Barcelona defender Eric Abidal has confirmed his reputation as one of soccer's most warm-hearted stars by making an extraordinary gesture to a young cancer sufferer.
Abidal, who recovered from a cancerous tumor in his liver last year, stunned 15-year-old Juan Garcia after ending a team visit to a local hospital by presenting him with a Rolex watch.
Garcia's father, J. Garcia Serra, relayed the tale in an open letter to Catalan newspaper Herald, revealing how Abidal's fight against cancer had inspired his own son's fight against the disease.
"The only thing I was able to tell my son was, 'You have in your head the same thing Abidal had in his liver, and tomorrow they will take it out,' " J. Garcia Serra said. "My son said, 'Dad get me the shirt of Abidal; I will fight like him and will win my own Champions League.'
"He didn't cry; he was the only one not to. He went to the operating theater with the shirt of Abidal, and he had it in his bedstead at the hospital. After five months of operations, radiation and chemotherapy on Jan. 5 some Barca players visited the kids at the hospital."
During the visit Abidal spoke at length with the youngster and other children on the ward. Juan Garcia broke down in tears when he met his idol, which prompted the 32-year-old France international star to present him with an incredible memento.
Abidal took the Rolex Daytona watch from his wrist and presented it to the boy, refusing all attempts to make him take it back.
Through contacts at Barcelona and the French Football Federation, Yahoo! Sports has attempted to discover to origin of the watch, a Rolex Daytona that normally retails for more than $30,000.
There are conflicting reports, although two contacts believed it to be a limited edition watch presented to each member of the Barcelona squad at the end of last season to commemorate their double triumph of winning Spain's La Liga and the Champions League.
Another source thought it was a personal gift made to Abidal, while a fourth believed it the prize for winning a Barcelona fans' player of the year award. Regardless of how Abidal acquired it, there is little chance of his greatest fan ever parting with his most treasured possession.
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"It was impossible to get Eric to take the watch back," Garcia Serra wrote. "He told me: 'It doesn't matter what this is worth. I want your son to be happy.'
"He embraced all of us and continued his visit to other sick children. I looked at my son, and I will never forget the look of happiness in his face. I'd forgotten what he looked like when he was happy. At night he kept switching on the light to look at the watch's inscription.
"The visit of the players improved the spirit of the children more than any medicine. For my family the great idol will always be Eric Abidal; he is more than a player for us.
"Abidal told my son: 'Come, come, brother, I am here to give you courage. I am also fighting against this disease and will set up a foundation that gives joy and helps all the sick children.'
"He was affectionate, tender and friendly, and for 10 minutes he never let my son out of his arms. We were all so emotional and grateful."
Abidal is no longer an automatic first-choice selection at Barcelona and looked set to leave the club recently before he surprisingly signed a new contract that runs until June 2013. One of the contacts Yahoo! Sports spoke to revealed that Abidal's spirit and popularity within the locker room was a significant factor in the club offering him a new deal.
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