Eric Abidal is a respected member of this FC Barcelona squad, and his personal struggles in the past year have been well-publicised, although I thought that the worst was behind us when he lifted the Champions League trophy at Wembley. While I cannot make a claim that his tumour pales in comparison to the contract situation currently facing the Frenchmen, it does make everything a little more concerning. Just why would Abidal reject the offers from the club? More importantly, why isn’t the club meeting his demands?
Abidal has firmly established himself as the premier left-back in the squad, maybe even the best left sided defender in the world, approaching the 200 match mark with the Catalans in less than five seasons. It is easy to underestimate his importance, if anything we tend to take him for granted, heaping praise onto his colleagues, just because they appear more influential, but Abidal has been present for almost every major game, health permitting of course.
Even last year, his career and possibly even his life appeared in danger at one stage, but he was back in May, playing the full 90 minutes against Manchester United. Barcelona were far better with Abidal at the back. Yet eight months later, we have to face the fact that Abidal might be leaving the club on a free transfer in the summer. Something must have changed.
Sandro Rosell has built up a reputation as a tough negotiator. Dani Alves was waiting for a bumper contract offer last year; it never materialised, and Dani is currently tied to a deal that does pay handsomely, but is mostly performance related. Arsenal were looking to sell Cesc Fabregas for around £40-50 million, a suitable price-tag for a world-class player. Rosell managed to do a deal worth £25 million upfront and even roped Cesc into contributing with his own salary. Simply put, the man conducts business in a very specific manner.
Reports suggest that Rosell has taken a very similar approach in Abidal’s contract, offering a similar wage to current, despite the increased tax level in Spain. This means that Abi would be technically taking a substantial pay cut, and some cite this as the reason for the breakdown in talks, but just how much better would it be abroad?
As far as I could find, the tax level for footballers in Spain (at least at the level of pay Abidal is receiving) is 46%. Compared to England’s 50% it is cushy, while Germany, Italy and France all tax around 40-45%. For someone like Abidal, a huge hike of around 20% from the previous tax level (thanks to the Beckham law) is huge, but is no worse than if he moved back to France, or to England. Therefore, I struggle to see why money is the problem.
In addition to the tax level, it must be argued that Abidal has more than enough money to see him through the rest of his life in luxury. Would a cut to...say €50,000 per week really bankrupt the Frenchman? Of course not, which leads me to believe that the left-back no longer believes he is an automatic starter. With the rise of the 3-4-3, it would be a perfectly reasonable concern, there is no left-back in this system, and that’s just for starters.
With Carles Puyol returning to full fitness and Gerard Pique remaining the first choice partner, there is only one spot remaining in the defense, with numerous options to fill it. Alves has to be accommodated, and at times, perhaps when Pedro returns to form, or when David Villa fights off his injury, Alves will have to be moved back into defense. That completes the triumvirate defense, leaving no room for a certain Frenchman. Even if Dani continues to play upfront, Guardiola has publicly stated his admiration for Javier Mascherano at centre-back, even claiming that Masch is the best central defender in the squad.
Note that was not Eric Abidal.
Even in a 4-3-3 we cannot be sure of a starting berth for the Frenchman, Adriano has particularly impressed this season in between injuries, although I would bet everything I own that Guardiola still prefers Abidal. Is Abidal struggling to motivate himself to sign the contract? Maybe he fancies a new challenge abroad, much like he did after several seasons at Lyon. All I know is that the last thing Barcelona need is an unmotivated player. Seems as though Abidal does as well...