Our Guest Author: Kelsie Smith
A lot has happened since a Barcelona women’s team played its first and only match at the Camp Nou in 1970, but on Wednesday afternoon, the now professional Barça Femení has another date with history.
On January 6th, FC Barcelona Femení will be making their first appearance as an official, professionalised team in the club’s beloved 100,000-seat home stadium, the Camp Nou. Playing against Catalan rivals Espanyol, this fixture marks a historic feat for the blaugranas, and is highly symbolic of the team’s position at the top of women’s football despite such a complicated history.
It’s important to specify that this is the women’s first appearance at the Camp Nou as an official section. A women’s Barcelona team did make an appearance at the Camp Nou on Christmas Day 1970, but it was solely an exhibition match played by a team under the name Selecció Ciutat de Barcelona and was still not considered an official section of the club.
Nonetheless, this Christmas day exhibition was something historic in its own right. Although the women’s team was not yet official, it was the first time the Catalan public had the opportunity to see a fully-formed FC Barcelona women’s team play at such an iconic stadium. It was the earliest circumstance in Barcelona’s history where the women were able to step on the same pitch as a team, experience the same atmosphere, and play the game as equals, even if their off-the-pitch working conditions weren’t nearly at the same level.
As time went on, the women’s team gained both notoriety and respect from the culé fanbase. After a decade of playing friendly matches and tournaments only based in Catalonia, the RFEF recognised women’s football in 1980, and in 1988, Barcelona became one of the founding teams for the league now known as the Primera Iberdrola. The club won their first domestic trophy, the Copa de la Reina, in 1994.
By 2002, they were considered an official section of the club, and after facing promotion-relegation struggles in the 2000s, they entered an era of unprecedented domestic success in the early-to-mid 2010s. In the five seasons between 2010–2015, they won four straight league titles and three Copas de la Reina along with making their UEFA Women’s Champions League debut in 2013. In 2015, the club made the decision to professionalise the women’s section, and after many transitional years, big-name signings (notably Lieke Martens and Toni Duggan), and few trophies, they reached a Champions League final in 2019 and have been one of Europe’s top-4 teams since.
This time around when Barcelona’s women’s team step on the Camp Nou’s grass, the dynamic at the stadium will be completely different. Instead of being a group of amateur players, the current Barcelona women play as full professionals who use professional facilities, get paid professional wages, and play at the top level in Europe. In contrast to the scoreless draw on Christmas Day 1970, it’s fully expected that the match will be a goal-fest in favour of Barcelona, who have won all of their ten league matches so far this season with a goal difference of +55. On the other hand, Espanyol are a relegation candidate who have lost three of their last five matches. Additionally, opposed to the 60,000 spectators that sat in the Camp Nou in the 1970 match, there will be no audience aside from some pre-approved attendees, such as injured squad players, club staff, and the pioneras of Selecció Ciutat de Barcelona.
This match is significant even more so due to their opponent: RCD Espanyol Femení. Not only is this a classic derby in both the men’s and women’s games, but the two teams also represent two different eras of Spanish women’s football. The Espanyol teams of the past decade were trailblazers for Spanish futfem, featuring some of the best players of their time such as Vero Boquete, Adriana Martín, Silvia Meseguer and Marta Torrejón, amongst many other major names.
By 2012, most of those players went international, retired or moved on to play for other Spanish clubs, but some of the most talented went on to play for a Barcelona side who was just starting to become a force in the Spanish league. Espanyol’s successes paved the way for Spain’s women’s football pioneers, but Barcelona moved Spanish women’s football past domestic dominance and almost single-handedly ushered in a new era of international success.
One of the players who featured for both teams in both eras, Alexia Putellas, is expected to start as captain for Barcelona in this match. Alexia is technically the only woman to score at the Camp Nou considering the 1970 match was a scoreless draw. In 2019, she was brought to the Camp Nou to score the longest-ever goal in the stadium from all the way at the top of the second level’s seats. It was merely a promotional challenge for Nike’s PhantomVNM boots, but the photoshoot and the video gave visualisation to the idea that one day, a woman could score at the Camp Nou.
Another likely starter, Aitana Bonmatí, was more than happy to talk about playing at the Camp Nou in an interview after the Sevilla match in mid-December. The 22-year-old has been at the club since she was 14, and in the post-match interview she described herself as a “culé until death”. She went on to say that “it’s a dream to touch the grass that we have seen so many times from the stands”. Later that month, as a part of the promotional events for the match, she sat down with one of the pioneers of the women’s team, Carme Nieto. In their conversation with Mundo Deportivo, Carme explained the harsh reality of women’s football in that era.
“The reality was very hard, luckily you have not experienced it. The normal thing was that they told us things like ‘go wash dishes’, ‘this is a men’s sport’, or ‘what is a group of housewives doing here’…You think about that now and it’s even funny, but then it was hard”Carme Nieto
Melanie Serrano, a Barcelona player for 17 seasons, has experienced many of the different highs and lows that come with being a pioneer of Spanish women’s football. Her experience goes beyond the eras of Alexia and Aitana, having been a member of the club since 2004. Melanie has faced relegation with Barça Femení, winning their first trophy in 20 years, winning their first league title, making their first Champions League appearance, reaching their first Champions League final, and now, she is probable to feature in the side’s first game at the Camp Nou as an official Barcelona team. Having amassed over 450 appearances for the club, this match is one of the most monumental out of all of them, and her featuring in it would be representative of three different decades of both struggle and success.
After this duel, the question that remains on the minds of both players and fans alike is if an opportunity like this will be given again anytime soon. Considering the rapidly increasing popularity of the women’s team, it definitely seems like this second time will not be the last time, and likely not the last time for this era of players. Chances are, Barça Femení making more appearances in the Camp Nou in the next few years hinges on which presidential candidate wins the upcoming election.
Joan Laporta has stated that he wants Barça B and Barça Femení to be identified with their current home stadium, the Estadi Johan Cruyff. His main competitor, Víctor Font, who has given more of an outward priority to the women’s section throughout his campaign, has said that women playing in the Camp Nou needs to be a matter of “normalisation”.
🎙 @victor_font: “El femení no ha de jugar al Camp Nou per fer el record d’assistència sinó com a normalització”.— Víctor Font: Sí al Futur (@sialfutur) December 11, 2020
🎙@MTeresaAndreu1: “Al 1970, al primer partit femení que es disputa al Camp Nou, hi havien més de 60.000 espectadors. Ja es va omplir, ho podem tornar a fer”. pic.twitter.com/0OBePrcaaM
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, what happens in the future will not take away from how monumental of a feat this match will be. After over 50 years of struggle, one of Barcelona’s most beloved sections will return to the ground where their history started. This match at this stadium will be yet another milestone for a team that continues to break barriers and reach new heights with every passing season.
Barcelona Femení still have not learned from their mistakes
Our Guest Author: Kelsie Smith
Another day, another avoidable loss for a team that’s supposed to be one of the best in the world.
FCB Femení lost on penalties to Atlético Madrid in the Supercopa Femenina semifinal yesterday, their first competitive loss against their Rojiblanco rivals in nearly two years. On the surface, this match means little in the greater context of Barcelona’s season. So far, they have won every match in the Spanish league by scoring 62 goals and conceding just two in 11 matches.
They likely will have an easy Round of 16 Champions League draw, and are still probable to complete a domestic treble for the 2019-20 season, pending the Final of last season’s Copa de la Reina. With all this in mind, this Supercopa loss should be just a blip in what is supposed to be a very exciting 2021, but the outcome of this match is representative of some much more pressing issues within the club that have gone on for far longer than necessary.
So, all these glaring issues that came to light against the Germans… were they ever resolved?
Did they address their vulnerability in defense? Did they ever find a pure striker who could consistently score goals without having to be handed 20 opportunities? Have their managerial decisions gotten any better? Has their big-game mentality improved any since then? Has the club brought in any significant reinforcements in their problem areas? Has FCB Femení done anything meaningful to remedy the many mistakes that they made against Wolfsburg?
After having two transfer windows and almost six months to fix their issues, the answer for all of those questions remains a flat no. Specifically, Barcelona’s forwards have not addressed their inability to convert, the backline have not addressed their defensive shortcomings, and the coaching staff’s managerial decisions have not gotten any better. As a collective, they have not improved their mentality in big games and they have not improved their squad since the Champions League semifinal.
Barcelona may have only conceded 2 goals in the league and they may regularly win their league matches by 5 or more goals, but that speaks more to an ever-increasing disparity in the quality of Primera Iberdrola teams than it does to the overall quality of Barcelona. The defensive issues are still there- they’re just less evident when Barcelona is in the opposition’s half 90% of the time. The inability to convert is still there- it’s just less evident if the opposition’s backline is discouraged from the starting whistle when it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be letting in 5+ goals. Recording dominant wins like these every matchweek makes it easy to ignore the problems that still exist within the team, which could very well lead to complacency farther down the line.
These problems need to be acknowledged and addressed if they have any chance of winning it all in Europe. This starts with their key issues on the pitch. Barcelona have no reliable, consistent strikers. Jenni Hermoso might be Barcelona’s all-time top scorer, but she is not a pure 9, she is too slow to play as a 9, and she should not be in Barcelona’s long-term plans considering her age. Barcelona’s other option at striker, Asisat Oshoala, is also less than ideal. Her resolve in front of goal has taken a downturn since returning from the pandemic hiatus, and she has shown herself time and time again since then to be ineffective under pressure. Her shooting against Atléti in last year’s Champions League was poor, her shooting against Wolfsburg in the Champion’s League was a disaster, and aside from one or two moments of quality inside the box against Atléti in the Supercopa yesterday, her performance was nothing to write home about. This also includes her poor performances in the league that often go under the radar because she ends up on the scoresheet anyway. Her signing in 2019 seemed extremely promising, but this summer should be time for her to hang up her boots in Barcelona so the club can make room for a proven, world-class striker, whomever that may be.
Barcelona’s other biggest area of weakness can be found in left-back Leila Ouahabi. Leila offers little to the team in terms of providing width, giving defensive stability, creating chances, or really any other quality that a fullback might want to have. Her positioning is often so poor that Mapi León spends a significant part of any given match covering for her, to the point where she regularly plays as both a left-back and a center-back at the same time. Too many times has this thrown off Barcelona’s formation and made the team lose its balance, causing them to suffer from avoidable counter-attacks through the left-wing and the centre. Cortés either needs to shift his focus towards Melanie, who is a significant improvement in almost every area except pace or go shopping for a world-class left-back. The club outgrew Leila’s level a long time ago, and they simply do not have time to waste being held back by players who are not at the level that they need to be.
Speaking of Cortés, he has yet again demonstrated himself to be a weak coach in big matches, something culés have seen on more than a handful of occasions now. This time around, he fielded an extremely predictable starting XI- no formation changes, no surprises. When he does this, he gives his opponents an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. On the other hand, he seems content and even adamant in repeating his mistakes, and then doing nothing to fix them. He also seems apprehensive to own up to his shortcomings as a coach. Poor substitution choices, inadequate reading of the team’s needs and extreme predictability are all things he does that lower the level of Barcelona when it counts the most. As time has passed, Lluís has shown himself to be a more and more limited coach. If this trend continues, Barcelona will have to search elsewhere for a manager who can rise to the occasion, especially given the level of talent at their disposal.
Finally, it goes without saying that the refereeing in the women’s game is a disaster. VAR in major competitions should be one of the top priorities of women’s football, because the two penalties not called in Barcelona’s favor could have easily had a significant impact on the outcome of this match. Alexia practically being tackled in the box by Silvia Meseguer and a handball from Merel van Dongen were not called, despite the fact that van Dongen clearly extended her arm to prevent a cross into the area. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch, a handball was called against Andrea Pereira which gave Atléti the upper hand and nearly sent them through to the semifinals in regular time. Decisions like this are immensely frustrating, but at this point, poor refereeing is not a valid excuse when it’s pretty much a staple of Spanish football. The players should know by now that they need to expect major refereeing mistakes in big games. What really prevented them from winning was their shooting, which, similar to the Wolfsburg match, was absolutely unacceptable. Barcelona recorded 31 shots with 17 on target and had 5.4 expected goals but shockingly scored zero goals from open play. Atleti’s keeper Hedvig Lindahl is one of the greatest keepers to ever do it, but she has not played a match since August of last year. Their only goal came through a miracle free kick from Alexia Putellas, who yet again had to save Barcelona from crumbling.
The possible penalty on Alexia Putellas by Silvia Meseguer
The possible penalty from Merel van Dongen after a cross into the box hits her outstretched arm
It’s difficult to look at this match and not feel discouraged by a loss like this that was completely preventable. It felt exactly the way Wolfsburg did- all the team’s issues came to the forefront at the worst possible time, causing them to crash out of a tournament once again.
The club simply cannot afford to overlook this loss. The Supercopa is a relatively meaningless trophy, but it’s extremely telling that the first time Barcelona was legitimately challenged in a win-or-go-home match this season, they failed to put up any sort of fight. Until these problems are fixed to the point of near perfection, they are not serious about European success. It is not possible to put up a challenge to Lyon with so many glaring weaknesses in a team, let alone the likes of PSG, Chelsea, or Bayern.
Atléti let them off with a warning. The next time they face a bigger and better team, it will be a test whether or not they’re truly prepared to join the ranks of Europe’s top clubs, or whether they’ll continue to settle for being second, third, or fourth-best.