Barça B forward Bruna Vilamala became this season the fourth youngest debutant in the history of the Femení, and she recently signed her first professional contract too. We analyse her trajectory so far, playing style and what’s to come for her.
On 1 February 2020, 17-year-old forward Bruna Vilamala got her first taste of the Estadi Johan Cruyff when she debuted against Sevilla for Barça Femení’s senior team. Seeing a La Masía graduate debuting for the first team has always been a proud and special moment for Barça fans, especially in such a poetic way of entering the pitch for an icon like Lieke Martens.
When watching her matches with the B team, there are clear glimpses of her talent and potential. Bruna knows has what it means to play the Barcelona way with the Barça DNA.
Recovering from injury
The young debutant is an integral part of the FC Barcelona Femení B squad who ended third-place in this year’s Segunda Division. In the previous season with the Juvenil, Bruna suffered a very serious injury that kept her away from the playing fields for much of the season. Now that she has recovered from it, she has been able to return to her best form.
After an injury last campaign, her excellent 19/20 term has allowed Bruna Vilamala to debut with the first team
Thanks to her great performances this year with the B team, she has managed to fulfil one of her dreams: debuting with Barcelona’s first team. The young blaugrana is the fourth-youngest player to debut with the women’s first team at 17 years, 7 months and 26 days. Ahead of her are Patri Guijarro, with 17 years, 3 months and 17 days; Jana Fernández, with 16 years, 9 months and 22 days; and Claudia Pina heading the list, with 16 years, 5 months and 2 days.
Bruna Vilamala is a versatile forward who can play across the pitch as a winger and striker. She is often deployed on the flanks for Spain’s U–17 and Barcelona B due to her exceptional dribbling abilities. An outstanding stat of her dribbling ability is that she completed five successful dribbles out of five against England’s U–17 in the 2018 UEFA Women’s U–17 Championship.
In total, last season Bruna played 885 minutes for Barça B and scored 8 goals, or 0.814 goals per 90.
Link-up play with Barça B’s front three
One of the most admirable qualities of Vilamala is her understanding of the movements of her attacking partners. Barcelona Femení B had been playing brilliantly last season due to the understanding between the teams’ forwards. Claudia Pina dropping deep, moving laterally and dragging defenders out of position has been essential in creating space for Carla Armengol and Bruna Vilamala. This chemistry with Pina has allowed Bruna to shine more in the final third. Bruna pressing high up the pitch and unselfish link-up play are what made Barcelona B the highest-scoring team in Reto Iberdrola.
Bruna’s key moments against Madrid CFF B
At the 23rd minute, there was a series of intricate passing between Pina, Bruna and Aida Esteve which ended up in a goal. It started with a pass from Sheila to Aida. Aida passed the ball to Pina, and a skillful backheel from Pina put the ball in Bruna’s path, who passed it to Aida. Aida sensed the space behind the defense and flicked the ball over the defenders for Bruna to bury it. The on-rushing goalkeeper stopped Bruna from getting a shot, but Bruna set up a pass for Carla Armengol who in turn nestled it into the back of the net. You can see the passage of play leading to the goal in the screenshots below.
Two minutes after scoring the goal, Bruna Vilamala designed another goal-scoring opportunity. She received the ball and sent a disguised back pass to Aida, who directed the ball back to Bruna, opening up the defence. She spotted Claudia Pina running behind the defence and duly sent a through ball to finish it off. Unfortunately, it had too much pace and ended at the feet of the approaching keeper.
This was another example of how she can orchestrate build-up play by creating goal-scoring chances with key passes. Her movement without the ball shows how she is mature beyond her age. She fits into the Barcelona system well and can be decisive in the final third. You can see her playmaking skill in the below screenshots.
Her work rate and impeccable pressing in the opposite half are other valuable traits of her game. She is often used as a winger since she has pace and dribbling abilities in one-on-one situations and when leading counter-attacks.
Making her debut
Barça’s match against Sevilla served to write another page in the history book of the FC Barcelona. She entered the last moments of the duel against the Andalusian team, with the result already decided. The Borgonyà-born footballer replaced Lieke Martens to a resounding reception in front of the blaugrana faithful and completed her debut with the first team under Lluís Cortés. In her debut, Vilamala was added to an elite list of La Masia players who have made the long-awaited jump to the senior team.
“It’s what I’ve dreamed of since I was little”
on making her debut with Barça Femení’s first team
The Barça forward appeared in front of the media after the match against Sevilla to analyse what had been her official debut with FC Barcelona: “I am very grateful, I still don’t believe it”. She also wanted to place special emphasis on the reaction of culés every time the youth player touched the ball: “When I saw the response from the fans, I got goosebumps. It’s what I’ve dreamed of since I was little”.
The first professional contract for Bruna Vilamala
The good news do not end for Bruna, as the young Barça star signed her first professional contract for Barcelona on 26 June 2020, extending his spell at the club for three more seasons.
“It is a dream for me that the club has given me this opportunity. It is a dream that I have had since I arrived and that it can be fulfilled makes me especially excited”
after signing her first professional contract
With Bruna Vilamala extending her contract until 2023, she will enter the first team dynamics next year with the expectation of being a regular starter for Barcelona in the future. It’s hoped by most of the Barcelona faithful that she can learn and develop like her predecessors and becomes a fundamental part of the first team in the years to come.
This season under Lluís Cortés she has one appearance off the bench where she impressed the tactician, but he has since stated that he wants to see more from her and her B team teammates in the future. These renewals for Barça B players like Bruna Vilamala are a clear statement from FC Barcelona to the European giants of what is coming up from the La Masía project.
Caroline Graham Hansen growing into the leadership role among Barça’s attackers
As shown in the Champions League semi-final loss against VfL Wolfsburg, Barça Femení may be short of leadership qualities upfront, but 25-year-old Caroline Graham Hansen is starting to provide just that.
After the loss against VFL Wolfsburg, FC Barcelona Femení learned that they needed to improve upon a lot of things if they wanted to be the best team in Europe. Many of Barcelona’s unresolved issues were exposed that night, such as poor match management, questionable team selection, and lack of clinical attacking.
However, the most standout thing that went wrong for Barcelona was their season-long issues with finishing, which came to a head at the worst possible time. Upon reflection, it was clear that Barcelona lacked both a positive mentality and a commanding leadership personality up top. That role is still desperately needed if Barcelona wants to be champions of Europe, and of all their current forwards, Caroline Graham Hansen may be the player best suited to pick up that role.
Ahead of the Barcelona v Wolfsburg, it was difficult to predict who the winner was going to be. Both teams were very similar in that they were renowned for the same matter: their outstanding attacking strength. For Wolfsburg, it was Pernille Harder, Fridolina Rolfo, Ewa Pajor, Alexandra Popp and Svenja Huth. For Barcelona, it was Lieke Martens, Mariona Caldentey, Jenni Hermoso, Asisat Oshoala and Caroline Graham Hansen.
Understandably, one of the most popular predictions about the game was that it was going to be a goal-fest. It didn’t quite work out that way though, as both teams’ forwards struggled to find the back of the net.
Barcelona in particular had a shocking night in terms of finishing. 14 shots with only one on target gave them a 9% shot accuracy. Something was clearly off about them, especially considering that everyone knows what these players are capable of. At that point, their front four was arguably Europe’s strongest overall attacking threat. It is for this reason that this loss and their lack of clinical finishing was 100% mental.
Barcelona’s captains and other leadership personalities are all midfielders, defenders or keepers. Consider Vicky Losada, Alexia Putellas, Marta Torrejón, Sandra Paños, Patri Guijarro and some of the younger players like Laia Codina and Aitana Bonmatí. These footballers in particular have captaincy qualities in multiple aspects. They command the play on the pitch, they aren’t afraid to give orders to anyone regardless of talent or superiority, they perform at a high level for 90+ minutes, they aren’t afraid to step up publicly and take responsibility with the media, and they are deeply dedicated to the club. What else do they all have in common? None of them are forwards.
This isn’t to say Barcelona’s attackers aren’t mentally strong. You have to be to play at this level. But at this moment, there is no outstanding player in attack who shows the traits of a captain. Which of the starting forwards can be the answer to this problem?
The two players that can already be eliminated from the conversation are Asisat Oshoala and Lieke Martens. These are two of the most accomplished players for their respective countries and have been at the top of the world for a while, but they don’t display many leadership qualities. Neither of them is very vocal or commanding, they aren’t too keen on giving directions, and, most importantly, their mentality in a game typically depends on those around them. There is nothing wrong with either of them not being leaders, but these two just won’t be the ones to do it.
Caroline Graham Hansen, wearing the captain armband with Norway’s national team | Photo by Jorge Guerrero / AFP via Getty Images
Jennifer Hermoso is unlike Asisat and Martens in this regard. She’s a record-breaking veteran for both club and country and she even holds captaincy for Spain. Her presence and reputation as one of Spain’s greatest ever footballers command respect on its own.
However, she is a player who prefers to lead by example and move in silence. This is a perfectly valid leadership style in itself, but it doesn’t suit the needs of Barcelona. Jenni was one of Barcelona’s best performers against Wolfsburg, but her top-notch performance clearly wasn’t enough. The team needed more, and despite her leadership qualities and veteran status, she couldn’t provide it.
Additionally, culés understandably don’t want to think about it, but Jenni isn’t getting any younger. She isn’t the team’s future, and it wouldn’t make much sense for the forward line to structure themselves around her leadership.
This only leaves one other established player amongst the four starting forwards: enter Caroline Graham Hansen.
Graham Hansen is still just 25 years old but has gone through a lot in her career. She has had two heartbreaks in two Women’s Champions League finals and was injured during both of them. Her international career has been similar: she missed the 2015 Women’s World Cup due to injury and suffered three straight losses in the group stages of the 2017 Euros as Norway’s FA was dealing with deep dysfunction. Like Rory Smith put it, her career has long been a “question mark” in the eyes of many. The way she has overcome her own doubts since then is unlike most players in this sport.
Hansen has become a different animal as she has gotten older. No Wolfsburg fan can forget how she kneeled down and pumped her fists after scoring the decisive penalty kick against Bayern Munich in the 2018 DFB Pokal Final. No Norwegian – or Australian – can forget how in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, she kept a stone-cold face, looked Lydia Williams dead in the eyes, and slotted Norway’s first penalty of the shootout straight past her, raising her arms in celebration and commanding Norway to the quarter-finals.
When she is needed to step up, when she is needed to be a commanding force, when she is needed to be a leader, she has done it in some of the biggest matches of her recent career. Norway’s captain Maren Mjelde echoed this exact thought in an interview to FIFA.com from September 2019.
“In the last two years she has grown an awful lot, in two ways that complement each other: she is a great leader and a great team player at the same time. All her energies go into helping the team to play better and win. She was crucial for us at the World Cup and I still don’t think we have seen the best of her. She has got the quality to change games, and when it comes to one-on-one situations, she’s the best in the world…She has become a natural leader”Maren Mjelde, Norway’s captain
This display of mentality didn’t stop when she got to Spain either. In her first season with Barcelona, she was a pivotal part of the attack and had no fear approaching any defender. With 24 direct goal involvements in all competitions, it’s clear she is already comfortable with her role in the team.
Graham Hansen also has a clear love for Barcelona and has since she was a child. Despite only being present in Catalonia for a season, Caroline Graham Hansen is one of the most vocally committed players in this current group at FC Barcelona. Her words after the Wolfsburg semi-final loss reflect this in two different ways.
“I would say today we were better which proves that what Barça have been doing in recent years has been good, we are here to be reckoned with next year. We will go home and keep on training and improving because we want to avenge this defeat next year”Caroline Graham Hansen, via UEFA TV after losing against Wolfsburg
But on her Instagram, she chose a softer tone, expressing her love and dedication to the club, calling it “her home” and using the hashtag #soyculé (I am a culé): “I’m so proud to be a part of this team. This club. This family. Football isn’t always fair. That’s the sport. I accept that. We will come back. I know. We know. This is my home now. Thanks for having my back #soyculé”.
Caroline Graham Hansen admittedly has had some growing pains in this very new environment, but with this loss, she has only shown a drive to improve. She has everything at her disposal to be a leader in the attacking third. It’s her dedication, hunger, and ever-improving mentality that makes her the most likely player to become a leader for Barcelona’s forwards.