By KS Leong
“Football is not a matter of life and death ... it’s much more important than that”. So goes the famous Bill Shankly quote. But on some days, the matter of life and death is just that much more important than football, and Saturday was one of those days.
Fans of the beautiful game were still keeping Eric Abidal in their prayers following news on Thursday that the Barcelona defender is to undergo a liver transplant, an operation that could bring an end to his playing career.
During Barcelona’s visit to Sevilla in Saturday’s Liga clash, the crowd at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan held up banners and placards as well-wishers from Cordoba to Cadiz in Andalucia, and all the way back up to Catalunya, sent their support to the Frenchman.
“Fuerza Abi from Castro del Rio” read one sign, while another said “See you in the 2012 Champions League final Abidal”. Both sets of players also showed their support to the 32-year-old as Barca donned a blue T-shirt over their jerseys before kick-off with the message, “Abi, tornaras a guanyar” (Abi, you will return to win) while Sevilla’s was a simple “Animo Abidal!”.
Just less than an hour earlier, some 1,300-odd miles north of Seville in Tottenham, London, the football community was rocked to its core after learning that Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba had collapsed on the field during his side’s FA Cup encounter with Spurs.
The 23-year-old, born in Zaire (now known as DR Congo) and an England international at junior level, had to be administered CPR on the pitch for several minutes and a defibrillator was required in an attempt to resuscitate him before he was rushed to hospital.
I wish all the best to @fmuamba! All my support to him and his family... Please don't stop fighting!!!!!
- Andres Iniesta on Twitter
It made for grim viewing as distraught, shell-shocked players and fans alike watched on helplessly, praying and hoping while their fellow professional lay motionless on the field, a field that is meant to bring joy, excitement and all those roller-coaster emotions to the game of football.
But on days like these, sometimes it’s football that we turn to after such distressing scenes. For 90 minutes at least, Sevilla - no strangers to player tragedy themselves, having lost Antonio Puerta in 2007 due to a cardiac arrest - and Barcelona, helped us to take our mind off events at White Hart Lane.
The game itself wasn’t as captivating a contest as the 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture in Camp Nou back in October when Javi Varas defied the odds by making sensational save after sensational save to thwart the Blaugrana attacking juggernaut, culminating in a full-stretch dive to parry away a Lionel Messi penalty deep into injury time.
|MESSI'S 150 LA LIGA GOALS
It was a goal that saw Leo break another record as he became the youngest player to score 150 La Liga goals at 24 years and 270 days old. As if defenders around the world need further reminding, it was Messi’s 51st goal in all competitions this season, just three shy of beating his personal best of 53 last season, and there are well over a dozen club games to go this campaign.
Iniesta could soon lay claim to a record of his own. Following the 2-0 win at the Sanchez Pizjuan, the Spain World Cup hero has now played 50 consecutive league games without defeat, a streak he shares with Real Madrid legend Emilio Butragueno. He will make it 51 this Tuesday if he plays in Barca’s home game against Granada, provided the Blaugrana avoid defeat ... and you fancy they will.
The records, however, were the last thing on people's minds this weekend. Barcelona players dedicated their victory to Abidal, while Iniesta sent a message of his own to the Bolton midfielder via Twitter: “I wish all the best to @fmuamba! All my support to him and his family... Please don't stop fighting!!!!!”
News of Abidal and Muamba’s health is a reminder that the men that we worship and idolise, players like Messi who we often run out of superlatives for, are every bit as human as we are. It’s also a chilling reminder that at the end of the day, football is just a game.