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Vilanova steps down as Barcelona coach after cancer relapse

updated 4:04 PM EDT, Fri July 19, 2013
Tito Vilanova took over from Josep Guardiola as Barcelona coach in June 2012.
Tito Vilanova took over from Josep Guardiola as Barcelona coach in June 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tito Vilanova steps down as coach of Spanish champions Barcelona
  • Club cited health reasons as the 45-year-old battles cancer
  • Vilanova succeeded Pep Guardiola in June 2012
  • First diagnosed with cancerous throat tumor in 2011

(CNN) -- Tito Vilanova stepped down as Barcelona coach Friday after the Spanish champions revealed he needed fresh treatment in his battle against cancer.

Club president Sandro Rosell and sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta made the announcement at a specially convened media conference at the Nou Camp.

The 44-year-old Vilanova led the Catalan giants to the La Liga title last season after succeeding Pep Guardiola in June 2012.

Read: Barcelona wrap up La Liga title

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But he spent nearly three months on the sidelines after having surgery followed by a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in New York.

Vilanova, a long-time assistant to Guardiola, had first been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor of the throat in November 2011, but after having initial treatment returned to work in less than three weeks.

He was appointed to the top job when his old boss quit and under his charge Barcelona made a storming start to last season.

After his return in March following his treatment, they wrapped up the domestic title, but suffered a semifinal humiliation to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals.

Read: Barcelona crushed by Bayern in semifinals

Vilanova had been preparing his squad for the new season, but following news of his fresh health problems, the club announced their trip to Poland for a friendly with Lechia Gdansk Saturday had been canceled.

Barcelona said assistant coach Joan Francesc Ferrer Sicilia would take temporary charge and Rosell said a new coach would be appointed "probably early next week."

Vilanova's battle with cancer has occurred in tandem with Eric Abidal, the French international defender, who was diagnosed with a liver tumor.

When Barcelona clinched their 22nd La Liga title last season, club captain Carles Puyol stepped aside to allow Vilanova and Abidal to initially lift the trophy in recognition of their brave battles against illness.

Abidal left the Catalan giants at the end of the season when he was not offered a fresh playing contract.

Several Barcelona players, including Argentina star Lionel Messi and Puyol, attended Friday's announcement of Vilanova's latest setback.

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