Guardiola link as Barca boss steps aside to fight cancer
Today's Champions League draw in Nyon will be of secondary importance for the competition's favourites, Barcelona, with their coach Tito Vilanova due to undergo an operation to remove a tumour at the Catalan city's Vall d'Hebron hospital this morning.
Amid speculation linking Pep Guardiola with a return to the club as they face up to the second half of the season with Vilanova recovering from surgery, early indications are that Barcelona will leave his assistant, Jordi Roura, in charge at least until Champions League football returns in February.
The club confirmed last night that after surgery and three or four days in hospital, Vilanova would need around six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and, according to progress, could combine his treatment with a return to work during this time.
The 44-year-old Barcelona manager was originally diagnosed with cancer of the parotid gland last year.
He had an operation in November 2011 and recovered, replacing Guardiola as first-team coach when he left at the end of last season.
On the day of his presentation, Vilanova spoke of the task ahead being nowhere near as daunting as overcoming cancer.
But his latest check-up revealed the tumour had returned and he was told on Tuesday, just as the club were announcing that defender Eric Abidal had been given the all-clear to play football again after a liver transplant, that he would need another operation.
Last weekend, Vilanova spoke about his illness in part of a charity telemarathon, saying: "All I could think about was my wife and my children who are 14 and 17 and still need me. I don't know if I would have coped as well as they did."
The show of support yesterday for the Barcelona coach prompted Vilanova's son Adria, a current youth team player with the club, to tweet: "Thank you to everyone for the support, you are all fantastic, everything will be fine."
The football ramifications should Guardiola step in to help his former side next year will be felt by the various clubs at today's draw waiting to see what the Spaniard's next move will be. Vilanova's No 2 Roura took yesterday's training session and will take charge of Saturday's La Liga game against Valladolid before the mid-winter break.
A former Barca youth-team player who made 10 appearances for the club, Vilanova is likely to still be in charge on January 6 when the club return to league action in the Catalan derby against Espanyol.
Barca are nine points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid in the league and 13 clear of Real Madrid so there is a feeling that with a dressing-room full of hugely experienced players led by captains Xavi and Carles Puyol, they can afford to delay any decision about whether Vilanova can return to his job.
Guardiola would be the people's choice to step in if a new coach was needed although Luis Enrique, a former Barcelona player and B-team coach under Guardiola, is currently enjoying a sabbatical in Catalonia and would be another viable option. (© Independent News Service)