To many around the world, football isn’t just a mere sport; it is an escape. It symbolises hope and freedom. A chance at equal opportunity and to rub shoulders with the best in the world irrespective of political, cultural or financial backgrounds.
While footballers are often portrayed by the media as pompous and spoiled, parading around with ostentatious displays of wealth and a party lifestyle, this does not accurately represent a large community in the footballing world; many took up the sport because it was their true passion, their opportunity at a better life and a chance to become heroes to their people.
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that they are after all human; they are affected by casualties, stress and pressure and are prone to breakdowns on the field. Disrespectful chants and jeers from the crowd can actually affect their psyche and play, whether they like to show it or not.
Thus there have been some incredibly passionate moments throughout the game’s storied history, with the fans getting a direct taste of the softer side of football.
Here, we take at 5 of the most emotional moments to have gone down on a footballing pitch.
#5 Oliver Kahn consoles Canizares
Oliver Kahn will probably go down in history as one of the greatest ever goalkeepers to have graced a footballing pitch. Besides his incredible ability to save games with athletic stops, the big German had a heart of gold.
In the buildup to the 2001 Champions League final, both Kahn and Valencia’s keeper Santiago Canizares had suffered heartbreaking losses in finals previously; Kahn to Manchester United’s incredible stoppage time heroics in the 1999 final and Canizares to Real Madrid in the 2000 final.
So, it was pretty clear that redemption was in sight for one of the two as they faced off in a high-stakes final in the San Siro.
With the game tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes, the onus was on the keepers to keep their side in the game and bring the trophy home. However, it was to be another gut-wrenching loss for Canizares as Kahn’s save off Mauricio Pellegrino’s penalty saw Bayern run out as winners.
Canizares was inconsolable, lying on the field in tears having suffered a second consecutive loss in a final. Kahn having spotted this stopped celebrating and went over to comfort him. This incredible act of sportsmanship was recognised by UEFA and Kahn was awarded the fair play award for his actions.
#4 Casillas departing Real Madrid and Xavi departing Barcelona
Iker Casillas and Xavi were the personal embodiments of their respective clubs. Having come through the academy and spending almost their entire career at the club, they were nothing short of legends, winning a vast array of trophies in their tenure. They were the faces of their clubs and the famed El Clasico for over a decade before they ended up leaving in the very same summer.
The two, combined, had an incredible 1492 appearances between them for their clubs. The decade they spent together in the Spanish national team was the most successful in the team’s history, winning a World Cup and 2 European Championships. They also hold the top 2 spots for highest ever appearances in the Champions League with Casillas still going strong.
It could be seen how much their clubs meant to them as they were in tears when they said their final goodbyes. But a key difference here is that Xavi left on top; he was treated ceremoniously throughout his last season with the club whereas Iker was frozen out at the Bernabeu. Despite captaining his team to the famed La Decima, Casillas was forced out of the club by President Florentino Perez.
Xavi accused Perez of being ungrateful to Casillas’ service to Madrid, a sentiment shared by fans and other players alike, with his departure leaving a sour taste in the mouth.
#3 Eric Abidal lifting the Champions League trophy
Eric Abidal’s heroic fight against cancer is well documented, but that does not make his story any less astonishing.
In March 2011, the Frenchman was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver and one if left untreated could prove fatal. He underwent life-threatening surgery and many doubted if the defender would ever play again.
But this was one of those incredible moments when the entire footballing world joined their hands in solidarity. Real Madrid players wore ‘Animo Abidal’ shirts and even displayed the message across their scoreboards, showing that some things in football simply go beyond rivalries.
What was astonishing is that hardly 2 months later, Abidal started in the Champions League final against Manchester United, where Barcelona ran out 3-1 winners courtesy a Lionel Messi masterclass.
What made the occasion extra special was that Abidal was handed the captain’s armband to lift the trophy, a moment that will be etched into the minds of football fans for a long time to come.
#2 Villarreal fulfil a cancer patient’s dream
13-year-old Gohan had always dreamed of scoring a goal for Villarreal at El Madrigal. In 2014, the club decided that they would grant Gohan’s wish. However, Gohan wasn’t an academy product, but a fan undergoing cancer treatment.
Villarreal decided that they would draft him into the team during a charity match against Celtic, in which all the proceeds would go to a children’s cancer research charity, helping kids like Gohan to continue to beat this horrible disease.
The entire squad treated him as one of their own, handing him the number 12 shirt, letting him warm-up alongside them before the game and letting him get proceedings underway with the kick-off.
But not quite content with it, Gohan unleashed the inner Messi within him, going on a dizzying run before slotting the ball past the goalkeeper.
#1 Tito Vilanova loses the fight against Cancer
Tito Vilanova’s fight against cancer hung like a dark cloud over Barcelona in his one season in charge of the club.
Pep’s heir as the Blaugrana’s boss, Tito had a great start to what promised to be a long and successful managerial career. In his first season in charge, he led Barca to the league title, equaling Real Madrid’s record tally of 100 points and losing only 2 games.
However, during the middle of the season, in December 2012, Tito was diagnosed with Parotid gland cancer, for the second time. Whilst he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Jordi Roura took the reins of the first team.
Tito managed to return to the dugout in March 2013 but eventually resigned from his position in July due to a relapse as his treatment meant he wasn’t able to fully focus on his job.
To everyone’s disbelief, he passed away on April 25, 2014, at the age of 45. The players and everyone at the Camp Nou paid tribute to their former manager, while Pep Guardiola looked to be a broken man at Bayern Munich. Tito was his best friend and his death had hit him the hardest.