Cancer survivor Eric Abidal was reduced to tears by his teammates’ gesture in allowing him to lift the Champions League trophy for Barcelona.
Abidal made a dramatic return to the Barcelona team after having a cancerous tumor on his liver removed and played a full part in the club’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
Normally, the team captain is awarded the honor of being the first man to hoist the trophy aloft, but midfielder Xavi instead ordered Abidal to perform the ceremony in recognition of his inspirational comeback.
“It was such a special thing for him and Carles [Puyol] and [coach Pep Guardiola] to do,” Abidal told Spanish television. “It made me full of emotion to think about it and everything I have been through and I could not hold [tears] in.
“This kind of thing is why this is such a special club. We are like a family and everyone treats each other with love and respect.”
Puyol was another candidate to lift the trophy due to his role as overall club captain. His importance to Barcelona was recognized when he was brought on as a late substitute by Guardiola, even though an injury meant he could not start the game.
Indeed, Puyol’s injury meant Abidal was given the chance to take his place in the lineup, and he did not waste the opportunity, putting in a fine performance as Barca won thanks to goals from Pedro Rodriguez, Lionel Messi and David Villa.
Xavi revealed the reasons behind the decision to allow the France international to celebrate the team’s triumph in perfect fashion.
“It shook everyone when [Abidal] was diagnosed,” Xavi said. “It was the worst thing that has happened to me in football and we were all terrified for him. But he was so strong, even from the first moments when he found out, it was like he knew he could beat it and come back from it.
“It is an inspiration to all of us and to anyone who might suffer from this kind of illness. He deserved to go up there and lift the trophy and let the world see what a special man he is.”
Abidal was found to have the tumor earlier this year and in March underwent a three-hour operation that saved his life. Since the operation he sold his fleet of luxury cars and donated the proceeds to a charity that assists children with cancer.
“I see everything differently now,” he said. “I realize how fortunate I am to have this life and to be a part of this team.”