Barça and cancer

The considered best football team in the world has fought and continues to fight a battle off the pitch against a formidable enemy: cancer

FIGHTING CANCER. Tito Vilanova took over as 1st team coach when Pep Guardiola left FC Barcelona in June 2012. Photo from Vilanova's official fanpage on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines – Many say that the current FC Barcelona is probably the best team in football history.

The squad is blessed with the talents of top world player and 3-time Ballon d’Or winner Leo Messi, playmaker Xavi Hernandez and winger Andres Iniesta on top of former manager Pep Guardiola.

In less than five years, Barça has won 2 European Champions Leagues, 3 Spanish League titles and 1 FIFA World Club Championship, the highlights of a collection of silverware that no other club can match in such a short time.

FC Barcelona has beaten all of the top teams in the world like Manchester United or Real Madrid, and currently leads the Spanish regular season tournament with an incredible 16-point lead over their arch-rival in the capital.

However, the team, which I will support until the day I die, has fought and continues to fight a much more serious battle against a formidable enemy: cancer.

First blow

In March 2011, French left-back Eric Abidal was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver and sidelines immediately to undergo an urgent operation.

The surgery was successful and the mighty defender was not only able to play that same season but featured in Guardiola’s starting lineup for the Champions League final in which Barça defeated Manchester United in Wembley Stadium in London.

Abidal’s teammates dedicated the trophy to the Frenchman and even captain Carles Puyol insisted he be the one to lift the trophy first.

EPIC COMEBACK. FC Barcelona's French defender Eric Abidal (R) celebrates with the trophy at the end of the UEFA Champions League final match FC Barcelona vs Manchester United, on May 28, 2011 at Wembley stadium in London. AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA

Months later, Abidal’s recovery was still amazing fans until almost exactly a year after his cancer was made public, he was told the treatment was failing and he needed a second operation.

Punch in the face

In between Abidal’s surgeries, Barça suffered a second punch to the face by cancer to then assistant manager Tito Vilanova.

Vilanova was diagnosed in November 2011 with a tumor in his parotid or salivary gland.

The news made Guardiola, his friend and boss, break down in tears inside the dressing room when he broke the news to the players and, according to a new book by London-based Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, make up his mind about leaving the club at the end of the 2011-2012 season.

But again FC Barcelona won the initial battle and Vilanova was back on the bench just 3 weeks after his operation to witness the team beat Real Madrid 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu in a dazzling performance that the players dedicated to their esteemed assistant coach.

Vilanova continued his treatment for the rest of the season and was not officially cleared by the doctors as free from cancer until May, when he had already been named head manager the same day Guardiola announced his departure.

United by misfortune

Just a week ago and in another twist of fate, the same day that the team doctors gave Abidal the green signal to play again, Vilanova was the one who suffered a relapse.

Abidal is currently training with the first team for the first time since March, while Vilanova is recovering from his successful surgery and is expected to be back on the bench in six weeks, in time for Barça’s Champions League tie against AC Milan.

When news of the FC Barcelona’s health condition broke, Vilanova trended on Twitter with the hashtag #AnimsTito (Keep your hopes up, Tito) and even Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho — who in August 2011 poked Vilanova in the eye during a game and never apologized for the action — said he got in touch with him through a common friend to wish him a complete recovery.

Real Madrid players wore t-shirts with the #AnimsTito hashtag before their last league match, and the whole football world expressed their sympathies for the manager who boasted a record start to the tournament in his first season in charge of the squad.

Football and cancer

I have been a FC Barcelona supporter my whole life and almost every week I lose sleep staying up late to watch as many games as I can.

Nothing should make me happier than to see my beloved team conquer the Spanish league again, especially after Real Madrid’s win last season, but over the years I have discovered that some things — not many — are more important than football.

I truly wish that both Abidal and Vilanova will fully recover from cancer, which has taken the life of three members of my family, among them my grandmother who I miss and will continue to miss every day of my life.

That is why I would give up any trophies this year to see both player and manager healthy.

They deserve it, and so do the millions of people who die every year from cancer and their families who suffer with them.

Let’s hope that some day football will give cancer a good kick. Bonne chance Eric, #AnimsTito and visca el Barça! –