April 25, 2014

Tito Vilanova

I’m sitting in a cab, best friend at my side, on our way to a friend’s surprise bachelorette party. My phone pings with a twitter notification and I swipe it. Read the tweet. My heart gives a physical jolt, my hand presses onto it and I can’t breathe. “Oh my God.” My friend asks what’s the matter. I don’t know what to say. She doesn’t watch football. How do I put into words how much the death of Barcelona’s ex-coach is anguishing to me. I don’t want to go to a party. I want to go home and cry. I want to hug someone who will understand what I’m feeling. All my close Culé friends are people I met online. I’m in the middle of a party, people celebrating. I’m just kind of sitting there in shock. Unable to process. And there’s this party going on. I resort to twitter, where there are people who understand but ultimately what is that going to do. I want to go away and be alone. The bride-to-be arrives. Surprise. Surprises all around. There’s dancing and I can’t be prevailed upon to get up. I’m watching my beautiful bride-to-be-friend sing along to Pharrell Williams’s Happy and it’s the embodiment of the pinnacle of joy of life as the grief of death overwhelms me. When everyone’s fist-pumping to C’est La Vie I start to cry. This is where I’m beginning to absorb the news. This is where everything Tito means to me wells up and hurts. This is where I’m alienated completely from my surroundings, from all of these elated people who have never supported a sports team and would find me ridiculous to take the death of a football coach so hard. I don’t want to answer when they ask what’s wrong. Tell them I received some bad news on the way here and leave it at that. Leave them to their celebrating. Celebration is a thing I tie heavily to football and the last I truly celebrated for my team was because of Tito. Was at a moment of similar dichotomy, of joy in the face of grief, and I have never in my life gone from absolute despair to absolute elation so rapidly and completely as when Tito was named new coach after the confirmation of Pep’s departure. How do I explain Tito. How do I explain how much that moment meant to me, how it lifted me, how much I felt and will always feel that this assistant coach who had a career of nothing but background coaching was the only way to replace the irreplaceable. How do I explain that the mere of idea of him coaching Barca was so incredible that I had to continually stop and re-absorb the fact for months after he was appointed. How do I explain how it comes from the singular beauty and meaningfulness of his entire Barca history even as very little of it was in the spotlight. How do I explain his largely unrecognized integrality to Barca’s excellence. How do I explain that even what short, turbulent time that he was coach was perfect and a privilege. How do I explain how much it hurts that he was so deserving of being Barca coach and never got to truly fulfill that dream. How do I explain the unbearable brutality that his life of merit and humbleness and quiet brilliance should culminate in years of painful struggle and a too-early end. How do I come to terms with that and with the fact that he deserved more.

What I can say, in the end, is that grief is a reflection of joy, because it’s the happiness that Tito has brought me and the esteem I have for him that make his passing so devastating. I can barely grapple with it at this point, but rest in peace, dearest coach. You are celebrated, mourned, and loved.


  1. You've completely captured why my heart is so heavy. Hope and beauty, history and potential.

  2. As I sit here, tears streaming down my face, reading your piece and nodding my head because you completely describe my situation. Surrounded by non-sports fans who wouldn't understand my grief at the death of my team's ex-coach. They won't understand the sadness that wells when we think about all that cancer took away. A husband, father and son. And to us a humble but brilliant coach. Thanks Tito..... for everything. And thank you Barcelista for that moving piece.