Born in Saint-Genis-Laval, Metropolis of Lyon, Abidal started playing with AS Lyon Duchère, an amateur team in the suburbs. He started his professional career with AS Monaco FC, making his Ligue 1 debut on 16 September 2000 in a 3–0 home win against Toulouse FC but only appearing in 22 league matches over the course of two full seasons.
Abidal transferred to fellow league club Lille OSC for 2002–03, reuniting with former manager Claude Puel and being first-choice during his spell. Subsequently, he returned to his native region and joined Olympique Lyonnais.
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. He was given the number 22 jersey, as the number 20 he wore at Lyon was already taken by Deco; club president Joan Laporta also mentioned that his contract contained a €90 million release clause, and that Lyon would receive an extra €500,000 if Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League in any of the following four seasons.
Abidal made his La Liga debut on 26 August 2007 in a 0–0 away draw against Racing de Santander, and completed his first season with 30 games as Barça finished in third place in the league. He missed the 2009 Champions League Final against Manchester United after picking up a red card in the semi-final against Chelsea: the referee deemed Abidal to have fouled countryman Nicolas Anelka and denying a scoring opportunity, although video evidence suggested that any contact was minimal; again through suspension he also did not dress up for the decisive match of the Copa del Rey, as the team won the treble.
In 2009–10, Abidal continued to be the starter for the Pep Guardiola-led side, even after the arrival of Maxwell from Internazionale. He scored his first goal on 5 January 2011, netting at the San Mamés Stadium in the Spanish Cup round-of-16 second leg (1–1 away draw, away goals rule qualification).
On 18 January 2012, Abidal scored his second goal for Barcelona, also in the domestic cup, helping the visitors come from behind to win it 2–1 at Real Madrid (eventually 4–3 on aggregate). He renewed his contract early into the following month, keeping him at the Camp Nou until 30 June 2013, but on 30 May of that year it was announced that the club would not further extend it.
On 15 March 2011, Barcelona announced that Abidal had been diagnosed with a tumour in his liver, and the player underwent surgery two days later. Citing privacy concerns as wished by the player, the club did not release additional information in regards to his condition. In response to the announcement, players and fans around the world dedicated well wishes to him on various social networking service and sports websites.
Before their round-of-16 match in the Champions League, both Real Madrid and Lyon players took the pitch wearing Ánimo Abidal (Get Well Abidal) T-shirts, with the same message being displayed on the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium's scoreboards, in a show of support and solidarity. During Barcelona's match with Getafe CF on 19 March 2011, the fans at the stadium clapped for the entire 22nd minute (the player's shirt number). On 28 May 2011, in the Champions League Final against Manchester United, he played the full 90 minutes of Barcelona's 3–1 triumph and, in a gesture to mark his recovery, Carles Puyol handed him his captain's armband and allowed him to lift the trophy in front of 85,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London.
On 15 March 2012, it was announced that Abidal would have to undergo a liver transplant because of problems which were unresolved with the previous operation. On 10 April he underwent surgery, with his cousin Gérard being the donor. On the same day Barcelona beat Getafe 4–0, and the victory was dedicated to the player in the post-game press conference; he later revealed that his friend and teammate Dani Alves offered to donate part of his liver for the transplant, but he denied because it would have affected the latter's playing career.
On 21 May 2012, Abidal was released from hospital to resume the recovery process at his home, and doctors revealed that he could still play football in the near future if he wished. He returned to training in the Pyrenees in October 2012 but, the following month, he stated that his priority was a return to full health rather than resuming his football career.
On 18 December 2012, Abidal was given the green light to start training again, and he returned to active in January of the following year. On 19 March of the following year he played 65 minutes for FC Barcelona B in a practice match with FC Istres, and on 6 April he returned to official play, replacing Gerard Piqué for the last 20 minutes of a 5–0 home win against RCD Mallorca. Two weeks later he played the full 90 minutes for the first time since his comeback, featuring in a 1–0 home success over Levante UD.
On 8 July 2013, 33-year-old Abidal returned to Monaco after more than one decade, signing for one season with the option of a further one. After helping the principality team secure a place in the Champions League in his debut campaign, he agreed to a one-year contract extension.
On 5 July 2014, two days after renewing his link to Monaco, Abidal signed a two-year contract with Olympiacos FC. On 19 December, however, he retired from the game for personal reasons.
Abidal earned 67 caps for the France national team, his debut coming on 18 August 2004 in a friendly with Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was selected for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, playing all the games and minutes in the country's runner-up campaign as left back, with the exception of France's match against Togo, from which he was suspended after earning two yellow cards in the first two games. In the final against Italy, he scored his penalty shootout attempt.
Again under Raymond Domenech, Abidal was first-choice during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. In the final stages he appeared against Italy as a centre-back, but conceded a penalty and was sent off in the first half of an eventual 0–2 loss and group stage exit. He played against Uruguay and Mexico in the 2010 World Cup again at centre-back, opting out of the next game against host country South Africa as the French side again left the competition after only three matches.
Abidal was a tactically intelligent and versatile defender, capable of featuring as a centre or left back due to his positional sense and his ability to read the game. In his prime, he was also quick and strong which, along with his technical ability and distribution, allowed him run up the wing to assist his team offensively as well as defensively.
Abidal married former gymnast Hayet Kebir in 2007, fathering daughters Méliana and Camélia. After his wedding, he converted to Islam.Lyon
Ligue 1: 2004–05, 2005–06, 2006–07
Trophée des champions: 2005, 2006, 2007
La Liga: 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13
Copa del Rey: 2008–09, 2011–12
Supercopa de España: 2009, 2010, 2011
UEFA Champions League: 2008–09, 2010–11
UEFA Super Cup: 2009, 2011
FIFA Club World Cup: 2009, 2011
Superleague Greece: 2014–15
FIFA World Cup: Runner-up 2006
Ligue 1 Team of the Year: 2005, 2006, 2007
UEFA Team of the Year: 2007
LFP Defender of the Year: 2011
Globe Soccer Awards: Player Career Award 2012
Premio internazionale Giacinto Facchetti: 2013