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The defender, who has battled cancer for the past two years, bid farewell to Camp Nou on Saturday, with Tito Vilanova leading the tributes to the departing Frenchman

Eric Abidal says Barcelona will always have a special place in his heart after playing his final game for the club in their 4-1 win over Malaga on Saturday.

The Frenchman was diagnosed with a liver tumour in March 2011, and despite returning for that year's Champions League final, he had to undergo a transplant in 2012, with his cousin, Gerard, donating his organ.

The 33-year-old took to the pitch for a short cameo in place of Gerard Pique on Saturday for what would be his final appearance, after confirming earlier this week that he would be leaving the club when his contract expires this summer.

And after taking a lap around the stadium to salute the supporters after the final whistle, the France international underlined how their faith was instrumental in recovering from the ordeal.

"I want to thank all of you for the support all those years. They have been six incredible years, and many thanks to the Catalan people," Abidal told reporters after the match.

"I will always carry you in my heart. Now I want to invite my cousin, Gerard, to receive your applause, he deserves it more than I do."

Blaugrana coach Tito Vilanova also revealed the dilemma the club was faced with in not renewing Abidal's contract, but that the decision had been taken in good faith.

"The only thing I can say is that it was a tough one. It hurt us to make it. We won't find a player like him so easily," the Spaniard confirmed earlier on Saturday.

"We talked about it many times and in the end we came to the conclusion that we came to. I really hope that he can go to another club and show that he can still play at a high level. We hold him in high esteem."

Abidal joined Barcelona in 2007 and leaves with two Champions League winners medals and four Liga titles to his name.

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