It may have been expected but it is still terribly sad to hear that Eric Abidal has decided to leave the club when his contract comes to an end on June 30. Reports say that he will appear with Sandro Rosell in a press conference on Thursday to announce his decision.
While it is a sad day for culés we should celebrate the fact that Abidal wants to continue playing and that is the reason he is moving on. We should celebrate his inspiring story of bravery to return to the top despite undergoing a liver transplant. We should celebrate his life.
Abidal was certainly not every fans’ favourite in his first season at Barça under Frank Rijkaard in 2007/08. He started reasonably well but as the team of Deco and Ronaldinho fell apart Abidal, like Victor Valdés, Rafa Marquez or Thierry Henry, had his fair share of critics.
However, from his second season on, now with Pep Guardiola in charge, he began to be seen as a guarantee at left back. His long striding legs so often providing the cover behind our advanced defence. Later, he converted to the centre back role and defied many critics of the move with his consistently high-level performances.
In the end he won us all over. His speed was vital to our defence, which when added to his cool head and distribution skills, his strength in the air and battling abilities – who can forget him diving in at floor level to clear the ball with his head at Sevilla – made him arguably our best defender in the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons.
Abidal was well known for never scoring but he finally broke his duck in the Copa del Rey at San Mames in January 2011, and then followed it up a year later by scoring at the Bernabeu. The celebration of both goals is still a joy to watch and along with the glorious moment in May 2011 when he lifted the European Cup at Wembley and his emotional return to the team this spring will provide powerful memories for many years to come.
The evidence of his 90 minutes against Levante last month suggested he would be capable of playing on at Barça, at least for another season. However, when faced with a tougher test at San Mames the following week reports say that Abidal had to be substituted due to exhaustion. It’s impossible to know what his capabilities will be next season but I understand that the people within the club have more access to information than I do to make a decision and we can have little room for sentimentality if we want to return to our rightful place as top dogs in Europe.
Barça are said to have offered Abidal a job when he finally decides to hang up his boots so I look forward to welcoming him back. Until then, I can only wish Eric Abidal every possible success in his new ventures. The word ‘great’ can be used all too easily in football these days, but for me Eric Abidal will always be remembered as one of Barça’s True Greats.