Eric Abidal insists he remains “very appreciative” of Barcelona for their decision to give him the captain’s armband in the 2011 Champions League final.
Abidal miraculously recovered from a liver tumour in time for Barca’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Wembley, completing the match before lifting the trophy, and the former defender made it clear his criticism of the club for neglecting him during his treatment was blown out of proportion.
“I have many friends in football. My daughters go to the same school as Dani [Alves]’s children and I see him quite often,” he told FourFourTwo.
“This is a man who offered me his liver when I was ill. It was an unbelievable gesture, and he was serious about it, but I could never have accepted it.
“I did. It was my goal to come back. I never thought that I would not return. My objectives were: first, be in good health again, and second, return to my job. I had to do that – for me.
“It was a difficult fight, but I had a lot of people around me to help – doctors, physios, family. I came back quite quickly. Then I needed a more serious operation which took longer. A transplant. My cousin was the donor. I spent 42 days in hospital and my physical strength went.
“Two years later, the President of Barcelona said to me: ‘I thought it was impossible’. He had spoken to people who said, ‘After a liver transplant, he can forget returning’, but I did.
“God gave me the opportunity to be a football player, to come back from my illness and now, to create a foundation. The foundation takes 80 per cent of my time. I’ve been in this fight – I know what it takes. I have experience I can pass on to others to help them.
“My first thought was that it was the chance to play in a final, because I’d missed out in 2009. There was surprise, too, because normally Puyol would play and I’d be on the bench.
“I have to thank Guardiola for giving me my chance, especially because I was not in top condition, even though my mentality was top.
“They gave me the captain’s armband so I could lift the trophy on the Wembley steps. I was very appreciative of this and I still am.
“I played in that game two months after surgery to take out the tumour. The doctors didn’t think I could, but I was so determined to make it.
“[On his second comeback in 2013 against Mallorca], that was not my game. It was for my family and those who’d supported me. I couldn’t have come back alone. Coming back the second time was much tougher than the first.
“I didn’t play football just to play football. If you have this mentality then you have to stay at home.
“I’ve always been a competitor; someone who fights. It’s more than a game to me. But of course cancer changes you.
“It changed my life. I’m a better person because of it – I prioritise what is important and want to enjoy every second of my life.
“It’s not about money. What I didn’t really understand was the end, when I left the club in 2013 after I’d fought for Barcelona. Should they have given me another year’s contract? I don’t know.
“They made their decision and I had to accept it. They said it was a ‘professional’ decision, but it was a very, very difficult moment for me and my family.
“They should maybe have explained to me what ‘professional’ meant because there was no player more professional than me.”