"He has a bigger heart than anyone," said Daniel Alves of his former FC Barcelona team-mate Éric Abidal, who has called time on his exemplary career at the age of 35.
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Éric Abidal has brought the curtain down on one of the more eventful footballing careers of recent times, retiring after 15 seasons with AS Monaco FC, LOSC Lille, Olympique Lyonnais, FC Barcelona and, most recently, Olympiacos FC.
"I am officially announcing my decision to retire from football for personal reasons," he said at a press conference in Piraeus. "Throughout my career, I have proved that I know when the time is right, as all top-level footballers do. It's the time to move on to a new chapter in my life. I wish to thank Olympiacos for their support these past months. I also wish to thank all the coaches I have had in my career and all the medical teams that have taken care of me since my childhood. I also am grateful to all the clubs I played for: I got to experience unforgettable moments that I will cherish for ever."
The 35-year-old defender, who earned 67 caps for France and was part of the team that reached the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, enjoyed his greatest successes with first Lyon – winning Ligue 1 three times in a row between 2005 and 2007 – and then Barcelona. Abidal lifted four Liga titles and two Copa del Reys in Spain, adding the UEFA Champions League in 2009 – although he was suspended for the final – and 2011, and also winning the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in both those years.
The latter UEFA Champions League triumph, a 3-1 victory over Manchester United FC at Wembley in May 2011, was particularly memorable for the centre-back cum left-back because he had been diagnosed with a liver tumour and had undergone surgery just two months earlier.
"In football there are highs and lows," he explained. "During those lows, we need to show determination, perseverance and faith. Football for me was always a way of forgetting the illness. My goal was to return to action. Returning to action was an even bigger deal emotionally for me than lifting trophies."
Abidal had a liver transplant in 2012 and returned to football in 2013, ending his six-year association with Barcelona that summer; a campaign back at first club Monaco followed, with Abidal moving on to Olympiacos last July before deciding to end his playing days.
He has no immediate plans, saying: "I have an offer from Barcelona to work in their youth system. Up until today, I was under contract to Olympiacos, and I also have an offer from them. In the coming weeks, I aim to rest and enjoy time with my family. Afterwards, I will make a decision on my future."
UEFA.com hears from some of the key figures in Abidal's career.
Christian Karembeu, Olympiacos strategic adviser
There is a lot of emotion today in this press conference. I am very proud to be by Éric Abidal's side – such a great player and person. Several of our players are here supporting Éric in this decision. We understand your decision to retire. You gave us a lesson in life. You belong to our family and our Olympiacos home will be open to you whenever you come back. All the best in the next chapter of your life.
Daniel Alves, Barcelona defender
He has a bigger heart than anyone else. He never thinks of himself, only of others.
Andoni Zubizarreta, Barcelona director of football
We all wanted to see him play again, but he was the person who believed it the most. Every once in a while, things like that transcend sport.
Josep Guardiola, former Barcelona coach
People love Abidal because they can sense truth when he talks, in how he strives, how he works. People appreciate that and that's why he is so loved. He has gone through an incredibly tough time and has been a great example to us all. The concept of giving up does not exist to him. He is a marvellous person, the players love him dearly.
Doctor Juan Carlos García-Valdecasas, the surgeon who carried out Abidal's liver transplant
Abidal returning to play again is a miracle. We just tried to save his life in the operation – we never thought he would be able to play again. He has a very positive mentality. He is tremendous. He has never complained about anything.
Javier Mascherano, former Barcelona team-mate
I am so grateful to be your friend. You are an example to us all.
Cesc Fàbregas, former Barcelona team-mate
[On Abidal's return after the transplant] He played as if he had never stopped. He's an example for the whole world.
Jean-Paul Lautsch, Abidal's first coach when the player was seven
His skill and his speed were 50% of the value of the team. His legs – sometimes I was afraid they would break, they were so thin. Whatever the weather, he was always first on the training ground and I always had to cajole him to leave.
Claude Puel, his first professionnal coach at Monaco
I had a friend in Monaco who wanted me to take him on trial. He was so insistent that I sent someone to scout the boy. It was against Nice [a 4-0 French Cup win in 2000 for minnows AS Lyon-Duchère in which Abidal scored once]. I decided to sign him. Then I brought him with me to Lille and he thrived.
Mathieu Bodmer, former LOSC team-mate
He is a good man – a pal. I can always rely on him. When my son was born, he painted his bedroom [Abidal worked as a painter and decorator before turning professional]. He did a nice job.
Paul Le Guen, Abidal's coach at Lyon
He was a player who was easy to train – who could understand you, who could talk to you. That is a valuable thing. I saw his scar [after the operation] and saw how serious it was. To see him playing a few weeks later was moving.
Ludovic Giuly, former Barcelona team-mate
I was told a new boy was coming from Lyon [Giuly's old club] and I had to take care of him. I tried and it clicked between us. We're still friends. We all admire what he has done, especially after his health problems. It's exceptional. Today we're all with him – he is part of the family. And he was the second Frenchman to prove himself at Barcelona ... after me of course!
I now know how to differentiate between what really matters in life and what doesn't. I have sold my cars because they are pointless. When you play football you can buy whatever you want but, when something bad happens to you, you realise that [material possessions] are worthless. Now I will invest my money in hospitals, in helping children, in good causes.