BARCELONA: Tito Vilanova has stepped down temporarily as coach of Spanish league leaders and Champions League favourites Barcelona after suffering a cancer recurrence. The shock announcement wiped news of Leo Messi’s contract extension off the Catalan news channels.

Vilanova had a tumour removed from his parotid gland in November last year while working as assistant to Pep Guardiola. The parotid gland is the largest of the major salivary glands and the most likely to develop cancer. It is located in the cheek in front of the ear.

A 10-hour operation was a success, and Vilanova returned to work with Barca, eventually taking over when Guardiola stepped down last summer. However a recurrence was diagnosed on Tuesday. Vilanova undergoes further surgery today to be followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Club president Sandro Rosell and executive director Andoni Zubizarreta said last night that Vilanova’s assistant, Jordi Roura, would take charge of the team against Valladolid at the weekend.

Zubizarreta denied that Guardiola had been asked to cut short his one-year sabbatical in New York and take charge in the interim which is expected to last, at best, at least six weeks.

Earlier the club had confirmed that record marksman Messi has agreed a contract extension until 2018. The Argentina international, 25, has scored 90 goals in 2012.

Veteran captain Carles Puyol, 34, and midfielder Xavi Hernandez, 32, have also agreed new deals keeping them at Barcelona until 2016.

Messi’s current deal expires in June 2016, with Puyol’s running until 2013 and Xavi until 2014.

All three players are products of the club’s famed academy.

Messi has been with Barcelona since he was 13 and made his league debut as a 17-year-old against RCD Espanyol on 16 October 2004. On December 9 he scored twice against Betis  to exceed Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old record of 85 goals in a calendar year.

He took his tally for the year to 90 on Sunday with another two goals as Barcelona defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1.

He has scored twice in each of the last eight games he has started.

Messi is in contention to be named World Player of the Year for a fourth time, having been included on a three-man shortlist alongside Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta.

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