Tito Vilanova could continue as head coach of Barcelona despite the fact he is to undergo surgery today on a salivary gland before beginning chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat cancer.
The treatment is expected to last six weeks and is the second time in a little over a year that the coach has suffered such a scare. Vilanova had a gland removed from his throat in November last year.
The club announced that the Catalan coach will spend "three or four days" in hospital following surgery, with assistant Jordi Roura taking temporary charge of the side for the league match with Real Valladolid on Saturday, ahead of a two-week break in the season.
There had been strong rumours that Vilanova would step down during the course of his recovery, with the club thought to have contacted former coach Pep Guardiola about a return in the interim. However, a club statement last night insisted that "an attempt will be made to balance [Vilanova's] treatment with his working life" before Sandro Rosell, the Barca president, and sports director Andoni Zubizarreta called a press conference to quash claims that their coach would step down.
"Tito is the coach and he continues to be so," insisted Zubizarreta. "Jordi Roura will take charge against Valladolid. Tito, I am quite sure, will be watching us on television and wanting us to win."
Rosell was also quick to back his coach. "Tito has incredible mental strength," he said. "He was worried for his family. This was his main concern. He is the leader of the group. He won't be here for a few weeks, but we will continue working just the same."
Vilanova's condition is reminiscent of that of Eric Abidal, the Barcelona defender who had a tumour removed from his liver in March last year. After suffering a relapse later that year, he has since had a transplant and returned to full training yesterday.
"There was an exchange of glances between him and Tito in the dressing room that was very special," said Zubizarreta.