Leon: My blood boils because I hate to lose

  • An undisputed starter in Jorge Vilda’s Spain side

  • Defender assesses team two months out from opener against South Africa

  • France 2019 will be her first FIFA Women’s World Cup™

When she finally hangs up her boots, Mapi Leon hopes to focus her energies on the world of tattooing. However, for the Barcelona defender, who joined the Catalan outfit in what was the first paid transfer (€50,000) in the Spanish women’s game, there is still a lot of football to be played.

For now, she is happy with just those tattoos that adorn her body, such as the one on her throat that says, ‘looks can be deceiving’.

Appointed team captain for the first time at the recent Algarve Cup, where La Roja finished seventh, Mapi spoke of her excitement at what will be her maiden World Cup and the country’s second, after Canada 2015. Also up for discussion was her love of football and drawing, as well as the type of player she is and would like to be on the pitch.

Mapi at a glance

  • 23 years old, left-footed

  • Position: centre-back (for Barça) or left-back (for Spain)

  • International since September 2016

  • Starter in six of eight games during World Cup qualifying

  • Attributes: aggression, good anticipation and ability to beat players, adept at crossing into box

With just two months to go before France 2019, where does the team still need to improve?

In terms of fine-tuning, there’s a lot, because you can always improve. We intend to be stronger defensively and give up fewer chances, because the more opportunities you give a team, the more likely it is they’ll score. We can also work on our fluidity and link-up play to create more chances of our own. A lot has been said on this topic but what perhaps we really lacked at the last EURO were goals. (Ed’s note: Spain fell in the quarter-finals having won a solitary game) The more openings you create, the better chance you have of scoring.

Your Group B rivals are Germany, China PR and South Africa. Who worries you the most?

We’re in a hard group. We already faced Germany and it was intense (a 0-0 friendly last November). Those kinds of games are decided by tiny details. South Africa have players who run a lot and ask a lot of you. The key thing in all the matches will be to have possession. If we don’t have it, teams will surely make us suffer. We’ll need to stay calm and patient then wait for the exact moment.

Spain - South Africa8 JuneLe Havre
Germany - Spain12 JuneValenciennes
China PR - Spain17 JuneLe Havre

How’s the experience of being captain?

I wasn’t expecting it! It’s like a bonus and a vote of confidence in you, though also a responsibility. Some people prefer to focus on their own game, but if you like it and feel up to it, then it’s great.

I think that it’s out on the pitch where I can contribute most. It’s something I can’t get away from: my blood boils, because I hate to lose. Therefore, I try to manage those who are more tired or help those who need it. With me, for example, if someone’s shouting at me, I feel like I engage even more.

A player to take note of

On the pitch, Mapi is clear about two things: the first is that communication with team-mates is key to avoiding misunderstandings. The second is her preference for opponents to be very mindful of her. “As a defender my job is recover possession and defend, so I prefer to be one of those who gets noticed and of whom opponents say, ‘Crikey, this one’s going to be all over me for the entire game’.”

Drawing is your other passion and you never go anywhere without a sketchbook. Did that love come before or after you started playing football?

When I was little, I imagined I’d like to paint, but when you like football... well you like it. In the end I wanted to do what my elder brother did, and he played football. Sometimes a team-mate will say, 'hey, why don’t you draw me?' (laughs). For me, portraits are the hardest of all, because when you draw a person you also have to capture their essence. I’ve also been asked to do sketches for tattoos, which I like doing as I’d love to dedicate myself to that in the future.

Ink and needle

What was your first tattoo?

It was one I got done on my foot. I put it there so no-one could see it and to stop my parents getting mad at me. I was only 17 at the time.

And the most special one?

I have the dates when my parents and brother were born, as well as a skull that’s on my arm with details of my granddad and my family.

Have you designed any?

I have one on my arm that I did with Angela Sosa when we played together at Atleti (before signing for Barça). It shows two little figures playing with a ball.

What tattoo will you get if you win the World Cup?

When you win a trophy, you get a tattoo of the date, the cup... although I don’t think I’d have the cup tattooed. I’d have to look for something more original (thinks for a while) – maybe the silhouette of the country with the date inside.