Five years ago today ….

Eric Sylvain Abidal joined FC Barcelona from Olympique Lyonnais. At the time he was signed, nobody could have predicted what would happen. At Lyon, he was known for his pace and physical abilities. When Lyon played Manchester United, his job was to mark Wrongaldo into oblivion. Abidal summed up his defensive philosophy like so:

“As a defender, my aim is to infuriate the opponent,” he explained. “I want him to be so sick of the sight of me that he has to move somewhere else on the pitch to get away.”

Many of us have forgotten that he threatened to go on strike, and refused to practice with Lyon because he wanted the transfer to Barcelona. And so it was.

He didn’t get off to the best start, and even he would admit (and did) that his beginnings weren’t what they should have been, but resolved to work harder to become the best left back in the world.

As he accomplished that mission, he defined his role with style, physicality, grace and calmness. Somewhere, he acquired this otherworldly ball control that allowed him to make plays, flip balls around and generally let attackers make fools of themselves. And suddenly, he was the best left back in the world. He resolved the Theo Walcott complexity by putting him on his butt. He marked players out of the match so much that he was free to roam into the center of the pitch, since nobody wanted to even bother coming to his side of the pitch.

His dedication to the cause was unquestioned, and unquestionable. He slammed his head into the pitch to clear a ball against Sevilla. Even more staggering, his body, riven by the capriciousness that is cancer, was beginning to let him down even as he was playing some of his best football.

Everyone knows what happened last season, a season that I still can’t think about and remain dry-eyed. Barca had a friendly at Wembley, and Abidal left a note in the locker room, vowing to return for the Champions League final, which was to be held in that venue. Then came the word: he would be lost to the club for an indeterminate period, due to liver surgery. Speculation was rife. Was it cancer> The player himself, in an interview with L’Equipe, revealed that it was. None of us knew what to do. His friends, teammates and family didn’t know what to do. It was one of the two times Pep Guardiola wept, as did we all.

And then, one day, a wan-looking Le Roi Eric was at practice, looking hungry. It was at that time that magic started to happen, as the hashtag #animsabidal became #waitwhatamiseeing? Because he returned to the pitch, to a thunderous ovation, in the home leg of El Clasic. You know the rest. He started in the Champions League final, played his usual brilliant match and was given the Captain’s armband by Carles Puyol, and allowed to hoist the trophy. As sporting …. nay, human moments go, this one was without compare.

And then came this past season, where Abidal’s play was plagued by uncharacteristic errors and erratic matches. Some said it was a tailspin, and that he had always been overrated. Others just wondered what was going on. When word came, suddenly, that Abidal would be going into hospital for a liver transplant, suddenly it all made sense. On those occasions where he wasn’t the player that he was, it was because he wasn’t the man that he was. I can’t begin to imagine what playing must have been like for him, each match coming and going in a haze that, because he, like any of us, is human, would have to have led to some distracted moments, moments in which despite what his brain was saying, his body, suddenly, wouldn’t do it.

He’s out of the hospital now and recovering, with a goal of leading a normal life. And I, for one don’t care a whit if that normal life includes football. I imagine that Abidal doesn’t either.

Happy 5th anniversary, King. Good to have you with us.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


    • hansh
      June 30, 2012

      Thanks for this link, I really enjoyed the article! Iniesta’s teammates seem to be asked about him all the time, and they are all so complimentary. (Or is it complementary?)

  1. Momo
    June 29, 2012

    Fantastic article! Thanks a lot Kxevin!

  2. Dani_el
    June 29, 2012

    Thanks for the article Kxevin. Didn’t know he forced his way into our club. I hope he’s doing fine, resting with his family.

    Keita: “I’d like to retire at Barça, hope it will be possible. We need to sit down, see what Barca offer and want and iron out the details.”

    Via Barça stuff

  3. mom4
    June 29, 2012

    And I, for one don’t care a whit if that normal life includes football. I imagine that Abidal doesn’t either.

    I imagine he does. Just the way he hurried his recovery to play in the CL final suggests that. He hope he takes it slowly and listens to his medical team though. He’d make one heck of a coaching addition if not. I wonder, do they have “defensive coordinators” in football like they do in American football?

    • nzm
      June 29, 2012

      Can you imagine him as coach for the Backs? I can think of no better role model.

  4. June 29, 2012

    In other news, Dirty Tackle posted a fake “Future News” story about Cristiano Ronaldo missing his flight to Lisbon after wandering off to buy a pastry…and several international news services bought it! Stories appeared in the Ukraine, Armenia, Netherlands, and Argentina (among others), and the Portuguese FA actually had to issue a statement denying it.


    • Ryan
      June 29, 2012

      I saw this earlier today too. The Russian news video that reports it like it actually happened is amazing. 🙂

    • nzm
      June 30, 2012

      It was too good to be true, after’s cartoon which was on their site the morning after the game was over.

      It showed Cristiano, still on the pitch waiting to take his penalty, while in the background the Portugal team’s plane was taking off!

      Link here, for those daring to go to’s site:
      Cristiano waits to take penalty

      (I can, because I have a hosts.exe installed which blocks all their viral links!)

  5. Ryan
    June 29, 2012

    Can you imagine if we could sign today Abidal from 5 years ago? Combined with Alba and Adriano we’d have the strongest left back slot in the world. 😀

    It was very nice to read about the early Barca days of Abidal, as it’s easy to only remember his later heroics. That and his adorable children celebrating successful seasons in the Camp Nou. 🙂 And if he wants to get back into football in some form or another, and it doesn’t risk anything from his surgery, welcome back!

    • Ryan
      June 29, 2012

      Oh, and if Abidal did return one day we could say our left-backs are rated triple A. Our front line has cool acronyms like MVP and 3M; why not AAA for our defenders? 🙂

  6. June 30, 2012

    Buzzing from a reliable Twitter source that Keita will be invoking his contract and leaving on a free, to play in China.

    His contract has a proviso that if a specified number of minutes are not met, he can leave on a free.

    Note also that this contradicts earlier reports/quotes from the player that he would act as though the required number of minutes had been met, and that he wanted to retire with the club, if possible.

    So stand by.

    –Meanwhile, in the “good riddance to bad rubbish” file, Blanc is out as France NT coach. I figured as much after the showing at the Euros, and the disgraceful Nasri behavior toward a journalist.

    • nzm
      June 30, 2012

      Barcastuff also just posted that Keita’s contract expires today and a renewal has been offered by the club.

    • nzm
      June 30, 2012

      However, he’s also linked to a pic of Keita, his wife and agent in China. 🙂

      If there’s money to be made for 1-2 seasons, why not? He’ll be able to retire anywhere he wants, after that.

      I’ll be really sad to see him go.

    • sd
      July 1, 2012

      I really dislike this minimum number of games requirement. That provision should be corrected for the number of games he is available for…its not Barca’s fault that Keita was at the AFCON this year for 13 (i think) Barca games this year? The coaching staff should not have to think about things like this player needs to play this number of games or that number of games. Its garbage.

  7. Lev
    June 30, 2012

    Nice article, Kxevin!

    I for one do hope that he will play for us or play some role, and like mom4 says, I imagine that he does, too.

    Having said that he will never be the player he was (to be honest he already wasn’t after his first operation) and either way I am still very worried about who will replace him, because our defense is very vulnerable without the King.

    Yet… if he doesn’t come back anymore, I will be forever greatful that he came back after his first operation to play in the CL final AND to SCORE that GOAL against in the bernabeu, a couple of weeks before the (possible/likely) end of his year.

  8. barca96
    June 30, 2012

    Barca had a friendly at Wembley, and Abidal left a note in the locker room, vowing to return for the Champions League final, which was to be held in that venue.

    If I’m not mistaken, he was with the French team. It was very touchy none the less.

    • K_legit in Oz
      July 1, 2012

      Madrid Sid at it again..I don’t think I have a slur for him in english which encompasses what i think so I’ll use hindi..Sid Lowe- aap chutiye hain

  9. barca96
    July 1, 2012

    What do you guys think of Platini’s idea of having an Euro where it will be staged all over Europe?

    I am in favor of this because they will use already built stadiums instead of spending money to build stadiums for Euros. Ukraine, Poland and S. Africa etc. won’t be able to regain the $ spend for many years to come, if ever.

    • barca96
      July 1, 2012

      I was still in junior high school so I could only watch the repeat later in the morning.

      You know how there is a different adrenaline rush between watching a live match and repeats? But his match felt like a live one although it was at 10 in the morning (live is at 3am in Hong Kong) .

      Can you imagine, he rescued us. He got us into 3the last CL spot. And what a way to do it!

    • ooga aga
      July 1, 2012

      nice footage…pep and puyol seen in the middle of those goal celebrations

  10. barca96
    July 1, 2012

    Why has it been so quiet in here. The final will be played in a few hours time. Predictions?

    I wasn’t planning to watch it live. I only wake up at 2,3,4, or 5 (depending which country I’m in) for Barça. But since there are many Barça players, I’ll make an exception 🙂

    I actually wanted Spain to crash out early because of my beef with VdB’s stubbornness with the use of the double pivot hence preventing Iniesta, Xavi, Busi to play to their max. potential and his reluctance to play Pedro and I wanted our Barça boys to have more rest. But now since they’ve gone all the way, why waste the opportunity to create history?!

    • July 1, 2012

      I think the double pivot might be useful today. Italy plays 4 midfielders and they are all very skillful. Beside Pirlo, Balotelli and Cassano, Spain has to be aware of de Rossi. He has a good tournament so far, made a few fantastic long passes to Marchisio in the Germany game, which he should have scored.

      I don’t want Silva in Spain’s lineup. He adds nothing different to this team.

      My preferred lineup would be:

      There’s no point in putting a center forward because the battle is in midfield, so having Cesc will help maintain Spain’s dominance in that area. Mata hasn’t played at all, but at Chelsea and in a few friendlies, he has played on the right wing and done quiet well. The point is to stretch Italian defense through short/quick passes and dribble. With Mata or Pedro on the right and Alba on the left, there will be holes for Cesc or other midfielders to come into the box. In defense, Busi or Alonso has to step back to form a bank of four when Alba goes forward.

      Impact subs: Torres(Llorente), Navas and Cazorla

      History suggests that Italy is the favorite, but I’m like you, I want Spain to make history since they have made it this far. Praying for a Busi goal to give Spain the win, just to break the collective heart of Busi/Spain haters. Gosh, reading the Guardian makes me feel so enraged.

      So you’re going to stay up until 4 or 5 am Asia Pacific time to watch this match and go to work on Monday morning? That’s quite a dedication 😀

  11. July 1, 2012

    According to barcastuff, unofficial lineup is Casillas – Arbeloa Ramos Pique Alba – Alonso Xavi Busquets – Silva Cesc Iniesta

    Same lineup as the first game :/

  12. Messiah10
    July 2, 2012

    There’s a possibility Abi is going to return. Imagine that! It would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time. He’d be up there in the pantheon’s of great comebacks. The Mexican? international who was shot in the head was in the pantheon’s. Abi’s right there if he can return. He said today that it would be on his time and he didn’t want to put a date on it. 🙂

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