Barcelona celebrated their 2013 league and cup double with a traditional rúa, or open-top bus parade, through the streets of the city. On this occasion, however, it was the likes of Alexia Putellas and Sonia Bermudez who were milking the applause of the fans, having eclipsed the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
While Tito Vilanova’s charges picked up La Liga's title last season, Barcelona’s women’s team, coached by Xavi Llorens, went one better, adding the Copa de la Reina to their league title to complete the best season in their history.
A Barça man through and through, Llorens spent 17 years in charge of the club’s bright young talents, among them one Lionel Messi, a player he described as “Little Maradona”. Then, in 2007, he was asked to take over the club’s women’s team, which had just been relegated and was in need of some fresh inspiration. Talking exclusively to FIFA.com, Llorens explained the rationale behind his appointment.
“They wanted to implement the men’s project with the women’s team,” he said. “They wanted to introduce the Barça approach both on and off the pitch, and they wanted the girls to follow the same philosophy: to play the ball out from the back, move it around and attack at speed. We want to follow the same criteria and maintain Barça’s footballing identity.”
The vastly experienced coach and trainer added: “The aim is not to compete with the men and try to match what they do because they’re light years away. There’s no sense in trying to do that. We have to fight to create our own little space and develop at our own pace."
Warming to his theme, he went on to say: “Fortunately families are different these days and girls face far fewer problems in playing football now than they did before. There’s room for everyone today, though we have to make money to survive and that’s not easy, especially these days, what with the crisis and the cutbacks.”
Thanks to Barcelona’s vast resources the women’s team has the financial support it needs and also the platform for reaching a wider audience: “It’s very hard to get people involved, to engage them. But luckily with this badge to back us up and all the trophies we’ve won lately, we’ve been making much more of an impact.”
That heightened social impact is attracting more and more girls to football academies, which in turn raises standards and increases the chances of unearthing new talents.
“There’s quality in Spain but players have to sacrifice an awful lot,” explained the 55-year-old coach. “I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. They give up so many things and some of them even move abroad without getting the financial rewards they deserve.”
Doing it all again
Llorens is now busy getting ready for next season, preparing his side for a four-team tournament in Calais at the end of the month, when they will take on Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Wolfsburg. Those preparations are aided by the fact that his players make use of the same facilities enjoyed by the men’s first team.
He has also been reinforcing the squad with the assistance of Barcelona’s Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta, who has just brought Neymar to the Camp Nou.
The women’s team star signing of the close season hails not from Brazil but from Serbia. Seventeen-year-old, left-footed attacking midfielder Jelena Cankovic, already a Serbian international, has joined the club from Spartak Subotica, while the Catalans have also signed Chelsea from Sporting Huelva, Willy from Espanyol and Ester Romero from San Gabriel.
Following a campaign in which Barcelona won the domestic double and the Copa de Catalunya for good measure, Llorens is looking for more this coming season, with Europe a prime objective. Making their first appearance in the UEFA Women’s Champions League last year, Barça did not have the luck of the draw, finding themselves paired in the Round of 32 with the mighty Arsenal, who promptly knocked them out.
The winner of eight titles in the last three seasons – four Copas de Catalunya, two Ligas and two Copas de la Reina – coach Llorens is hungry for more: “The objective for next season is to repeat the success we had last year, which won’t be easy at all. And above all we want to make more of an impact in Europe. We’re hoping to have a bit more luck in the draw this year and if we can make it through some of the later rounds, it will really help us attract more support and fans.”
Llorens’ charges deserved their place at the head of Barcelona’s double open-top bus parade in June, when they led the way from Messi and his Liga-winning team-mates on a triumphant tour of the streets of the city.
Reflecting on those celebrations, the coach said: “It was a different and very enjoyable way of getting ourselves known. We hope to be doing it again soon.”