As football teams fight for trophies, officials and fans are so taken by the competitive nature of the sport that they unwillingly ignore the human side of footballers.
Just before the 2010 World Cup, the football world was shaken with the news that Germany’s first-choice goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide due to overwhelming personal problems.
Footballers undergo various problems which are rarely highlighted in the commotion surrounding the build-up of competitive fixtures.
Many players have had to retire early in their careers because of injuries. Ajax and Barcelona’s explosive winger, Marc Overmars, had to hang his playing boots although he had some few potential good years ahead of him.
And despite making the headlines as a young star with great potential, Germany and Bayern Munich’s Sebastien Deisler had to retire in his twenties as his career was hindered by depression.
Eric Abidal is the most recent player whose career as a football player is under threat.
Abidal, who plays for Champions League semi-finalists Barcelona, had recovered from a cancerous tumor in his liver last year. In a show of solidarity, the club’s captain Carles Puyol handed his armband to the French defender, who lifted the Champions League trophy despite missing the final.
Abidal’s teammates have used different ways to support him.
“You will return as always, still the best! You are an example for all,” Gerard Pique wrote on his Twitter page.
“All my strength goes to Abidal! You will get through it. You are very strong. We will all be by your side,” David Villa tweeted.
Different clubs have also backed Abidal. Fans and players of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Lyon wore “We are all with you Abi!” jerseys as show of support to the defender.
Despite the happy times he has lived among his teammates, Abidal’s family has endured tough times as of late.
“Fighting cancer was my own Champions League. It wasn’t easy, especially for my family,” Abidal said after his recovery.
Whether the French defender has suffered from a relapse or that the transplant has been an option considered since the beginning of his treatment a year ago remains unclear. But the fact is that former Lyon defender is set to undergo liver transplant.
It is also unclear whether Abidal will be able to play competitive football again after the transplant.
Another player, who now faces a battle with cancer, is former Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov.
The Bulgarian midfielder, who wore the armband for more than three and a half years and was central in Villa’s plans, had to announce his retirement after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia.“I am now beginning to fight for my life and I will fight. Football is over, this is the end,” Petrov said.
During Aston Villa’s game with Chelsea, Chelsea players wore t-shirts during their warm-up with Pedrov’s name and number. And the shirts had this message “Our thoughts are with you” on the front. Villa’s players had the words “Support Stan” on theirs.
“Let’s all pray and believe that Stiliyan Petrov, one of the best football players Bulgaria has ever produced, one of my best and closest friends, will win this battle,” Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov said on his Facebook account.
Petrov underwent heart tests as part of routine health measures after the collapse of Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba.
On March 17 of this year, Muamba had suffered from a cardiac arrest during the first half of an FA Cup quarter-final match between Bolton and Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
After receiving lengthy on-the-pitch attention from medical personnel, Muamba was taken to the London Chest Hospital. The match was abandoned and Muamba received numerous defibrillator shocks. His heart stopped for 78 minutes.
Two weeks after the incident, a photograph showed Muamba sitting up in his hospital bed and smiling.
Although some serious illnesses have devastated the football world in recent times, cancer looms large over the future of the many professionals in the game.
But some inspiring stories come from footballers who managed to earn the tag of “cancer survivors.”
Just like Abidal, Lubo Penev was diagnosed with liver cancer during the 1993-94 season. After nearly a year without football, Penev returned to win the double with Atletico Madrid.
More recent was Real Betis player Miki Roque’s announcement that he was suffering from a malignant tumor in the pelvis. After a tough year on the sidelines, Roque managed to recover.
Tenerife goalkeeper Sergio Aragoneses was also forced to fight cancer. Aragoneses overcame testicular cancer on two occasions.
During his illness, Abidal has stressed that his priority is his family.
“The first thing you think about when hearing the news is your family, your children. You don’t want to leave them behind,” Abidal said during an interview with TF1 after overcoming cancer last year.
Abidal, however, has been an ideal professional, taking the time to play a key role in inspiring young victims of cancer.
The 31-year-old defender comforted Juan Garcia, a 15-year-old cancer sufferer and fan, with a visit and a Rolex watch gift.
“Dad got me the shirt of Abidal; I will fight like him and will win my own Champions League.” Garcia told his father.
By Rouba Jaafar
LAU Tribune staff