Posted on May 2013.
It’s the end of the season, and the club will be making some tough decisions soon. One of the toughest of all is whether to offer Eric Abidal a new contract. Over the last three seasons we have shared his struggle with cancer. We wept for joy when he overcame it to lift the CL trophy at Wembley, then wept again when we heard he had suffered a relapse. We celebrated when a liver donor was found, and rejoiced when he stepped onto the pitch to play his first minutes in over a year. Now, finally, Abidal is fully recovered and eager to take up his position in the team. In a perfect scenario his contract would be renewed and a 100% fit Abi would play for Barcelona for at least another year or two before retiring and moving on to the next phase of his career.
Over the last couple of weeks there have been rumbles from Abidal’s agent (and maybe from Abidal himself, although I’m not sure if those quotes were confirmed) that they are disappointed that the club hasn’t yet sat down and talked about renewing his contract. According to his agent, Abidal requested a meeting with Rosell as far back as February but got no response. After these quotes came out, the reaction was immediate outrage, at least in my twitter TL. Why haven’t the club offered Abi a new contract? How could they leave him in limbo like that? Don’t they owe it to him after everything he’s been through to let him know, so he can plan his future? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and there are serious questions that need to be asked. Even if Abi had been granted the meeting he requested in February, there is nothing that Rosell or Zubi could really have confirmed at that point other than that he is important to the club and that the coaches will be the ones to make the evaluation at the end of the season.
Before the club can even consider renewing Abidal’s contract, they must be convinced of two things: 1) that he is 100% healthy and fit to play, and 2) that he can be counted on to play consistently at the high level demanded by a team of Barça’s calibre. The doctors have passed him fit, and we have no reason to think that his health is still compromised. In the four games he has appeared in this season, he has looked almost like his old self. In fact, I would currently consider him our best defender by far. His speed, positioning, reading of the game, and assurance on the ball have all been top-notch. However, he has only played a total of 175 minutes, and just one full game. The last game he started he had to be subbed off due to “thigh discomfort”, although there was also a suspicion that he just ran out of gas. There is also the fact that Abidal is 33, and will turn 34 in September. I’m not one of those who thinks a player has an automatic expiry date of 30 years, but he is certainly not getting any younger. Taking all these factors together, it is understandable that the coaches are taking their time to make a final decision. With only 25 first team places available and a clear need for new signings, can the club really afford to offer a place to a player who may not be able to rise to the challenge? Then again, can the club afford not to?
This is a very tricky situation for the club. On the one hand, we have the feel-good story of the club standing by Abidal throughout his illness, renewing his contract when there was no question of him playing, and giving him all the support he needed to come back and rejoin the team. Mes que un club, right? A happy outcome, and tons of great publicity for the club along the way. We’re the good guys. But if the coaches, or the Board, or both have decided that Abi just can’t play at the highest level anymore, or for over the course of a full season, how do they let him go without looking completely heartless? Rumours have abounded that club wants to offer him a job on the coaching staff, or as some kind of goodwill ambassador. This would obviously be a good solution for the club, as it would be seen as taking care of a family member, but Abidal has stated that he wants to continue playing for at least another year or two. If he can’t play at Barça, he will certainly look for another club. Apart from the sadness of losing a very talented and beloved player, there is the danger that if Barça lets him go and he ends up having a brilliant season somewhere else, we would look awfully foolish for parting with an excellent defender just when we are most in need of one with his exact profile.
Personally, I would love it if Abidal stays. I think that his talent, experience, and thorough knowledge of our system would compensate for him needing more rest between games or starting on the bench. He could surely play more minutes for us than Carvalho has for the last 2 season for Real Madrid. I think the club should offer him a year renewal, with an option for another year based on number of games played. If at any time his health becomes an issue the contract could be cancelled by mutual agreement. Sadly, it seems more and more unlikely that this will happen. I am afraid that we will have to bid adieu to our French greyhound at the end of this season. I very much hope that I am wrong.