By Robin Bairner
Barcelona have made a mistake. A big mistake. And it is only now as the curtain begins to slowly draw on the transfer window that they are realising it.
When they released Eric Abidal from his contract to re-sign for Monaco after an 11-year absence from the club at which he made his professional debut, it was confirmation that they had lost faith in the experienced centre-back who had twice battled back to beat cancer.
Less than two months on from the end of his deal with the Catalans, Abidal is back in the France national team and looking like the defender the Camp Nou outfit crave.
|ABIDAL'S CAREER STATS
Abidal’s selection for the France national team 18 months after winning the last of his 61 caps should be seen as one of the most remarkable sporting comebacks of the decade. It is a measure of the respect that he commands in Didier Deschamps’ mind that he has so quickly been able to return to les Bleus after recovering from a liver transplant and being thrown on the scrapheap by Barca.
The former Olympique Lyonnais man, a left-back in his physical prime but now more of a wizened central defender, has been drafted back by the France coach to add leadership to a team sorely lacking in credibility due to the perception the players are egotistical. While Abidal will help restore integrity to an institution that has long lost the faith of its public, there is no suggestion he is merely there to make up the numbers and should start alongside Laurent Koscielny in Wednesday’s friendly with Belgium.
His performances for Monaco have thus far been impeccable. Alongside Ricardo Carvalho at the heart of their defence, he has helped to form a fearsome barrier. For evidence, look to his performance last Saturday against Bordeaux; his first match in Ligue 1 since departing Stade Gerland six years ago.
Abidal’s performance was superb. His reading of the game was exceptional, he was physically able to not only compete but impress, and on the ball he looked confident. Only once in the whole encounter was he caught out. He looked every inch a player still capable of featuring at the top level for Barca.
Several hundred miles to the west, Barcelona coach Tata Martino would have ruefully reacted to the news of the Lyon-born defender’s resurgence.
Abidal underwent a liver transplant last year and it seemed improbable - if not impossible - that he would rediscover the ability to play at the game’s top level. It is testimony to his character that he has been able to return at all but to achieve this level so quickly underlines his class.
At Camp Nou, meanwhile, there is a void in his image. Chelsea have demanded that the Catalans meet their valuation of €50 million for Luiz, playing on the desperation of the 2012 Champions League winners, whose rearguard is looking increasingly ragged with Carles Puyol’s persistent injury problems and the lack of an experienced natural partner for Gerard Pique.
Of course, Abidal would have needed to be replaced at some stage - and Barcelona will have understandably feared the impact any further fitness problems may have had on the player and the squad - but the Blaugrana’s planning should have been more long sighted and a capable alternative secured long before now – particularly in light of Puyol’s increasingly frequent injuries.
Now they are set to pay over the odds for a player who may not command the traits that the side presently necessitates.
Dani Alves may have taken a moralistic view of the defender’s departure from the club when he spoke to RAC1, suggesting the Frenchman should have been retained as a show of solidarity if nothing else, but he crucially pointed out: “Eric will continue to be an example to follow for me.”
Alves is not the only figure inspired by Abidal’s miracle return - the whole footballing family is in awe - and the France team will be all the richer for his return just as Barcelona will be the poorer for his departure.
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