Lluis Cortes, in the words of his players
Lluis Cortes is a nominee for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach
He's made massive progress with Barcelona in just two years
Three of his players tell us about him
It is January 2019 and Barcelona Femeni can see the Spanish league title slipping away from them once again. They have gone three seasons without lifting it, and the pressure is growing on a team with the biggest budget in Spain but which is failing to reflect its supposed superiority on the pitch.
It is then that the club promotes Lluis Cortes from assistant and analyst to head coach. A Barcelona man through and through, Cortes quietly steers the ship back on course. Though the league title evades them in that first season, his side still make history by reaching the UEFA Women’s Champions League final for the first time.
Then, in 2020, in a season shaped by the pandemic and the early conclusion of the league, Cortes secures the title the club has been waiting for, converting Barça into the dominant force in Spanish women’s football, a team with one objective above all else: to win the Champions League. After coming close to reaching the final in August, they are back this season with ambitions undimmed.
But what kind of coach is Lluis Cortes? Answering that question and revealing what makes him tick are three of his leading players: the captain and former Spain international Marta Torrejon, current Spain player Mapi Leon and Norway international Caroline Graham Hansen, a nominee for The Best FIFA Women’s Player.
“Lluis is very down to earth, approachable,” explains Torrejon. “He tries to get close and understand what problems there might be in the team, which helps us to feel important and valued.”
Leon and Graham Hansen echo that view. “Although he’s a coach and that’s his status, he always takes an interest in us,” said the Spanish centre-half. The Norwegian star highlighted the atmosphere he has created in the team: “He knows that one big reason why the team works is that the players feel secure, and he’s helped create this feeling that the coaching staff and players are one big family.”
As far as Leon is concerned, this is a key quality. “He is very demanding, which I really like. You might win a game 6-1 and conceded that goal when you’ve switched off or taken things easy, and he gets really angry. But I get really angry too, so that’s something we’ve got in common (laughs).”
Recalling a moment when the two clashed, she said: “I can lose my temper sometimes and I remember once when I tried to thread an impossible pass between two players. It was a training session, but I tried it all the same and threw a nutmeg in for good measure. He stopped the session and started shouting at me, really loudly, which was unusual for him. I thought he’d gone over the top and I didn’t try to thread any more passes through after that for the rest of the session. I just played simple passes. But, of course, he didn’t want that either and there was a bit of a scene. We sorted it all out quickly, though,” she added with a laugh.
Graham Hansen said Cortes’ exacting standards have been key to her development as a player: “Since I came to Barça [she is now in her second season] he’s really helped me improve my skills. He’s given me the confidence to take my game to the next level, and he’s not afraid to demand that the players and the team keep on improving and keep on winning.”
Why should he win The Best?
Torrejon and Leon, who were already part of the team when Cortes took over, are in no doubt as to the answer.
“Lluis has had a very important role in the team’s growth since taking over. It’s absolutely vital that players and coach are on the same page and I think it’s always been that way since he took charge of the team. We share the same philosophy and mindset. We’ve achieved big things and the best is yet to come.”
Leon has already cast her vote for him: “How could I not? When he was nominated, I thought, ‘That’s great!’ It’s something we can be proud of, just as we are when a team-mate is nominated, right? It’s great that the people you spend so much time with and share so many moments with are rewarded for their work.”
So will Lluis Cortes win The Best? As far as his players are concerned, he already is.