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Football | Spain

Tito Vilanova © Action Images

Tito to stay in New York until April

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova will not return to his job at the club until April, Barca vice-president Carles Villarrubi said on Friday.

Vilanova, 44, has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for his throat cancer at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York since early January.

Villarubi added that Vilanova "is making good progress" but made it clear that "his priorities are obviously not sporting ones at the moment".

Many Barca fans were hoping that Vilanova would be able to return in time for the March 12 Champions League showdown against AC Milan, but Villarrubi pointed out that this would not be possible.

Barca lost the first leg of the round of 16 tie 2-0 in Milan, which was the first sign that the team is badly missing Vilanova's guidance.

On Tuesday, Barca crashed 3-1 at home to Real Madrid in the semifinals of the Spanish cup, turning in an alarmingly uninspired and disjointed display.

Vilanova has tried to guide the team from New York by sending messages to caretaker coach Jordi Roura before and during matches, but the defeats against Real and Milan have shown the limitations of that strategy.

Barca idol Lionel Messi - who was surprisingly ineffective against Real and Milan - said Friday: "We are not used to being in this kind of situation, but I am very confident that this team will keep moving ahead."

Barca are 12 points ahead of Atletico Madrid atop La Liga and 16 ahead of third-placed Real, whom they visit Saturday looking for revenge for Tuesday's cup defeat.


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