BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Barcelona's players, still deeply affected by Tito Vilanova's illness, are ready to welcome his yet-to-be-named replacement in a sign of solidarity with their former coach.
Barcelona captain Carles Puyol said Monday that Vilanova asked the squad to give its utmost for the club because it would be the best way of helping him now.
''And that's what we'll do,'' Puyol said.
Vilanova stepped down as Barcelona coach following a recurrence of throat cancer.
Barcelona's squad, most looking ashen-faced, attended Friday's quickly convened news conference in which club president Sandro Rosell announced Vilanova's decision.
''We were not expecting it at all,'' Puyol said. ''The truth is that it was a hard blow. Unfortunately, lately we've received a few of those. This, however, was a little stronger.''
Clearly rocked by the sudden departure, the club had initially called off its first preseason friendly, but on Monday announced it was re-scheduling the match for July 30.
Eric Abidal visited his former teammates during training Monday to also show his solidarity. The 33-year-old defender had a liver tumor removed in 2011 before doctors determined he needed a transplant. The operation in April 2012 proved so successful that the Frenchman played a full 90 minutes for Barcelona a year later.
Puyol said all the names put forward to take over from Vilanova ''are capable of leading the club.''
Those most linked are Gerardo Martino, who led Argentine club Newell's Old Boys last season, and former Barcelona B, Roma and now Celta Vigo coach Luis Enrique.
Another name that is likely to join this list is Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman who left his post at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala on Monday, only a month after signing a contract extension.
Hiddink previously coached PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid, and has also been caretaker coach at Chelsea. The Dutchman also found success at the international level, coaching the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia and Turkey.
''Whenever he arrives, we'll back him to the hilt,'' Puyol said of whichever coach gets the job.