Inspired by Ronaldinho and disciple of a Johan Cruyff’s football, Lieke Martens arrived at Barça Femení in 2017 to fulfil a dream and to revolutionise the blaugranas too.
Lieke Martens, the former FIFA Best Women’s Player of the Year and World Cup finalist has been one of the standout performers for Barça Femení since her return from a toe injury. She followed it up with a sensational curler against France during the Tournoi de France. She has displayed some jaw-dropping performance since coming back and is often and deservedly called as the Queen by the blaugrana faithful.
The 27-year-old might disagree due to her humility, but she is one of the stars of the women’s game. Quick and powerful, the forward was thrust into the public eye with her performances three years ago, as the Netherlands won the European Championship on home soil. Her Cruyff turn, back to goal, to take out two Belgium players, leaving one on the floor, as she drove forward at Euro 2017, is a taste of her ability to trick and turn her way out of the tightest gaps.
Named player of the tournament, she then joined Barcelona from Rosengard. On the back of that, Martens who has already won over 100 caps for her country was named UEFA’s female player of the year for 2017, going on stage to collect her award alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. She also won the FIFA Best Player prize for that same, memorable year. As she later admitted: “My life changed radically after the Euro”.
Growing up, Martens never dreamed about playing for the Netherlands or being named the best player in the world. She only dreamed about playing for Ajax – the men’s team, because that’s all that was there to dream for when she was younger. Wherever the young Martens went, she had a ball with her, always playing either with her brothers or that always-faithful companion: the wall. Born in the small town of Bergen, she had to play on boys teams until she was 16 simply because there weren’t girls teams around. She was called into the U–19 national team at the age of 15, and she has to move to Amsterdam alone to be a part of the team.
“I started playing football at the age of five and I don’t think I’ve stopped since. I wanted to be like Ronaldinho and tried to copy his tricks in my back garden. To have been able to wear the same FC Barcelona colours as my hero still makes me smile every time I think about it. Football has become my life and I want to share that life with you”Lieke Martens
Lieke Martens began her career in her native Holland with Heerenveen before moving on to VVV-Venlo. The forward then played in Belgium where she won the Super Cup with Standard Liege in 2012. Martens then went on to play in Germany with Duisburg and in Sweden with Goteborg and then Rosengärd where she won the Cup and Super Cup in 2016. After being the top scorer at the U–19 Euros in 2010, Martens debuted with the senior national team soon after in 2011. Then in 2015, at the age of 22, she scored the Netherlands’ first-ever Women’s World Cup goal.
Lieke Martens on Johan Cruyff
There are certain similarities with the late Cruyff in the way she plays, and there is also the Barcelona connection – Johan Cruyff played for Barça before revolutionising the club in his time as the coach at the Camp Nou.
“I have a lot of respect for Cruyff. What he has done, he changed a lot. He changed things at Barça and he also changed a lot of things in Holland, it’s amazing what he has done for football”Lieke martens
Martens needed time to adapt after arriving in Barcelona, where she has also had some injury problems, but she quickly settled into the Barcelona way of playing, a style that is Cruyff’s legacy, the pillar of Dutch success.
Signing for Barcelona
With 20 goals in 29 games for Rosengard, she could have had her pick of Europe’s top sides, but Barcelona were the ones to sign her. With the Catalans’ investment in their women’s team a new development, the signing of Martens was a statement of intent. Barça scouts with the Femení are one of the best, I would say. Signing Martens, Caroline Graham Hansen, Asisat Oshoala and Jennifer Hermoso would not have happened without a proper plan.
It should be remembered that Martens stood out at Barça in 2017 after winning the European Championship and individual awards such as the Best Player in Europe, or The Best. Her fame led her to become the first transfer for which Barcelona paid in women’s football, thus demonstrating the great commitment to the Dutch lioness, who responded with 28 goals in her first two seasons.
“I signed before the Euros. For me, it was really important to sign before, so I was clear in my head and free for the Euros. I am happy to have signed a contract with FC Barcelona. I have always been a great follower of the Club and it is a great honour for me to now be a Barça player. I played against Barça some months ago in the Women’s Champions League and I liked their style of football a lot. They are a very technical and tactical team with great players. I hope to win trophies with Barça and, of course, do well in the Women’s Champions League”.Lieke Martens, on signing for Barça
Despite being right-footed, Martens prefers to play on the left-wing where she can take advantage of her technical ability and dribbling skills. She is a danger for opposing defences thanks to her pace and her eye for goal. The winger is an expert dribbler, a superb reader of the game and is able to dictate the rhythm of the play. She is very lethal at her position, often sprinting down the sideline into open space, crossing the ball and beating defenders in one-on-ones. She can score and play a role in defence as well. Being well disciplined, she can push through physical pain when needed. She usually plays near the sidelines but occasionally moves to the middle of the pitch.
Martens, winning the 2016/17 Best Women’s Football Player | Photo by Valery Hache / AFP via Getty Images
Lieke Martens has a strong penchant for both creating and scoring goals. At times she can be also used as strikers due to her exceptional finishing skills. She is very fast with commendable speed and acceleration before delivering crosses to the striker. She has that technical astuteness to build up the play with the midfielders to then cut through the defence.
Unpredictability, trickery and creativity
Being unpredictable is one of the main aspects of Martens’ game, as she has a wide variety of ways to get in behind the backline:
- Will she go straight or will she cut in?
- Is she going to shoot or thread the ball through?
- Will she cross or dribble into the box?
It is always going to be guessing game for the opposition defenders when they go against Lieke.
Positional awareness and discipline
She is a physically demanding player in the position on the field. She can jog back and forth across the pitch and sprint long distances. As a winger, she finds the best positions to receive a pass or a through ball from teammates. Very often, she positions herself out wide by the touchline creating spaces for the midfield to exploit.
She has several options for advancing during attacks:
- She constantly moves in deeper to receive the ball at her feet
- Running in behind along the touchline to receive a lobbed ball
- Using overlapping runs with Leila Ouahabi
- Quick one-touch exchanges with Alexia Putellas or Leila to advance upfield
It is difficult so see Martens losing possession inside the opposition box, she defines the attack and understands when to run through the defence and when she needs to retain possession.
She can constantly beat players down the sideline and run into space. She has that dribbling ability which is deadly. She can cross the ball when she receives passes near the sideline or head straight for goal when she makes runs towards the middle of the pitch.
At times she will just wait for her time in the sidelines looking for good opportunities to dribble. She consistently takes on opposing wingers or defenders in one-on-ones, where she tends to come out victorious.
Crossing ability and hunger for possession
Her left-footed crosses are of pure quality and can be watched in the repeat mode. If we say, Messi has that golden left foot, then Lieke has the golden crosses in women’s football. No matter how many times she is kicked, harried, fouled, she always want there to have the final word. She picks herself up off the floor for the umpteenth time and will demand for the ball and drive the team forward with her wizardry on the wing.
How well she has fared this season
Martens started the season by announcing her contract extension with Barcelona until 2022. But due to the bad luck with the toe injury, that she picked up during the season and got significantly worse during the Women’s World Cup, Barça missed Lieke Martens this season until late December. The Dutchwoman started the season injured and, although she joined the group in November, she was not at 100% but still managed to tally with only 8 assists and 2 goals in 10 games played so far. The numbers were far from those produced by the Dutch star. Since her return, she has produced some fine displays like the one against Atlético de Madrid in the Super Cup.
Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen are two daggers from the flanks for Lluís Cortés | Photo by Vergard Wivestad Grott / Bildbryan via Imago
As things stand, we can see some fine partnership building between Caroline Graham Hansen and Martens. Two of the best wingers in the same team and if they can get the partnership clicking then another Champions League final is on the cards. Martens is a big game player and she lives up to the reputation in high profile matches just like she did against Atlético with a fine display scoring a goal and assisting another with a man of the match performance.
Martens on a young girl chasing the dreams
Lieke Martens is one of those athletes whom most of the young girls in the Netherlands look up to. From being a girl who dreamt to become a professional footballer, she has become the idol of many. And she has written her own legacy in the history book of women’s football. She continues to inspire and make the younger generation believe what they can achieve if they follow their dreams. From being a fan of FC Barcelona to becoming a facade of Barça herself shows how determined she was with following her dreams.
“Dreams are funny things, aren’t they? Why do we dream what we dream? For instance, you could say this past year has been a dream come true for me. Winning the Euros at home in Holland and becoming the player of the tournament. Signing for Barcelona, my favourite club. Sharing a plane with Lionel Messi”Lieke Martens
What to expect from her for the rest of the season
Once things get normal and football is back, so will Lieke. She would be another factor deciding the outcome of Barça Femení. Hopefully, she gets enough rest and remains injury-free so we can enjoy the Dutch maestro in full flow with her array of trickery and long-range bangers.
And becoming the first women’s player to be on the poster of Camp Nou, she is undoubtedly the Queen of FC Barcelona.
Personal quotes from one of the editors of Football Engine: “Lieke is one of the players that made me fall in love with (women’s) football again. Her grace, technique and first touch are something special. Her elegancy on the ball is something you rarely see in the game (men or women). At the same time, she’s got the pace and power to beat defenders one on one”.
FCB Femeni’s January Player of the Month: Alexia Putellas
Another month down, another couple of wins for FCB Femeni. The team is in smooth sailing towards their second consecutive league title with an otherworldly wins-only season, including 73 goals scored and only 3 conceded. January was a rough month for the Catalan team, however, as they faced multiple match cancellations due to both a freak snowstorm and COVID-19 positives alongside an early Supercopa Femenina exit. Aside from the many downs, there were plenty of positives. FCB Femeni played a history-making match at the Camp Nou, the team’s first competitive match in the iconic stadium, and they dominated in a resounding 5-0 win against local rivals Espanyol Femeni. Later in the month, they smashed Rayo Vallecano Femenino 7-0, and at the end of January, they won the second-ever El Clasico Femenino against Real Madrid, scoring 4 at the Estadi Johan Cruyff.
Given the many iconic moments in this month alone, it was never going to be an easy choice. Plenty of players showed up big this month. Asisat Oshoala seems to have returned to form after a rough few months, scoring four goals and having many quality performances aside from her goalscoring. Melanie Serrano has had one of her best seasons in recent memory, and her performances this month were no exception. But if there was one player who came in clutch and made history, it was Alexia Putellas. She started the year strongly by being the first-ever woman to score a competitive goal at the Camp Nou. Her free kick in the dying minutes of the Supercopa Femenina saved Barcelona from going out in regular time against Atletico Madrid. At the end of the month, she drew first blood in the second-ever Clasico, imposing herself against Los Blancos with relative ease. Aside from her goalscoring, she once again had multiple dominant performances in terms of her assisting, passing, and attacking play. Once again, Alexia Putellas is deservedly our player of the month for January.
Primera Iberdrola – RCD Espanyol Femeni (Camp Nou) (6/1/2021): 5-0
• Minutes: 90
• 1 Goal
January 6th marked a historic day for Barcelona as they entered the Camp Nou pitch for the first time after 50 years. The Blaugranas started the game on a bright note with Alexia dictating the play. At the 4th minute of the game, Alexia had a tame shot at the goal following a cut-back from Melanie Serrano. As the shots racked up in the beginning minutes, it looked like Barca would follow this season’s pattern of scoring an early goal. However, Barca were devoid of any clear cut chances after that, and Espanyol started to grow defensively as time went on.
The second big chance fell to Alexia Putellas in the 43rd minute after a cutback this time from Patri following a beautiful couple of moves inside the box. Again, Alexia’s shot was too weak with her right foot and it found the hands of the goalkeeper. However, Alexia made up for her misses when the turning point of the game came in the 45th minute. During a stoppage-time corner, Alexia raced past the marker to head the ball into the far corner of the net, giving Barca some much-needed breathing room going into the half-time. Barca cruised to victory in the second half with a scoreline of 5-0 after goals from Melanie Serrano, Marta Torrejon, Lieke Martens, and Ana Maria Crnogocevic, which ended any hopes of a comeback for the local rivals.
Spanish Supercopa Femenino: Semi Finals – Atletico Madrid Femenino (A) (13/1/2021): 1-1 ( 3-1 PT)
• Minutes: 120
• Goals: 1
Barca played Atléti in the Spanish Supercup semifinal on January 13th. Both the teams were going into the game after Spain’s freak snowstorm, “Filomena,” canceled all the league’s Madrid-based weekend matches. Atlético Madrid announced the re-hiring of manager Dani Gonzalez on the eve of the matchday, sparking a lot of excitement going into the game. The game followed a similar pattern to that of the one played in August when Barça defeated Las Colchoneras to clinch a spot in the UWCL semifinals. As expected, Atleti defended with 9 women at the back and played long balls to Ludmila whenever they had a chance to counter.
Even though Barcelona dominated the game, they failed to score and paid for their lack of effectiveness when Atléti were awarded a penalty in the 66th minute. Merel van Dongen then converted it to give Madrid the advantage. It looked like everything was lost until the 90th minute when Alexia was brought down at the edge of the box. Although it looked like Barcelona was going to lose in regular time, the midfielder had other ideas and took matters into her own hands. Alexia scored a sublime free-kick past a diving Hedvig Lindahl who, until then, was keeping Barca at bay for 90 excellent minutes. In the end, it was not enough for Barca as they paid the price for not converting their chances, also being kept down by some harsh refereeing decisions not going their way. The Catalans ended up losing to Atléti on penalty kicks and were knocked out of the tournament, thereby missing their first possible title of the year.
Primera Iberdrola – Rayo Vallecano (H) (20/1/2021): 7-0
• Minutes: 72
• Goals: 2
FCB Femeni came into the game after their tough semifinal loss to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercup, hoping to get back into their rhythm. Barça scored an early goal inside 5 minutes after Alexia’s header was parried into the feet of Jennifer Hermoso. After the first goal, it was one-way traffic for the home side as they punctured Rayo’s defense with another 3 goals- Alexia being the catalyst of each of them.
Alexia scored her first goal of the game following Melanie’s cross. She stayed in position and gracefully chipped over the keeper’s head to double Barca’s lead. She remained a key part of the midfield in tracking back and dictating the entirety of the half and scored her second goal following a well-worked team move. In the 40th minute of the game, Asisat Oshoala was sent through by Jennifer Hermoso, and Asisat teed up Caroline Graham-Hansen to score from close range. However, Hansen’s shot was blocked and the ball fell into the path of Alexia for an easy tap-in. Barça easily swept past mid-table Rayo to remain top of the table after the matchday.
Primera Iberdrola – Real Madrid (H) (31/1/2021): 4-1
• Minutes: 87
• Goals: 1
• Second Assists:1
Barça faced their new league rival Real Madrid Femenino in the last game of the month, 11 days after their match against Rayo due to multiple match cancellations. This was expected to be a totally different game compared to their first encounter, as Los Blancos have grown into the league and were occupying the second-place position at the time. All the match previews indicated that Real Madrid were in great form, recording only 3 losses in 15 games, with a much more balanced and cohesive team than their first game against the Blaugranas. Additionally, if the team from Spain’s capital won at the Estadi Johan Cruyff, they would’ve gone to the top of the league.
The match started with Real Madrid and Barcelona both going on the offense and trying to assert themselves. Despite Madrid entering the match bravely and attacking well, Barcelona scored first just 14 minutes into the match. Once again, it was the captain, Alexia Putellas, who kicked it off for the Catalan team. Alexia was intuitive in collecting the ball at the edge of the box and scoring a blistering strike to the top left of the net that Misa Rodriguez struggled to get a hand on. From then, it was a similar pattern as the first Clásico, and Barça advanced to a 3 goal lead by the end of the first half. The match proved that Madrid’s women have improved a lot, but they were never a match to the 2019-20 champions as Barca ran out winners 4-1 at the end of full-time.
When Alexia is fit and firing, there isn’t a way to stop her from creating chances and scoring goals. After her breakout out season last year, she’s continued her form and is having yet another world-class season. Alexia only continues to get better and better, and with a lot of important competitions in the next few months, her performances will be integral to the success of the club.