Popular former France defender Eric Abidal is to leave Barcelona when his contract expires at the end of the season.
“I would have liked to have stayed and played on at Barcelona but the club saw it differently and I have to respect their decision,” an emotional Abidal told a news conference on Thursday as his voice wavered.
“I hope to return because it is a very special club for me.”
The 33-year-old left back, who fought his way back into the squad after having a liver transplant last year, was joined by club president Sandro Rosell and sports director Andoni Zubizarreta who praised him for his bravery in adversity.
“He has won our hearts because you can never write him off,” Rosell said.
We are not saying goodbye, only 'until we meet again'. When he wants to hang up his boots Barca will open their doors for him to come back and be technical director of the youth academy
“He has had the strength to overcome all types of difficulties – he has taught us life lessons we will never forget.
“We are not saying goodbye, only ‘until we meet again’. When he wants to hang up his boots Barca will open their doors for him to come back and be technical director of the youth academy.
“It’s what we want and what we think he would want. If he thinks he can help us in another way we will work on that option,” said Rosell.
Abidal joined Barca from Olympique Lyon in 2007 and during that time they won four La Liga titles, two Champions League crowns in 2009 and 2011 and two King’s Cups.
His spell at the Nou Camp was marked by a couple of lengthy absences after he was diagnosed with a liver tumour.
Abidal underwent an operation in March 2011 before making a triumphant return two months later to lift the Champions League trophy after Barca’s victory over Manchester United in the final at Wembley.
He then had a transplant in April 2012 with part of an organ donated by his cousin.
Abidal, who had not played a competitive game for 14 months, returned when he came on for the final 20 minutes of the 5-0 La Liga win over Real Mallorca last month.
He then made only sporadic appearances despite a raft of injuries in Barca’s defence as question marks remained over his fitness.
When Barca were presented with the league trophy earlier this month Abidal and coach Tito Vilanova, who has gone through a battle with throat cancer, lifted it together on the pitch at the Nou Camp.
The Frenchman won 61 caps for his country and played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Abidal’s last international appearance came in a 2-1 friendly win over Germany in February 2012.