There are times in life when an incident takes place which lifts your belief in humanity to a higher level – and thankfully, for all of its ultra professionalism, it can still happen in football. Despite the anguish that every Manchester United supporter must have felt at the defeat by Barcelona at Wembley, they would have also been impressed by the heart warming gesture of the Catalan hard as nails captain Carles Puyol in handing his armband to team mate France international Eric Abidal which allowed him to be the first to lift the trophy. It was a gesture which must have warmed the hearts of both United and all football fans.
For those who are not aware of the background to all this, Abidal was in the middle of his best ever season for Barcelona, filling in seamlessly as center half in the absence of Puyol, and his imperious showings got better and better with every match. In fact his match winner sent his side through in the Copa at the expense of Athletic Bilbao.
Then, as can sometimes cruelly happen in all walks of life, tragedy struck. The whole ordeal started back in March when Abidal was diagnosed with a liver tumor. Barca fans feared the worst – would he return to football? Would he even survive? Questions that make you shudder, questions that should never cross one’s mind. As news broke out that surgery was successful, the football world breathed a collective sigh of relief. Abidal’s health was no longer in doubt so the Catalan fans began to wonder when the Frenchman would be back in action. The most widely accepted belief at the time was that Abidal was fine, he would return to football but not at least until the new season. But the Frenchman would have none of it.
In a bid to prove his fitness, Abidal was determined to start in all three games previous to the Wembley final but still the media thought that he was only ready for a place on the bench. Against all the odds, he won his personal battle, got into the starting eleven, then put on a great performance as Antonio Valencia was dominated. Valencia himself had made a brave comeback from a career threatening injury back in September but managed to force his way back into Ferguson’s preferred line up.
It leads me to ask the question as to whether captain Nemanja Vidic would have done the same for Valencia had United been successful. We will obviously never know but it would be nice to think that the big defender would have at least considered it.
Were you as impressed as I was by the Barcelona captain’s gesture?