Eric Abidal's season is almost certainly over and he is unlikely to represent France at Euro 2012 after his club Barcelona announced he will undergo a liver transplant.
A cult figure among fans of the Spanish, European and world champions, the 32-year-old defender had surgery to remove a tumour from the organ last March before making a triumphant return to lift the Champions League trophy at Wembley just two months later.
"Over the coming weeks, the player [Abidal] will undergo a liver transplant," Barca said in a brief statement on their website on Thursday.
"The transplant was an option already mentioned since the start of his treatment a year ago," they added.
The club did not say how long Abidal would be out of action but recovery from a transplant may take up to six months and there is a risk the body will reject the new liver, according to Britain's National Health Service (NHS).
Abidal's Barca team-mates and many other players and officials in Spain and beyond rallied behind him following the announcement, with Barca striker David Villa, himself sidelined with a broken leg, saying they needed him back in the team as soon as possible.
"All my strength for Abidal!" Villa wrote on his Twitter feed. "You will get through it. You are very strong. We will all be by your side."
Central defender Gerard Pique wrote on his feed: "You will return and you will do it like always, being the best! You are an example for everyone."
Barca are losing Abidal at a critical time in the season, with the Champions League holders through to the quarter-finals of Europe's elite club competition and bidding to close a 10-point gap with Real Madrid in La Liga with 12 games left.
They are also due to face Athletic Bilbao in May's King's Cup final.
Abidal is likely to be replaced in Barca's line-up by Adriano and captain Carles Puyol is also able to fill in at left-back.
"It was a big shock," Puyol told a news conference on Thursday, explaining that coach Pep Guardiola had told the squad about the transplant before training with Abidal present.
"When you see him it's him who is keeping our spirits up," Puyol said. "He is very strong, he showed that last season and he will show it again."comments