On 15 March 2011, Barcelona announced that Abidal had been diagnosed with a tumour in his liver, and the player underwent surgery two days later.
Before their round-of-16 match in the Champions League, both Real Madrid and Lyon players took the pitch wearing Ánimo Abidal (Get Well Abidal) T-shirts, with the same message being displayed on the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium’s scoreboards, in a show of support and solidarity.
During Barcelona’s match with Getafe CF on 19 March 2011, the fans at the stadium clapped for the entire 22nd minute (the player’s shirt number).
On 28 May 2011, in the Champions League Final against Manchester United, he played the full 90 minutes of Barcelona’s 3–1 triumph and, in a gesture to mark his recovery, Carles Puyol handed him his captain’s armband and allowed him to be the first to lift the trophy in front of 85,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London.
Football sure can be great sometimes, don’t you think?
“It was one of the rare love affairs where a club truly loved a coach, and the coach truly loved the club.”
Talking about Borussia Dortmund, you could always tell how much Jürgen Klopp truly loved the club.
In 2008, Klopp came to Dortmund and loosened the tight grasp on the German game that Bayern Munich had. He took Dortmund to earning back-to-back Bundesliga titles (2011 and 2012), and the UEFAS Champions League final the following year.
Borussia Dortmund didn’t have the Bavarians budget or wallet, rather a knack for revealing hidden talent instead, but he found success by playing some of the most arrestingly beautiful football ever seen. After these accomplishments things died down slightly, but unlike a typical coach, Klopp decided he’d stick around.
Now its 2015, and Dortmund sits low in the Bundesliga table, and has been in the relegation zone twice over the season. But he is happy at the club still. When they were sitting at the relegation zone, Klopp said he wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t stop trying and did just that - at times, he’d blame himself for the bad performances.
While Klopp, without a doubt, has a love for Borussia Dortmund unmeasurably great, he’s announced his departure, taking place in the summer. And breaking the news, he’d say it in the way so fondly about Dortmund like he always did: “I realized I am no longer the perfect coach for the club.”
But its not right to think of this as Klopp jumping off the sinking ship, but rather jumping off the ship in fear he might end up sinking it. Jürgen Klopp will always care for BVB, and as the they loom low on the table, he hasn’t give up on them just yet, not this season - or any season in the past.
So, danke, Papa Bee. Your time here was a golden age. Some may see you as that crazy guy who lunged at a linesman out of anger, but we of Borussia Dortmund will always see you as a helping hand, wonderful personality, and a father-like figure to Die Schwarzgelben.
If I close my eyes and pause for a minute then it’s just a day ago, perhaps two, that I was explaining to our readers just who Tito Vilanova was, why he was nicknamed the “Marquis” and what the “gluttons club” was.
That he was a man of elegance, of potential, of ideas: of conviction.
Close my eyes again and it’s less time, just a few hours ago, that I was writing for ESPN FC about the cruel fact that Vilanova was going to be robbed of his dream job; that the return of that damn cancerous tumour behind his saliva gland would mean that, having won that glorious league of 100 points, it was time to step away from being manager of Barcelona and fight for his health.
In between, drifting around in what is a swarm of memories, bitter and sweet, is the day in December 2012 when I stepped off a plane in Madrid.
En route to a pair of long, enjoyable interviews with Spanish FA president Angel Villar and then with national team coach, Vicente Del Bosque, at Las Rozas training ground, Christmas was just around the corner and after one heck of a game the night before, the football world seemed interesting, worthwhile – kind.
Atletico Madrid had just played at the Camp Nou, with vigour and bravery, had taken the lead through Radamel Falcao before being stylishly beaten 4-1 by Vilanova’s Barcelona.
A few days before the match, Vilanova had felt well enough, confident enough, to undertake his first long interview about fighting cancer. He was in remission and his first half season at Barcelona had been record-breakingly good: just two points of a possible 57 were dropped.
He was a talented man doing his dream job and talking to TV3 about the fight against cancer in order to help others, to make some people see that recovery, dignity and a life invested in doing what makes you happy – all of these things were possible.
I found the passages where he spoke about the fears of his family, his teenaged son and daughter, by far the most moving. Talking about that clearly moved him, too.
Stepping off the plane in Madrid on that December day was the cue for awful, gut-wrenching news.
Suddenly, Tito was unwell again, would need time off. Was under threat.
It always felt threatening that he had to go to New York in order to find the treatment that he needed, or trusted, but of course Vilanova being Vilanova, he was back at work before the end of that season.
Subsequently it would transpire that, while undergoing treatment in New York he didn’t feel supported or cared for, particularly, by his almost lifelong friend, Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola was in Manhattan on sabbatical and there had been tension over the transition of power at Barcelona from one man to another when Vilanova stepped into the senior coach’s shoes at the end of the 2011-12 season.
In essence, Guardiola had felt that he and his team had dreamed, planned and won together, would rest together and then go on to conquer somewhere else together.
The two of them made peace, of sorts, and I hope very much for Guardiola’s sake that he feels he did so sufficiently.
In their youth, the two men had been, with a handful of others, the tightest and liveliest group La Masia has probably ever seen. Those teenagers all ate so much at the dinner table that they were called “the Gluttons” but they were the same bunch of men who, having gone their separate ways as footballers, united to bring the most glorious, daring and thrilling era of football which Barcelona (and, I think, the world) has ever seen.
The first time I talked to Vilanova, it was in Guardiola’s training ground office. Two years older than Pep, Tito was situated at a computer in the ante chamber – like a body guard to the eminence gris who was steering Barca to European domination.
It turned out to be easy to understand why, as a strategic and scientific duo, they “completed” each other.
Vilanova was firm, ambitious, principled – in no way weak.
But he was the gentler of the two and would go on to tell me for my book on Barca’s triumphs, things like the fact that getting all the families and staff together on nights like the one in London’s Natural History museum to celebrate the Champions League final win of 2011 were almost more important to him than the trophy itself.
He also spoke about the need, which he had embraced, to treat victory and defeat as two imposters. He spoke about the healthiness of being a sporting loser, about acknowledging that life will bring blows as well as laurel wreaths – he spoke like a healthy, honest, decent man who was above the petty squabbles, the venal jealousies.
A man able to forgive Jose Mourinho’s cowardice in sneaking up behind a ruck of players to poke a finger in his eye. More, Vilanova chastised reporters who pursued the “vendetta”, asking them what in God’s name motivated them to try and open a wound which, for him, was healed.
I note, too, that Mourinho took his first chance (a clasico in Madrid) to wait for Vilanova to emerge from the tunnel so as to publicly make peace and shake hands.
I don’t know Vilanova’s family and that’s probably the case for you, too.
So what we are mourning, what we have lost, is one of the architects of a truly great, artistic and life-affirming football era.
Someone who was brave and talented enough to bring us Barca – the greatest team in the world.
But all of that, right now at least, is but a minute speck of dust compared to the fact that a family has lost a good, decent, intelligent, loving man who was only 45, who’d had his dream stripped away from him and who must seem to leave a gaping chasm in their lives.
In Spain we’ve recently lost a catalogue of good football men who have gone too soon: Dani Jarque, Antonio Puerta, Miki Roque, Manuel Preciado, Luis Aragones, Damian Garcia and, now, Tito.
Every time it happens it gets harder to understand. And it seems less fair.
Rest in peace, Tito Vilanova. Heartfelt thanks for everything.
1971 – Official UEFA recognition of women’s football 1982 – First women’s match under UEFA’s banner 1984 – First European women’s national team competition final 1997 – Inaugural European Women’s Under-18 Championship (until 2001) 2001 – First European Women’s Under-19 Championship kicks off 2001 – Start of the first UEFA women’s club competition: the UEFA Women’s Cup 2008 – First European Women’s Under-17 Championship final 2010 – First UEFA Women’s Champions League final 2011 – Karen Espelund (Norway): First female UEFA Executive Committee member (by invitation) 2012 – Start of the UEFA Women’s Football Development Programme 2014 – UEFA’s Women in Football Leadership Programme gets underway 2016 – Florence Hardouin (France): First elected female UEFA Executive Committee member