Eric Abidal spoke emotionally as he returned to Barcelona to meet his former teammates and attend a service in memory of former coach Tito Vilanova, who died on Friday.
Abidal now plays for Ligue 1 side Monaco, but he was at the Camp Nou on Monday to meet with his ex-colleagues, before travelling with them to attend a service at a packed Barcelona Cathedral that evening.
The France international defender, who fought against cancer at the same time Vilanova was battling the disease, told Barca TV that he had felt it important to be present on such a day.
“I had to be here. This is an important day,” Abidal said. “We loved him a lot, him and his family. FC Barcelona is a big family. We have shared many things over many years and if we lose one of our own then it’s normal that it affects a lot of people. I really had to be here.”
Abidal recalled a happier moment when the two men had together helped Barca to win the 2012-13 La Liga title.
“Not long ago he sent me a photo of the two of us posed together holding up the trophy,” he said. “Both of us had to face a tough fight and we shared many things. We spoke a lot. For me it was more important than ever to be here, close to his family and the Barca family as a whole.”
Also at Monday evening’s ceremony were past and present Barcelona players, coaches and board members, as well as representatives from many other clubs including Espanyol, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Current Barca assistant coach Jordi Roura, who first met Vilanova when both were youngsters at the club’s La Masia academy, made a moving speech from the altar.
“Friend, teammate and brother,” Roura said. “You have just left and you cannot imagine how much we miss you. Among us we did not need many words to know what one thought of the other. We shared so much, what we have lived is stronger than what we have suffered through your absence.”
Roura also recalled the time he spent deputising for Vilanova, when his friend was undergoing treatment in New York in early 2013.
“You were a man of the details -- if you played football, the grass had to be well cut and watered, the footballs inflated properly,” he said. “A thoughtful and serious man, who would fall apart at the stories of [former Barca coach] Charly [Rexach]. I became your stand-in, with the responsibility to not let you down, and to be up to the level of the club -- an experience I will never forget, but which I never wanted to live through. Your example will serve as a guide to us and we will follow your advice: ‘Seny, pit i collons!’ [‘Common sense, bravery and guts’].”