Authors of a recital on Friday against Wolfsburg (5-1), the Catalans have taken a big step towards the final of the Champions League. But their supremacy is quite recent.
A 45th victory in all competitions. This is what Barça won against Wolsburg on Friday – in addition to the new attendance record for a women’s football match – in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals (5-1). Especially at the end of a first period which turned into a demonstration. “It’s the best first period I’ve seen since I took charge of the team, both in terms of our level of play and in terms of the match,” commented the Catalan coach.
Established, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic delivered a great performance, as illustrated by her work on the second Blaugrana goal. Despite numerous chances, however, the Bernese did not manage to find the net. Apart in the 50th, but the VAR intervened to signal an offside.
A superiority shared by Tommy Stroot, the coach of Louves who nevertheless remained on 17 matches without defeat. “Barça had an excellent match, we did not compete. It is quite clear that he can start planning his trip to Turin (note: place of the final, May 21). Winner of the Cup and the championship this year (146 goals scored, 8 conceded), the Catalan club is on track to succeed itself in C1 and achieve the treble, like last year.
An overwhelming superiority which is however very recent. “Two or three years ago, we were a few notches below Lyon, Wolfsburg and the best teams in Europe, says Patri Guijarro, Catalan midfielder. The change has been brutal, and very rapid, in the space of a few seasons. Especially physically. Our physical transformation has been enormous. The difference with three years ago is abysmal.
Turning professional in 2015, the FC Barcelona women’s team has been transformed in less than ten years, with new sponsors, training and brand new infrastructure.
Born as Seleccion Ciudad de Barcelona for a friendly match, the team took on the name Peña Femenina Barcelonista a year later and, in the 1980s, converted to Club Femeni Barcelona. It was not until 2002 that it officially became the women’s section of FC Barcelona.
In a report broadcast by El Pais last year, Natalia Astrain, coach from 2002 to 2006, and Sheila Sanchon, ex-player, recall: “We trained on a field that served as a parking lot on weekends”, “we received around 700 euros per month”, and “we traveled in our individual cars”.
The team turned professional in 2015, and in 2017, Barça launched the construction of the Johan-Cruyff stadium (6,000 seats), intended for the men’s reserve team and the women’s team. An investment of 12 million euros which will be profitable upon delivery, in the summer of 2019, and which will help the “Femeni” to attract players of international caliber, such as the Dutch Lieke Martens, best player in the world 2017 according to the UEFA and FIFA, recruited that year.
The Stanley Sponsor
Meanwhile, in 2018 DIY firm Stanley is pumping in €3.5m per season until 2022 to become the main sponsor of the women’s team, which sports a different partner to the men’s team. The previous year, the leaders had decided not to include the women’s team in the agreement with Rakuten precisely to try to seduce a separate sponsor for the women, at a lower cost.
In 2018-2019, the women’s team is the only section of FC Barcelona to be economically profitable. This summer, Stanley will give way to Spotify, which has sealed a colossal sponsorship deal with the Blaugrana club.
The lost C1 final in 2019
May 18, 2019 is the date that will tip the female Barça into a new mentality. Several international players arrived in the locker room and the level of play rose considerably, and under the leadership of Lluis Cortes, Barça reached the Champions League final. But the Catalans are crushed 4-1 by the Lyonnaises, then unbeatable. On the way back, at Budapest airport (host city of the final), a discussion between the coach and the captains will change everything.
“We were so dominated that we told Lluis that we really wanted to progress on all fronts, to come back and win this final. And that’s what we did. We trained much harder, and we prepared ourselves mentally to achieve this goal, ”explained the player Vicky Losada.
The opening of the Masia
To change dimension, Barça certainly had to attract some international players, like Lieke Martens, the Norwegians Caroline Graham Hansen and Ingrid Engen, still at the club, or even the French Kheira Hamraoui and Elise Bussaglia (now gone). But he also relied heavily on his training, with stars like Gemma Font, Aitana Bonmati or superstar Alexia Putellas.
And it continues: last summer, nine pioneers joined La Masia, Barça’s prestigious training center, which was until then closed to girls, full-time.
The fruits of effort
All these efforts have paid off. In 2020-2021, Barça achieved an incredible Spanish Cup – Spanish Championship – Champions League treble, lifting the first C1 in its history.
The Catalans flew over Spain and dominated Europe. Alexia Putellas won the 2021 Ballon d’Or and the title of best UEFA player of the year, a ceremony which propelled her teammates Jennifer Hermoso and Lieke Martens to the other two steps of the podium.