Éric Abidal, mantejat pels seus companys el dia del Barça-Madrid de Champions en què va reaparèixer / FOTO: ARXIU FCB

“The squad has responded to the news with the same composure and unity as they have done in the past. Tito’s strength is now all of our strength, as it was with Abidal”. Director of sport Andoni Zubizarreta was speaking about the way the team had reacted to the shock that their coach Tito Vilanova has suffered a relapse of his pathology. Both Vilanova and Abidal have faced serious health issues in recent times, but rather than let them affect their game, the players have bravely accepted these situations as an added motivation to work hard and in unison.

It was on March 15, 2011, that a tumour was detected in Éric Abidal’s liver. The news was a massive blow to the team, but on the field it merely made them more determined than ever to win games in honour of their French colleague. Immediately after learning the news, Barça beat Getafe 2-1 and went on to win the title with Abidal back playing again, and even being honoured as the person who collected the club’s fourth Champions League trophy at Wembley.

A few months later, on November 22, it was announced that Tito Vilanova was seriously ill. This was just before the team was due to travel to Milan, where they were able to dedicate a prestigious 3-2 win to the man who was serving as assistant manager at the time. A few later the players added a 3-1 win at the Bernabéu before going on to win the Clubs World Cup.

On March 15, 2012 it was revealed that Abidal was going to need a liver transplant. Barça once again reacted to such worrying news with an impressive victory, this time 2-0 away to Sevilla as part of an incredible run of eleven consecutive Liga wins. ‘Abi’ finally returned to training with his team-mates on Wednesday, precisely the day when the relapse of Tito’s own condition stunned the football world.

Precedent with Johan Cruyff

This is not the first time that a serious health condition has affected the work of a Barça head coach. On February 26, 1991, Johan Cruyff was rushed to hospital with a heart disorder. The team was top of the league at the time, but overcame the shock by marching on to the championship and reaching the European Cup Winners Cup Final, by which time the Dutchman was back on the bench.

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