Only two months after having surgery to remove a tumour from his liver, Eric Abidal can cap a remarkable comeback by lining up alongside Barcelona teammates Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in Saturday’s Champions League final against Manchester United.
Abidal, who missed the 2-0 win over United in the 2009 final because of suspension, is further motivated to play at Wembley after recovering from an illness that left the 31-year-old Frenchman’s future uncertain.
“I haven’t lived a situation as bad as that: it was a question of life or death,” Xavi said. “Now he is back and he’s just as strong as he was before the operation — it’s amazing.”
Abidal returned earlier this month following the surgery in mid-March .
“Mentally I was strong,” Abidal recalled. “It’s not easy but I was determined to come back from my illness and I worked hard. Luckily everything went well and I was able to return.
“I played 90 minutes in the last match and I felt good. I have played from the start in the last two matches, and while it’s true that those games didn’t have the same rhythm as the next one, I feel I am ready.”
Xavi believes Abidal’s motivation has only increased after missing the Rome final two years ago and by the 1-0 extra-time Copa del Rey final loss to Real Madrid last month.
“He has that thorn in his side,” Xavi said. “He has shown he is an example to all humanity, everything he represents, the values he has, competitiveness, recovery, involvement, overcoming [the illness] and wanting to be back. You wouldn’t think he had had an operation, it has a lot of merit.”
Setting an example
Abidal’s fourth season with the Catalan club was shaping up to be his best before a doctor’s checkup discovered the tumour.
He’d been a key figure in defence, making 33 appearances and even scored his first goal for Barcelona on January 5 in the Copa del Rey round of 16 to send the Catalan team through.
Abidal played with a poise and confidence that made him look like a veteran of Barcelona’s possession-based attacking playing style as he helped the club to nine major titles over the past three seasons.
He borrowed that same poise when breaking the news of his tumour to his teammates, who have since recounted the silence that swept through the locker room only to be followed by Abidal cheering them on.
“He’s an example for so many people. He transmitted such calm,” Xavi said. “We were more anxious than he was. Him being back is great news.”
That joy was apparent when Abidal returned for his first game on May 3, playing the closing moments of the victorious semifinal against Real Madrid.
The players hoisted Abidal up over their heads in celebration, with the Frenchman wearing an enormous smile rather than the scowl that accompanied him for most of the first three seasons.
Abidal, who revealed his plans to remain in the Catalan capital once his playing days end, played a full 90 minutes in the season-ending 3-1 win at Malaga that closed out a third straight Spanish league crown.
Now, whether it’s 10 minutes or 90 minutes, Abidal reminds himself of how lucky he is to be in such a position again.
“I’m preparing to play. I’ve come a long way, two months out and now I have the chance to be there,” Abidal said. “I worked hard to return. It will be a special final and I’m ready to help out, whether it’s starting or playing a few minutes.” — Sapa-AP