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Barcelona axe sporting director Abidal as purge continues

Barcelona have sacked Eric Abidal as sporting director, the club announced in a statement on Tuesday, a day after dismissing coach Quique Setien.

“FC Barcelona and Eric Abidal have reached an agreement for the ending of the contract that united them,” the club said on its website.

Like Setien, Abidal has paid the price after Barca ended a season of internal conflict by surrendering the Liga title to Real Madrid and then suffering a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final.

It was Barcelona’s first season without a trophy since 2007.

Setien’s exit was announced on Monday after an emergency board meeting at Camp Nou, which lasted almost six hours. 

Abidal, a former France left-back who won 67 caps, played for Barcelona from 2007 to 2013 and helped the club win four La Liga titles and the Champions Leagues in 2009 and 2011. 

The second of these European titles made him an icon. He was diagnosed with a liver tumour in March and underwent surgery but returned at the end of the season to start  in the final at Wembley against Manchester United, which Barcelona won 3-1. Captain Carles Puyol let Abidal lift the trophy first.

He underwent a liver transplant in 2012, although the source of the organ was later investigated by Spanish prosecutors. 

He returned to Barcelona as a club ambassador in June 2017 and was appointed sporting director in June 2018

He came under fire for his handling of the dismissal of coach Ernesto Valverde in January. 

Abidal and other officials had visited Al-Sadd’s Qatar coach Xavi to offer him the position while Valverde was still in charge, but the former Barca legend refused. 

Abidal blamed the players for Valverde’s dismissal in an interview, provoking an angry reaction from the club’s normally discreet superstar Lionel Messi.

Messi posted a message on Instagram urging Abidal to “take responsibility for his decisions” and “name names”.

Abidal oversaw an attempt to bring in younger players to the Camp Nou including Netherlands playmaker Frenkie de Jong, Brazilians Malcom and Arthur and France centre-back Clement Lenglet.

World Cup winners Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele also joined Barca during Abidal’s time in charge for more than 120 million euros each.

“Abidal is very intelligent and he adapts to situations,” Lenglet told AFP before Abidal was sacked.

“He masters his role very well and I think he recruits well,” he added.

Setien oversaw 16 wins, four draws and five defeats from his 25 games in charge. 

After announcing Setien’s departure on Monday the club promised “profound changes”.

“This is the first decision taken regarding the extensive restructuring of Barca’s first team, which will be done in agreement with the current technical management and the new coach, which will be unveiled in the coming days,” the Catalan club said on Monday evening. 

Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman is the frontrunner to succeed Setien.

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