- Alexia Putellas is a key player for Barcelona and Spain
- The 26-year-old midfielder is in the form of her life
- She chats with FIFA.com about a complicated 2020
At the beginning of 2020, things were looking pretty rosy for Alexia Putellas. Barcelona, her club, were running away with the Primera Division Femenina title and Spain, propelled by the attacking midfielder’s strong performances, had finished second in the SheBelieves Cup in the United States.
However, two days after collecting the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award and returning home, the Spanish international, like millions of people around the world, came face-to-face with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to dealing with lockdowns and the suspension of the Spanish championship (Barcelona were nonetheless declared champions), she was then confronted with the news that her friend and fellow footballer Virginia Torrecilla had to undergo surgery for a brain tumour.
Despite these difficulties and the long hiatus, Putellas has ended the year on a particularly high note, one that has given her the desire to achieve even more. The Catalonia native spoke to FIFA.com about the challenges of playing in the middle of a pandemic, the example set by the recovering Torrecilla, and the change in mentality that drives Barça and Spain.
FIFA.com: Alexia, 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. What was the worst aspect of it for you?
Alexia Putellas: The biggest challenge has been the uncertainty. That’s been the worst thing for me and, I suspect, for lots of people. It’s not knowing what’s going to happen from one day to the next. That can be quite complicated. Football is a sport in which you set yourself goals. For example, you can plan an entire week around a game, and then the night before it all falls through and the game ends up being suspended. Psychologically speaking, uncertainty is the trickiest thing to deal with. It’s draining.
You went from enjoying a rather successful SheBelieves Cup with Spain to having to stay home for several months. How was that experience?
We were in the USA, and I remember a match where there were 20,000 fans in attendance. When it was over, we were shaking hands with people in the crowd. My mum sent me a video and asked me, “What are you doing?” I responded, “There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?” She was in Spain, and I remember her saying to me, “You’ve got no idea what’s coming.” We travelled home, and two days later a state of emergency was declared and we were all under lockdown.
Do you think that, despite winning the league and reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, the pandemic has robbed you of what could have been a phenomenal season?
Yes, I do think that. This is football and things can change in the blink of an eye, but from how the season was developing at club and national-team level, everything just felt so good. Seeing from the inside how it was all panning out, the year promised to be absolutely terrific. And suddenly, well, we know what happened, and it was all over.
The illness suffered by your friend Virginia Torrecilla, who has been your team-mate in the national set-up for so many years, must have been another tough blow in a difficult year. How did you hear the news?
Everything happened so fast. We were each in our own houses during lockdown, and I was sent a message by Lola Gallardo, the Lyon and Spain goalkeeper, because the next day was when they were going to operate on Virginia. She told me, “You’re not going to believe what’s happening – call me when you can.”
When she explained, I went as white as a sheet. And then I spoke to Virginia. That night was a bit difficult, truth be told. Virginia is a role model for how she’s managing and how she’s doing, which I think are closely related, at the end of the day.
Until Virginia returns to the national squad, you’re going to wear her No14 jersey. How did that idea come about?
As soon as I could, I went to Madrid to see her. We talked about the national team, because we’ve played together for Spain for many years now, about the UEFA U-17 Championship we won when we were younger, and other things like that. And I told her that it was going to be strange being at a national camp without her. Then we talked about how her jersey number had to be worn by someone, because the numbering runs from 1 to 23, and I said, “Come on, I’ll look after it till you recover – that way, you’ll have to come back as soon as possible.” She also said that, since someone had to wear it, it might as well be me.
Barça have yet to drop a point in the new Primera Division season. You’ve spent about a third of your life on the club’s books, so you’re well-placed to assess the development over the past two seasons. What would you say has been the key factor?
I think what’s changed most is the mentality. If we’ve managed to improve so much, it’s down to the winning mindset we had even when we weren’t winning the league, because we’d gone a good few years without doing so. The fact that the club didn’t back down from their goals and maintained their confidence in us was important. And now they’re beginning to reap the rewards. Not in terms of European trophies just yet, of course, but there’s a real feeling that we can compete with anyone now.
Something similar has happened with the national team, whose results and performances have markedly improved over the past couple of years. Have you noticed that your opponents have been paying you more respect?
I don’t know about respect – at the end of the day, what our opponents think of us doesn’t make much difference. But I feel that, and this happens at Barça too, whoever is in front of you is there to compete, and that comes from our mentality of not settling for simply winning a match, but trying to achieve more and continuing to improve. Whenever you stop making progress, your level starts to drop. That’s how I see things.
Spain just need one more point to book their spot at the UEFA Women’s EURO. With the postponement of the tournament till 2022, there will be more time to prepare. What do the team need to give themselves a chance of making a significant impact at the competition?
First off, we have to qualify, of course, and to make a real impact, which is our aim, we have to keep working hard to improve every aspect of our game, to strive for excellence. That said, that alone is not going to guarantee that we get results. That’s football. But we have to do everything in our power, and that means making the most of each training camp and each match. Hopefully that’ll help us to be ready when the time comes.
You’re playing some of the best football of your life – everything you hit is going in, and you’ve scored some real gems. How important is confidence, and what aspects of your game would you like to improve?
I’m one of those people who thinks that confidence is everything. A confident player is completely different from one lacking in confidence. As for what I need to improve, well, everything. I’d like to become a much more complete player. I’ll give you an example: if I get a chance to score, I tell myself I must put it away. If I’ve got two headers to win, I must win both. If I’m faced with a one-on-one in defence, I must steal the ball back. These are just little goals you give yourself, and if you win all of them, then that’s going to make you a much better player.
Finally, do you have a wish for 2021?
I really hope that things can go back to the way they were before, which I really miss, both from a professional and personal point of view. That’s all I ask for.