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During his later years in France, where he won three consecutive national championships – of the seven the team won – Abidal’s confidence was shown when Lyon played Manchester United and he was in charge of marking Cristiano Ronaldo: “As a defender, my aim is to infuriate the opponent,” he explained. “I want him to be so sick of the sight of me that he has to move somewhere else on the pitch to get away.” At L’OL his defensive teammates included François Clerc, Grégory Coupet and Anthony Réveillère, as well as Brazilian internationals Caçapa and Cris. On 10 November 2004, Abidal scored the first goal of his career, in a 2–3 loss at former club Lille for the season’s Coupe de la Ligue round-of-32. As a result of his exploit, his parents agreed to get married after a 35-year union. Abidal missed the first months of the 2005–06 campaign after fracturing his metatarsus in a friendly game with Once Caldas. He still managed to appear in 15 matches as Lyon won its fifth national championship in a row (the second with the player). On 29 June 2007, Abidal signed a four-year contract with FC Barcelona for €9 million, after repeatedly stating that he would not return to training with Lyon if he was not allowed to move.
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Regarded as one of the best ever players in his position, Makélélé revolutionised the role of the defensive midfielder in the Premier League. A combative and hard-working player, although he was capable of getting forward and playing in more advanced positions, he usually played in front of his team’s back-line, where he mainly served as a defensive foil for his more offensive team-mates, due to his aggressive tackling, as well as his ability to read the game, break down plays, mark and anticipate opponents, and time his challenges. In this role, he was known in particular for his acceleration, positional sense, tactical discipline, intelligence, energy, and ball-winning ability; although he was not the fastest, most talented or technically skilled player on the ball, or particularly good in the air, he was also highly regarded throughout his career for being capable of functioning as a deep-lying playmaker for his team, due to his ability to dictate the tempo of his team’s play in midfield with his short, efficient passing game, which allowed him to link up the defence with the attack effectively after winning back possession. His physical strength in spite of his small stature, combined with his low centre of gravity, also gave him excellent balance on the ball in limited spaces, which allowed him to retain possession against more physical opponents. In addition to his defensive skills, Makélélé was also known for his tenacity, awareness, consistency, and strong mentality.