offpitch | 2016-04-11
Abidal: 'What I miss the most about Barça is the locker room'
The Frenchman reveals his most personal feelings and memories about his career, Barça and his victories over cancer
Èric Abidal (Saint-Genis-Laval, 1979) is one of the most beloved retired footballers of Can Barça in recent years. His professionalism, his struggles and successes against the wickedness cancer and the image of him lifting the club’s fourth European Cup at the Wembley temple is worthy of praise for a lifetime and more. Abidal sat down with Dídac Peyret of Sport to share his thoughts about his footballing career and personal learnings.
Five years ago it was made public that you were suffering from liver cancer, in what sense has Éric Abidal changed since then?
I’ve learned a lot, especially to trust myself and overcome my limitations. When you’re ill, you first think about the things you can’t do. I achieved to do them with God’s help.
What part of yourself did you discover while going through that process?
I believe from that moment on, I was more of a fighter than ever before. And I still am, especially to help people who is going through something similar. I try to be a little example for people who are suffering just like I was. Having the opportunity to help other people also makes you more of a fighter.
During all these years, have there been more people which have let you down or that have positively surprised you?
[Ponders about it for a while] I don’t take that approach and I don’t take notice of that. Sometimes, there are people who got your back and others don’t. For me, the most important thing in this life is to share.
Up to what point did the chance of keep competing help you?
The sport was key in the mental aspect. It helped me a lot to realize I could achieve things which at first seemed impossible. But my family as well.
With the pass of time, has it helped you to understand Barcelona’s decision [of not renewing his contract]?
Well, the decision was taken and I had to accept it. And moreover, I couldn’t say anything because my contract was ending. For me, the best approach would have been they telling me exactly what it was: “You’ve suffered a cancer, a tumor and we don’t count on you for the upcoming season”. And not to say it was a professional decision.
Was it hard for you to accept that decision?
I had to accept it because it was the club’s decision, the management’s decision and that’s it. But I don’t have a problem with them. I already know that in this life we cannot have everything we want.
Zubizarreta always remembers that for him it was one the hardest moments, is it possible to heal a wound such as this?
I believe that the relationship continued to be the same one. That day, he took the floor but I remember president Rosell was there and didn’t say anything. And the club’s decisions are taken by the president not the sporting director. They told me it was a professional decision the same day they held the press conference.
Did you get a chance to speak with Johan Cruyff when he was battling his illness?
I left him a message and I got a response from his wife because I think he didn’t speak by phone [Johan didn’t own a cellphone].
What did you say to him?
I gave him my support and I told him that I’m familiar with this road, that you must fight the illness. We know he was a fighter.
You said once that Alves offered to donate you his liver, is he the player you’re the most close to in Barça’s locker room?
The friendship I have with Dani is different of the ones that I have with the rest but I have gotten along really well with the players and the people. It’s true that during all this time there have been some players which have been closer but summing up I cherish the whole squad. They were so nice to me, the staff, the doctors...I believe that thanks to them and my family I was able to move forward. Because Barça is more than a club also in the locker room.
What’s so special about that group?
Each one thinks of the other like a brother. When there was some problem, many times we approached it as brothers and Tito was like a father. When we entered the pitch, each player fought for himself but also for the teammate. With Puyol’s gesture in the Champions League final, you could see we were a family.
Is there some scene that wasn’t made public which you’re still remembering particularly?
[He takes his time] No, no...Xavi already said it: in that moment it was me who was encouraging his teammates [laughs]. No, truth be told a lot of people visit me but one of the gestures I remember the most was the PSG president’s visit. I haven’t met him before but he came to Barcelona and he was praying in my room. He said many nice things to me and that is one of my most vivid memories.
Where do you think your resilience comes from?
From my childhood, which is when many things related to the sport happens to you but from my personal life too.
What happened to you?
My parents. I really liked to play football and I didn’t like to lose. I was like that. But in the school, when I was getting bad grades, they insisted I could not give up and I had to keep on working. At the end, you become more stronger and the sport helps you with that as well.
Were your parents involved in the sports world in any way?
They had nothing to do with it. They worked with children.
Were they teachers?
No, no, they worked at a hospital. My mother was a nurse and my father worked in subjects related to the kids nutrition.
What do you cherish the most about that learning?
I think they provided us a good direction. Above all the fact of respecting other people and sharing things.
It has been said the footballers live in the clouds, did your illness cure you of that?
No, because I never felt I was living in the clouds. I’ve seen cases of footballers that started really young and their professional careers lasted two years. Once you witnessed those cases, you think in a different way. For me the money has not been important, the game has; to enjoy my passion, my job. And that’s why I have had this different career of other players.
Is it so difficult to retire?
It depends, you have to be so prepared. And especially choose when you want to quit, that you’re not forced by the injuries.
What’s the thing you miss the most?
The locker room and not just Barça’s. The locker room’s environment, battling united, the stress, the joy you can feel. When there’s a defeat, there are disgruntled looks but that gives you the chance to not surrender and share all that.
Why did you empathize so much with the fans?
You would have to ask them. I was just doing my job.
What projects do you have?
I’m focused on the foundation to help the kids... and God willing, well on Barça.