News yesterday that Barcelona defender Eric Abidal is to undergo a liver transplant quickly brought football back down into a world of perspective.
It’s easy to get caught up in the importance of a game that gives so much to so many people. And, as former Liverpool boss Bill Shankly once famously quipped, some can perceive it as more than life and death.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."
But, deep down, did Shankly really believe that? Do any of us really believe that?
Chelsea captain John Terry, so often criticised for his behaviour outside of football, took time in his post-match interview following Wednesday night’s stunning 4-1 Champions League win over Napoli to remember the school children who had died in a Swiss bus crash 24 hours before.
If the Blues had missed out on qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it would have been labeled a disaster, perhaps even a tragedy. But, of course, the real tragedy is the crash that has taken the lives of 22 young Belgian students.
It’s rare that such tragedy happens in the game, and in that sense football has been lucky. Events like the Munich Air Disaster are a rarity, whilst steps are constantly being taken to try and prevent on-field tragedies. The deaths of Marc Vivien-Foe, Antonio Puerta and Phil O'Donnell should always serve as reminders that players aren’t supermen.
Abidal’s situation differs in that all three of the aforementioned players suffered what were, in affect, sudden heart attacks on the pitch.
Barcelona confirmed that the French international full-back had a tumor on his liver last March, with an operation to remove it taking place on the 17th of that month.
Not only did Barcelona and former club Lyon show their respect with t-shirts that read ‘Strength Abidal’ on, but Real Madrid also did the same ahead of their Champions League last 16 tie. Even the great rivalry was put to one side when the serious health of a player appeared to be in jeopardy.
But Abidal made a remarkable recovery, with his crowning glory coming against Manchester United in May’s Champions League final at Wembley. Only two months after a serious operation, the French international was back on the biggest domestic stage of all.
The 61-cap international has backed that up as a regular in Pep Guardiola’s side as well this season, making 20 La Liga starts. Perhaps that’s why news of a second major operation comes as such a shock, as the defender now prepares for an in-definite spell out of action.
“It was a rude awakening. Eric was at the meeting. We then talked to him, and logically that stays in the dressing room. It is him who encourages us. His attitude is an example,” said Barca captain Carles Puyol.
“We are confident that he will come out of this. We will give him all the strength we have and we will support him and his family. I am convinced that soon he will be fine. He is very strong, he showed that last season and will prove it again.
“It's a major blow. We had the news last season and now we get it again. But this will make us even stronger.”
All of football’s thoughts are with Abidal, as he prepares for another hard battle off the pitch. His is a situation that no man could wish on another, and the Frenchman’s courage is something that should be admired both inside the game and out.
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