go on as normally as possible but there will not be total normality because Tito is the coach and now for a few weeks he will not be there,” the club’s president Sandro Rosell said late on Wednesday.
“Tito is very strong and we are convinced he will come back to us soon,” he insisted at a news conference, as players including Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta sat by solemn-faced.
A six-week lay-off would mean Vilanova may return just in time for Barcelona’s last-16 tie in the Champions League, which will be against AC Milan in mid-February, the draw revealed on Thursday.
Before the draw in Nyon, Switzerland, UEFA secretary-general Gianni Infantino said in Catalan: “Tito, we are all with you.”
The surgery came at a dramatic moment for Barca, flying nine points high at the top of Spain’s La Liga while their fierce rivals and title holders Real Madrid are suffering a malaise.
Jose Mourinho’s Real are 13 points adrift in third place and rattled by reports of internal squabbles. Atletico Madrid are in second place, nine points behind Barcelona.
Barca’s sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said assistant coach Jordi Roura would stand in for the time being, acting as coach when the side travels to Valladolid for Saturday’s league game.