Captain and leader, 20-year-old defender Laia Codina has been been growing in leaps and bounds since joining La Masía and will undoubtedly leave her mark in the first team of Barça Femení one day. In this article we provide an in-depth review of her trajectory, playing style and ceiling.
FC Barcelona Femení’s most recent generation of youth team graduates have garnered a lot of attention for their attacking firepower, but La Masía has also provided much-needed defensive security for the club’s senior side.
Due to injuries or lack of defensive depth, first team manager Lluís Cortés has chosen to rely on the versatility and confidence of promising centre-back Laia Codina Panedas. At 20 years of age, she has been the perfect substitute for the setbacks caused by injuries this season, completing five games with the senior team. Codina is yet another addition to the list of players whose quality stands out from the Barça quarry.
Codina started playing football at the age of 4 for UD Cassà, a club located in the city of Cassà de la Selva in the province of Girona, northern Catalonia. At UD Cassà she briefly played in mixed boys and girls teams, which helped her become a more versatile player. She typically started in midfield but moved to the centre-back position when Arnau Comas, the current Barça B men’s player, was in midfield.
As she grew up at the club, she would play in midfield, in the centre of defence or on the wing, depending on the game. She played at Cassà for 10 years before eventually moving onto FC Barcelona. At the end of her tenure at UD Cassà, she received a plaque from the club thanking her for her hard work and dedication to the organisation.
Move to FC Barcelona
She was already in her last year with children at Cassà when she looked for a way to continue playing football. She received an email at the end of November 2014, when Barça offered her an opportunity to train for two days at their facilities: December 3 and 10. In January 2015, the club asked her to continue her playing career with the cadet-juvenil section.
“I think I was not aware, because I am also a culé since I was little, I have been a member since I was 8 years old. I don’t miss a game, I cry when Barça loses a final, but I think my mother, and my family in general, was more aware than I was. It was a bit: “well, I’m going to Barça to see what happens”. That it is the club of my dreams, but I was not as aware as my father or mother”
for local TV Girona on signing for FC Barcelona
Laia wasted no time in establishing herself at the club as a player who is versatile in any position of defence. Her arrival in the 2015/16 season provided the cadet-juvenil section with much-needed qualities beyond her young age.
In football, nothing is presented easily, but it has to be earned. At Barça, Laia has learned what real football is, and what’s natural to her. In the end, she has perfectly fit into Barça’s style. Additionally, she has the values of humility, which is a very important trait to have when you play for the blaugranas. Whenever she gets into the pitch with her teammates from Barça Femení B, she never misses to high-five them before the start of the match.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that her main reference is Barcelona legendary centre-back Carles Puyol, one of the most respected figures in football for his leadership abilities and humanity.
“Puyol. I identify very much, because he is someone who has the colours of Barça in his heart, he also carries the fight as something internal, in the blood, and he has given everything in every game. If something had to be broken, he would break it. I’m quite similar in that regard. I am not afraid and to achieve a goal I would do anything”
on her reference
Her reward for her hard work and the recognition of her emerging quality came with a first team contract at the end of the current season. After making herself an indisputable piece in the ranks of Barça Femení B, Laia Codina will start the next campaign under the command of Lluís Cortés with the first team. The Catalan defender will hopefully transition well into her new role as a senior footballer and grow consistency through FCB Femení.
Step by step with her feet, she begins to draw a path in which she will undoubtedly end up leaving her mark. At the moment she is on the right track: on October 13, she made her debut in Primera Iberdrola, and just four days later, she debuted in the UEFA Women’s Champions League against FK Minsk.
Laia Codina on her role as a captain for FC Barcelona
“A lot of responsibility. When the Catalans think of a captain we think of Xavi, Puyol or Vicky Losada, who are people who have been here for many years, who feel the colours of the club, who you see they do it with great responsibility, with great pride. I tried the same thing in some way. I loved it when they told me I would be a captain, but I assumed it normally, and in the end it is not a big deal. If they give it to you it is for something. Keep doing the same thing you did the year before, and that’s what I did”.
Personal setbacks and overcoming anxiety
During her early days, when she was playing for the Catalan U–12 team, Laia Codina had a terrible time as she was a very nervous person, had a lot of anxiety and had to attend to specialists to overcome her struggles. She suffered the same during her first year with the Cadet, because of the pressure of playing for a club like Barcelona.
She spent three or four years going to a specialist, which improved her mental health during her second / third year in Barcelona. She started to grow from there and those years of anxiety and fear have now been eased to make way for her becoming the fearless leader that she is today.
Relentless from behind, Laia Codina is immersed in one of the sweetest moments of her career. Rocked in the legendary generation of 2000, the Girona-born player will proudly defend the first team next season. Laia has led a season of memorable performances with Barça Femení B to guide the squad towards a third-place finish in the Reto Iberdrola, the second tier of Spanish women’s football.
Laia Codina: versatility, agility and tenacity | Photo by Alex Caparrós via Getty Images
Strengthening her authority as a central player, Laia returned to anoint herself in Jordi Ventura’s side as a key piece. Despite not being able to win the league, the third place in the group helped Barça Femení B remain in the Reto Iberdrola with good position to improve for the next campaign while bringing in more youth talents.
Renewal for FC Barcelona
In June 2020, Laia renewed her contract at FC Barcelona for two more years, rightfully promoting her to the first team dynamics from the 2020/21 term.
“I am very happy to announce my renewal and to continue defending this shield for two more seasons as I have done so far. I want to thank this team for the trust and the opportunity to continue enjoying and growing as a footballer”
on renewing for Barcelona
Awarded in 2018 as one of the young prospects of Girona football, Laia will now try to provide the senior side with quality. Qualified with exemplary skills, the influence of central figures such as Mapi León and Andrea Pereira or the seniority of Melanie Serrano will be an essential aid in the progression of Laia, one of the most outstanding talents coming through La Masía.
Quick to move and cover the pitch with impeccable speed to suppress the attack, the Barça central defender counts the days until she has a true opportunity to demonstrate her potential in the first team. The Estadi Johan Cruyff is already beckoning her presence.
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.