Barcelona captain Carles Puyol has spoken publicly for the first time of his sadness that Tito Vilanova has had to leave his post as coach after just one season due to ill health.
Vilanova's departure was confirmed on Friday when he informed the club that his ongoing treatment for cancer of a saliva gland was no longer compatible with the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the Catalans. "It was a very hard blow," Puyol told a press conference on Monday.
"Nobody expected it. The team has been left very affected. The news we have received is very difficult, but this is an illness and the person is the most important. Tito is very much in the thoughts of those in the dressing room. He spoke to us and calmed us. He asked us to continue to fight as he would do."
Vilanova's sudden departure has, though, left Barca without a coach less than a month before they are due to begin the defence of their Spanish title. President Sandro Rosell said on Friday he expected to make an announcement on a new boss this week and local media on Monday reported the club's shortlist had been reduced to just former player and youth team coach Luis Enrique and the Argentinian Gerardo Martino.
And despite his own personal friendship with Enrique, Puyol said he had no preference on who takes over. "All the names that are coming out are capable of training this team. I am sure they will look for who is best for Barça. You all know that I have a good relationship with Luis Enrique, who is one of the candidates, and he is capable as are the rest of the names. Martino likes the Barça style of play and I know that he is a good coach."
On a personal level Puyol is also running against the clock to be fit to start the new season having undergone a third knee operation in a year back in June. "I am recovering. I would like to be training with the team but right now I can't. I am not setting targets, but everyday I am better. It was a hard year, with three operations, and I don't want to rush myself."