The late Tito Vilanova was a trusted assistant to Pep Guardiola during the most successful period in Barcelona history, as well as winning La Liga in his sole season as head coach. But the lasting legacy of the former Barça youth team midfielder, who passed away in 2014 after battling cancer, may have only just been uncovered after he convinced Lionel Messi to stay at the club.
Vilanova's former assistant Jordi Roura was a guest on Spanish radio programme SinConcesiones and told a story about Messi visiting Vilanova at his home just six days before he succumbed to his illness.
Jordi Roura ha confirmado en @sinconcesiones que Tito Vilanova recibió a Messi en su casa el 19 de abril de 2014, 6 días antes de morir, y le convenció de que no se fuera del Barça cuando el argentino estaba muy desanimado y se planteaba su marcha a otro equipo. pic.twitter.com/5kobUY7ty9— Estadi Johan Cruyff (@EstadiJohan) April 25, 2019
Roura said that at that time, April 2014, Messi was considering his future at Camp Nou, but the lengthy conversation with Vilanova served to open his eyes and persuaded the superstar to stay.
"It was a stage in which Tito was at a delicate moment and it is true that at that time Leo was not clear about staying [at Barça]," Roura is quoted as saying.
"They met and although I was not there, I know they spent several hours talking. I saw something that I had not clearly seen before, I do not know what they said, but Leo decided to stay here and we hope it will be for many years," the assistant coach added.
Discussing Vilanova's character, he said, "He was a very simple, direct person, with a lot of personality, that's what I think in a professional team made him special."
Messi had dipped to 28 La Liga goals in 2013/14, his first scoring less than 30 since the 2008/09 campaign. However, the season after his conversation with Vilanova and seemingly re-inspired and re-focused, he was back to his best, netting 58 in all competitions and firing Barça to a La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble, the second in the club's history.
This season, Messi is again top of La Liga's scoring charts with 33 in 27 starts. He is also the Champions League's top scorer with ten strikes, as he looks for a fifth European crown.