AFTER coming back from a liver transplant to play again, Eric Abidal bid an emotional goodbye to Barcelona yesterday after six trophy-laden seasons with the club.
Abidal, who will turn 34 in July, has one match left with the Spanish champions but said he would have liked more.
“Football for me is a passion since I was a child,” Abidal said at the Nou Camp. “I don’t see myself quitting now.
“I have made all this effort to come back to play football. My health is better now. When my body tells me to stop I will hang up the boots. I would have liked to keep on playing here, but the club sees it differently and I have to respect that.”
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell said the door is open for Abidal to return and join its technical staff when he finishes his playing career.
Abidal thanked his family, team-mates, coaches, and the team doctors and physical therapists who helped him through his medical issues. He battled back to play for Barcelona in April after having a liver transplant last year following a battle with cancer in 2011.
Even though he was obviously disappointed that Barcelona had not offered to extend his contract, Abidal said that he had spent the “most intense years of his life” at the club.
“I am going but I am sure that I will be back,” he said. “I have a very interesting offer from the club that I will have to think about.”
Abidal was visibly moved by the moment and shed a few tears during a tribute video the club dedicated to him. He then embraced and kissed the cheek of each of his team-mates, coaches, doctors, staff and club board members before leaving the press hall.
Abidal said he wants to keep playing as long as his health allows, but that he had not received any offers from other clubs yet and that he would wait until he finishes his contract until considering his next move along with his wife and children.
Neither Rosell nor sports director Andoni Zubizarreta offered a clear explanation on why Abidal had not been offered a new contract. Zubizarreta even said that Abidal’s recovery following the transplant of a piece of his cousin’s liver had exceeded expectations. But, with Barcelona’s defence ageing, it appears the club may be looking to overhaul its defence this pre-season.
“Eric has been with us for six years and it goes without saying that he has become a very important person for us,” Rosell said. “He has won our hearts. He showed us the will to overcome any type in difficulty.
“Today we are not here to say goodbye, or until later, but rather until he wants to return. The door is open for when he wants to become technical director of all our football academies. We will wait for him. When he returns, if he wants to help us in another way, then we will consider that also.”
Abidal played a key part in Barcelona’s most successful run in club history, winning 15 trophies in his six seasons. The former France defender joined Barcelona from Lyon for the 2007-08 season.
After a transition period adapting to Barcelona’s passing style, which often involves defenders retaining the ball under pressure, he became one of the team’s first-choice players and a fans’ favourite.
Starting as a left back, Abidal ended up playing centre back as one of the team’s most reliable defenders and veteran leaders.
“A great player, team-mate and above all an example to follow! I wish you all the best my friend!” Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who was present with the rest of the team, tweeted.
As well as two Champions League and four Spanish league titles, Abidal also helped the Catalan club win two Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) titles, two Club World Cups, two European Super Cups, and three Spanish Super Cups.
Abidal’s final game will be on Saturday when Barcelona conclude their league campaign against Malaga with the chance to equal a record of 100 points with a win.
“The most important thing right now is my last game,” Abidal added. “Let’s see if my coach plays me and I can have some minutes.”