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Abidal, Robben, Ebbe Sand… Football’s cancer survivors that Carl Ikeme can draw inspiration from


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It may seem the end of the road for Carl Ikeme’s football career last week after the Nigerian International was diagnosed with acute leukemia, a form of cancer that affects the white blood cells and the bone marrow.

But the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ number one has said that he intends to give his all in the fight against the disease, and perhaps return to the field of play.

That is a realistic target, as there are a number of football stars who have battled cancer successfully and gone on to enjoy eventful careers.


Spain Soccer La Liga

When the news broke that Eric Abidal, the great French and Barcelona left full back, was diagnosed with liver cancer in March 2011, it appeared it was all over.

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But by May of the same year, Muamba, as Abidal was popularly called, had undergone treatment and was able to play full 90 minutes in Barcelona’s Champions League final triumph over Manchester United.

In March 2012, however, he relapsed and this time, had to undergo a liver transplant. But yet again, he made a quick recovery and returned to football in March 2013.

Abidal then left Barcelona and returned to France where he helped Monaco qualify for the Champions League in his debut season. He later signed for Olympiacos before eventually retiring in December 2014.


Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben, the mercurial Dutch forward, may not be as famous as he is today if he had not braved the odds when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the tender age of 20.

He overcame it and went ahead to write his name in gold for club and country.

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Robben became a cult hero in Chelsea from where he moved to Real Madrid and eventually Bayern Munich. He also helped The Netherlands to the world cup final in South Africa in 2010.

Of the cancer scare, he once told Chelsea FC magazine: “I found a little lump and went to the doctor. He told me I needed an operation.

“I then had to wait for the results and I didn’t know if it was going to be good or bad news. The waiting was terrible for a few days. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me….

“At that time football was no longer important – the most important thing is to be healthy and for your family to be healthy. Football is my life but my family’s health is the most important thing in the world.”


Jonas Gutierrez

Gutiérrez also suffered from testicular cancer, which is believed to have developed after the ball hit him hard in the crotch during a match between Newcastle and Arsenal in May 2013.

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But after undergoing treatment to remove his left testicle in his country, Argentina, he made his return to the Newcastle United first team on March 4, 2015, coming on as a substitute in home match against Manchester United.

After his recovery, Gutiérrez had the words “I am alive again, more alive than I have been in my whole entire life” tattooed onto his arm.


Carlos Roa

Roa was in an important moment in his career when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer; he had helped second division side Albacete Balompié regain promotion to La Liga after a seven-year absence but midway through the top-division season, cancer came calling.

He was forced to stop playing to have an operation, after which he spent an entire year between chemotherapy and rehabilitation.

After keeping his fitness with amateurs CD Constancia and CD Atlético Baleares, both in the Majorca area, Roa returned to professional football in his country, joining Olimpo de Bahía Blanca and retiring after one top division season.


Luboslav Penev

Penev missed Valencia’s entire 1993/94 season to treat testicular cancer. It also cost the Bulgarian forward a place in the USA 1994 World Cup team. But he returned to the game soon enough in 1995 to sign for Atletico Madrid, who won the domestic league and cup double that season.


Ebbe Sand

Nigerians need little introduction to Sand — the Dane had only been on the pitch for 16 seconds at France ’98 when he scored one of the World Cup’s greatest goals against Peter Rufai in goal for Nigeria. It was not only his debut goal for Denmark, it was the fastest World Cup goal ever by a substitute.

After that World Cup, Sand was diagnosed with testicular cancer and there was significant fear it would force him to retire prematurely. But he had surgery and was back on the pitch within a few weeks.

Sand spent eight more years with Schalke, during which he was the Bundesliga top scorer (2001) and he won the DFB-Pokal (2001 and 2002). He also represented Denmark at the 2002 World Cup, as well as the 2000 and 2004 European Championships.



Stiliyan Petrov fought and won the battle against acute leukemia even though on his return, he could not secure a contract from his former club Aston Villa, thus forcing him into an early retirement.

Four years after his diagnosis, Petrov went to train with the Villa first team during the pre-season, but the comeback was short-lived, as the club felt the Bulgarian had not done enough to merit a fresh contract.

However, Petrov remained in football, going on to enjoy coaching spells at smaller non-league clubs.

Carl Ikeme, are you reading?

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