Barcelona more than a club to Abidal
Along one of the steep tiers of seats running along the touchline at the cavernous Nou Camp stadium is written the motto of FC Barcelona - Mes Que Un Club (More than a club) - in giant lettering. And one of the current crop of the club’s stars know this to be true more than most.
French defender Eric Abidal was an important but largely unsung part of Barca’s success at the end of the last decade following his arrival from Lyon in 2007. He helped them win the Champions League, La Liga and Spanish Cup treble in 2009 and the league again the following season, before being diagnosed with a tumour on his liver in 2011.
He underwent treatment and made an extraordinary return to action, captaining the Catalan giants in the final as they won another Champions League trophy after beating Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley.
But Abidal’s tribulations were far from over and, less than a year later, he was told he would need a liver transplant. The 33-year-old made it through that operation and is now back in training, hoping to repay the faith shown in him by his club.
“Barcelona is different from other clubs because it’s more than a club. When you arrive at Barcelona you know what this saying means, but having lived through all my experiences I can understand this much better,” Abidal said at the 7th Dubai International Sports Conference at the weekend.
“This is a club that does everything for you - they teach you the right path. They sign up players and treat them like their own kids, whether they’re a 17-year-old or a 33-year-old, there’s no difference, they will take care of you equally.
“I know from my experience over the last two years and my many problems that I have always had their support. They have stood by me and that was very important. I do not know if this would happen in all clubs.
“They helped me a lot to fight my disease, they supported my family. After this I will continue fighting so that I can play - I am in debt to my club. I have to tell them thank you for helping me and helping my family. I will continue fighting and I will come back because they deserve it more than myself.”
Barcelona have enjoyed an incredible run of success in recent years, winning two Champions Leagues, three league titles, two European Super Cups, the Club World Cup twice and the Spanish Cup also twice - all in the last four seasons.
The team that has won all those trophies has been built around a spine of stars produced at the club’s La Masia academy - and Abidal thinks the club’s philosophy plays a key role in producing players capable of bringing glory while also remaining humble.
“I think Barcelona’s success is mainly due to hard work from [homegrown] players. When they play for the club from a very young age, you can tell that they play differently. Sometimes I watch training sessions of the younger generations and you can see that they really understand football,” he said.
“What makes Barcelona a great club is that they have great players - such as [Lionel] Messi, Xavi, [Carles] Puyol, [Gerard] Pique, [Andres] Iniesta - who have won many titles but continue being normal people. They earn a lot of money, but whenever you meet them on the street they are human beings like anyone and they will respect everyone.
“We know every time we start a match that we have to respect the image and ethics of the club and we have to continue working hard, because without that you cannot achieve anything.”