Eric Abidal lifts club football's biggest trophy months after his first surgery. - Laurence Griffiths
After undergoing a liver transplant in March due to complications from a previous operation, the French fullback has yet again showed us the strength of his spirit. The doctors have said he is ready to start training normally and his return is a matter of time.
Mere months after having to receive a liver transplant, in itself a year from having surgery to remove a tumor, Eric Abidal is ready to begin training normally and should be able to return to playing matches relatively soon.
Abidal has gone through more in the past few years than most of us can imagine at the moment: from surgery to winning the most-watched sporting event of the year in two months, to another medical procedure less than a year later, and an imminent return to the pitch eight months after.
A top player as both a left back and central defender, he had been steadily improving in his later years as part of Pep Guardiola's "Dream Team 2.0" at Barcelona. And then, disaster struck.
Abidal was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver, which was potentially life-threatening. On March 17, 2011, the player was admitted to the surgery room. Not even two months later, he made his first appearance off the bench in the 91st minute of a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid that ensured progress from the Champions League semis. He got his first significant action in a 2-1 win at Espanyol, again as a sub. Three days later he started his first game, a 1-1 draw with Levante which secured La Liga.
And it was on May 28 when Abidal stared his first Champions League final, having missed the 2008 final due to suspension (because of a red card in a semifinal against Chelsea which TV replays showed was the wrong decision - but let's not get into that). Abidal played the full 90, turning in a tidy performance as Barca disposed of Manchester United 3-1.
The captain of the team, in this case Carles Puyol, is traditionally given the honor of lifting the trophy for the winners. But Puyol allowed the Frenchman to lift the Big Cup, in a gesture which Abidal called "special".
Abidal reflected that the experience had changed him and reordered his priorities. He no longer cared much about money and gave away some of his fancy cars. He liked football, still, but it no longer seemed quite as important as being with his family.
Despite this, or perhaps because of this, Abidal seemed to get even better at football the following season. His game-winning goal in el Clasico to help knock Real Madrid out of the cup remains one of his finer moments.
But tragedy struck, again.
The news arrived to the shock of football fans: Abidal had to get a liver transplant due to complications unresolved from his first operation. Almost exactly a year after his first surgery, Abidal had to receive medical attention again. His cousin, Gerard, was his donor.
The prognosis was grim. Forget the fact that most people wondered whether a player on the wrong side of 30 could play football at the highest level ever again: it was possible Abidal would not make it, or have his quality of life suffer greatly in some manner.
Abidal stated that he would like to return, but again, he stressed it was not really his priority. Meanwhile, Barcelona lost the Champions League and La Liga titles - but football did not seem so important, anyway.
The transplant in April went fine. Abidal's body was in poor shape, but his spirit remained intact. He continued his recovery despite not knowing if he'd be able to play again.
In October he began light training, slowly but surely getting fitter and fitter. He continued training in a separate group apart from the club, but began approaching full training levels.
"As the doctors say, I shouldn't have survived," Abidal told Marca. "I'm working towards my comeback. If I can, I will, and if not, no problem, I'll carry on with my family life."
It's looking like he might be able to do both soon.