Strong and intelligent at the back with the ability to go forward, Eric Abidal is one of the best defenders French football has seen in the last 15 years.
Despite having his career cut short by illness, the versatile left-back still amassed over 450 appearances in his playing days for club and country, winning 21 trophies along the way.
Abidal was recently made a club ambassador for Barcelona, for whom he made almost 200 appearances, and was delighted at the news:
“It makes me really happy to be officially part of the club,” he told Barca’s official website.
“We’ve been talking for a long time. As ambassador, I’ll try and present the club in the best way possible, in different countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.”
His career began at AS Monaco in 2000, but he failed to make an impact in the principality and played just 24 games across two seasons before moving onto Lille. It was there that Abidal was really able to make an impact, and although his side often found themselves in mid-table obscurity, the Frenchman was a bright spark in a mediocre bunch.
The 2003/04 season saw Lille concede 41 goals in the league, the seventh-best defence, thanks in part to Abidal’s ruthless tackling and anticipation keeping opposing strikers quiet. At this point, French champions Lyon sat up and took notice of him, swooping in to sign him for a fee of around €5 million ahead of the 2004/05 season, where the then 24-year-old got his first taste of Champions League football and of silverware.
Abidal played for Lyon for three years and won Ligue 1 all three years, part of the club’s historic run of seven consecutive titles, conceding an average of under 27 goals each campaign. In November 2004, Abidal got on the scoresheet for the first time as a professional, netting a late equaliser at his former team Lille in the Coupe de la Ligue – although Lyon would go on to lose the match in extra time.
That goal was extra special, though, as Abidal explained after the match: "They [my parents] have been together for 35 years and promised they would marry once I scored my first professional goal.”
He also made his debut for France in 2004, starting in a 1-1 draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina, which would be the first of 66 caps for his country.
Abidal’s second season there was hampered by a metatarsus injury and he missed the majority of the season, although he was back in time to help France to the World Cup final, before returning to Lyon even stronger the year after. After another title he courted interest from Barcelona, who signed him in the summer of 2007 for a bargain €9 million.
His first four years in Catalonia, he and Barca won almost everything they possibly could: four La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, two World Club Cups, and a Copa del Rey. In March 2011, though, the club revealed that Abidal had a tumour on his liver and would require surgery to remove it. The footballing world came together to wish him the best, with perhaps the most famous tribute being led by El Clasico rivals Real Madrid when they faced his former club Lyon in the Champions League, with both teams wearing t-shirts saying ‘Ánimo Abidal’, meaning ‘Get well Abidal’.
A stubborn Abidal was sidelined for just seven weeks, though, and continued to play regularly for a year after it, including in the Champions League final, where club captain Carlos Puyol gave Abidal the armband and allowed him to lift the trophy first. In January 2012, he scored for Barca - the fourth and final one of his career - the winner in El Clasico as they beat Real 2-1 at the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey.
It was announced a year later that he would have to undergo a liver transplant, which caused the Frenchman to miss over 12 months of games. Never one to give in, he was back in April 2013 to play his final few games for the club and win another La Liga before going full circle and returning to Monaco on a one-year deal.
Abidal was given the captaincy and helped Monaco to second place in their first season back in Ligue 1, with the side conceding just 13 in the 26 matches he played in. He agreed to another 12 month deal with the club, but just days later he moved to Olympiakos, where he played just nine games before announcing his retirement.
As part of his ambassadorial duties for Barcelona, Abidal will play in the club’s legends team, which he is looking forward to.
“Given that I played for the club for quite a few years – I’m not exactly a legend – but it would be a great pleasure to share some moments with other former players from the club and to spread our message, the values that the club has,” he said.
“It’s an honour to represent the club.”