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Celebrating Two Greats

This week has seen two former Barcelona players retire so it seems only fitting to have a look back on the careers of Éric Abidal and Thierry Henry.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The players, both originating from France, shared three years together at Barcelona as both were signed in 2007.

Henry was already a huge star when he arrived at Barça, having made a name for himself at Arsenal. During his time with the London club, Henry won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Community Shields. The Frenchman also won numerous individual awards such as back to back PFA Players' Player of the Year and four Premier League Golden Boots.

One of Henry's crowning achievements in England was his part in Arsenal's "Invincibles" season, where the club finished the 2003-04 season with a record of 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 defeats. Arsenal was a club close to Henry's heart but in 2007 he decided it was time for a change.

Speaking earlier this year, Henry stated that "I wanted to be in a competitive team and I thought at the time that the way the club was going wasn't the way that I was seeing it,". A €24 million offer came from Barcelona and Henry switched the Premier League for La Liga. The club, then managed by Frank Rijkaard, was going through a period of transition. Lionel Messi began to have a greater influence on the team while Ronaldinho's time was drawing to a close.

New signing Henry was primarily deployed on the wing and therefore didn't have the same kind of goalscoring record he did at Arsenal. However he didn't need long before he netted his first hat trick for the club, scoring three against Levante on the 29th of September.

Abidal's story took a slightly different route to Henry's. The defender spent many years in the French league playing with clubs such as Monaco, Lille and Lyon and won three successive league titles with the latter. When rumours of Barcelona's interest in the player arose, he was not a global superstar in the same way that Henry was. Just four days after Henry's arrival, Abidal joined the Catalan club.

He was given the number 22 jersey and made his first appearance in the Blaugrana against Racing de Santander. Abidal continued in his left back role throughout the season. Both Henry and Abidal helped Barcelona to a third place finish, behind Real Madrid and Villarreal, but change was needed at the Catalan club and the next season saw even more comings and goings.

Pep Guardiola was installed as head coach while Deco and Ronaldinho headed for the exit door. The loss of these two attackers allowed more responsibility for Henry and the goals began to flow for the Frenchman. He combined with Messi and Samuel Eto'o to score 100 goals and the team won the treble that season.

That season marked a season of missed opportunities for Abidal as he was suspended for both the Champions League final as well as the Copa del Rey final. However the following season, despite the arrival of Maxwell, Abidal continued to be a starter for Guardiola. The team, which was now being hailed as one of the greatest of all-time, finished 2009 by winning the FIFA Club World Cup and thus becoming the only team to win the sextuple. Barça went on to retain their league title but failed in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, losing out to Sevilla and Inter Milan respectively.

Despite the team's success, Henry's third season at Barcelona wasn't such a happy one. Pedro was beginning to emerge from the La Masia scene and garner more game time while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was also among the club's ranks. This meant Henry's game time was cut and he started just fifteen games.

It was becoming clear that his time was coming to an end and departed for the 2010 World Cup knowing his future wasn't at Barcelona. Henry joined New York Red Bulls where he would spend the rest of his playing days, interluded with a brief return to Arsenal on loan.

However, Abidal's greatest days in the Barça shirt were yet to come. In March of 2011, Abidal was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver, an event that sent shockwaves through Barcelona and the rest of the footballing world. Teams across the globe, including Real Madrid, provided messages of support for Abidal.

But the greatest moment of Abidal's Barça career was also the defining moment of the Guardiola era. Wembley Stadium, a ground intertwined with the history of Barça, was to be the destination for the final of the 2010-11 Champions League. Barça had reached the final, knocking out Real Madrid in the semi-final, while Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United also reached the London stadium.

The next 90 minutes of football were pure excellence from Barcelona and they defeated United 3-1. Ferguson admitted that "[Barcelona] are the best team Manchester United have faced" and fans were able to witness the culmination of years of dedication to La Masia on the biggest club stage of them all.

But the greatest moment came when Carles Puyol came over to Eric Abidal, handed him the captain's armband and informed him that he'd be the one to collect the trophy. A man who only two months ago had been sicken by ill health was to be the symbol of Barça's great victory.


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Abidal left the club in 2013 after a reemergence with his healthy issues. After another league title, he returned to Monaco, eleven years after leaving the club before ending his career with Olympiacos. While Abidal did leave the club in a way not fit of his dedication to the club, fans will always remember that night in London.

So a thank you to both Thierry Henry and Eric Abidal. They are truly two greats of the beautiful game.

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