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Barcelona coach Vilanova to undergo surgery

By By JOSEPH WILSON

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova will have surgery for a throat ailment and undergo several weeks of chemotherapy, the club said Wednesday.

The 44-year-old coach, who had surgery to remove a tumor from the saliva gland in November 2011, was detected with a recurrence of the problem and will undergo surgery on Thursday, Barcelona said in a statement.

Vilanova will likely spend four days in a hospital before undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy for about six weeks, the club said.

The statement said Vilanova could be able to remain in charge of the team while undergoing treatment.

"During this time, depending on his evolution, Vilanova may be able to combine treatment with his work regime," the club said.

Assistant coach Jordi Roura is expected to take over the team in the meantime. Barcelona plays Valladolid in the Spanish league on Saturday.

Vilanova took over as Barcelona's team coach from Pep Guardiola last summer after passing medical checks.

Under Vilanova's guidance, Barcelona has made its best ever start to a season, winning a Spanish record of 15 of its first 16 league games. The club leads the standings with 46 points, nine ahead of Atletico Madrid and 13 in front of archrival Real Madrid.

Vilanova's son, Adria, used his Twitter account to give thanks for the support being offered his father.

"Thank you all for your support, you are truly great, everything is going to work out," he tweeted.

Earlier Wednesday, Barcelona canceled meetings with the club president and journalists after reports of Vilanova's illness emerged. Several hours later, the club issued the statement confirming the medical situation.

"Very sorry to hear the news," Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said on Twitter.

"All my strength and support to Tito Vilanova," Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal said on Twitter. "We are all with you so you may overcome this news step."

This is the second case of a serious illness affecting Barcelona's squad in recent years.

France defender Eric Abidal underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his liver in March 2011. He returned in time to help Barcelona beat Manchester United in the Champions League final in May.

Abidal had to stop playing again last spring when it was determined he needed a liver transplant that he underwent in April. There have been reports he could attempt a return soon.

Under both Guardiola and Vilanova, Barcelona won 14 of a possible 19 titles, including two Champions League titles and three Spanish league crowns.

Guardiola suggested Vilanova take over for him when he decided to take a hiatus from football this summer. Guardiola always shared credit for building the most successful team in Barcelona's 113-year history with his assistant.

Guardiola dedicated his FIFA coach of the year last year to Vilanova, saying: "Tito, this one is for you."

While lacking Guardiola's charisma and charm, Vilanova has been an excellent strategist and ensured the team keeps getting the most out of star Lionel Messi. The Argentina forward has scored 90 goals in 2012, surpassing Gerd Mueller's 40-year-old milestone of 85 goals in a calendar year.

Vilanova recently gave an interview to Catalan television in support of their campaign to raise funds for cancer research. He spoke of his earlier illness and seeming rapid recovery.

Vilanova said the toughest moment was when he left the doctor's office after the diagnosis and immediately thought of his children, aged 14 and 17.

"I focused all my efforts on moving forward," he said. "I started to run, run, run and I have spent 10 months running non-stop."

"My philosophy has always been based on the idea that nothing is too important," he said. "The only important thing is your health."

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Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

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