Éric Abidal is set to start tonight’s Champions League semi-final clash for F.C. Barcelona against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in Germany. A defensive injury crisis at the Catalan club has thrust the Frenchman back into Tito Vilanova’s plans much sooner than expected.
Injuries to captain Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano, along with the lack of European playing time at the heart of defence of Marc Bartra and Alex Song has placed Abidal, with his wealth of experience, at the forefront of the coaching staff’s thoughts.
Abidal’s comeback from a second battle against cancer, and a liver transplant, has been nothing short of miraculous and a great inspiration for everyone involved with Barça and beyond.
Abidal’s cousin, who donated part of his liver for the transplant, will travel to Germany with the squad to be present at the match. Abidal owes his life to his family member and dedicated a t-shirt under his match shirt to him after he made his comeback in the latter stages of the 5-0 win against Mallorca at the Camp Nou. After the match Abidal took off his match shirt to reveal the message underneath, “thank you cousin, without you I would not be here”.
The fact that he is back playing and completed 90 minutes against Levante at the Camp Nou at the weekend in Barça’s 1-0 victory has given Tito Vilanova a welcome selection opportunity for the Champions League clash against Bayern.
Vilanova, who himself is also recovering from cancer for a second time, has a special bond with the brave French star, will have been impressed by Abidal’s recent performances and will feel confident of Abidal’s ability to cope with the pressure of a Champions League semi-final atmosphere at the Allianz Arena.
Reports in Spain this week have suggested that Abidal is unhappy that he has not been offered a contract renewal by the Barça board. The Frenchman’s contract expires in the summer, but was told that he would only need to play one game for the Blaugrana to be offered a new deal.
However, after three appearances for the 1st team and having completed the full 90 minutes in his last match, the number 22 is still waiting to sit down with the deal makers at the club.
He has repeatedly stated his desire to remain at the Blaugrana beyond this summer and also said that he wishes to retire in Catalunya. His wife and family are happy in the Catalan capital and although having received offers from various teams, allegedly including one from Paris Saint-Germain, is reluctant to move. As a result of this many online bookmakers (places where you can indulge in football and horse betting) would have him odds on to stay FC Barcelona for the rest of his career.
There will be a lot of pressure from fans and colleagues alike for the board to renew Abidal’s contract. He is highly respected in the dressing room and has a special place in the hearts of fans.
His central defensive partner this evening, Gerard Piqué, would dedicate his goals during Abidal’s 1st illness by making a double V gesture across his chest to the courageous Frenchman, the 22 of the shirt he wears.
When Barça lifted their 4th Champions League title at Wembley in 2011, captain Carles Puyol removed his armband and placed it on Abidal’s arm, giving him the dedication and honour of being the man to lift the trophy.
It will be a great sight to see this man of courage take his place amongst his team mates this evening on the turf of the Allianz Arena. It will be greater still to see his contract renewed and his fortitude and will to overcome terrible adversity rewarded.