May 27, 2024

Aitana Bonmati talks ‘Barcelona DNA’, press, UWCL Finals

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BARCELONA, Spain – Everything went so fast Aitana Bonmati that the Barcelona Voted fifth best player in the world at this year’s Ballon d’Or, the midfielder has had little time to appreciate the magnitude of her accomplishments.

On Saturday she plays her fourth Champions League final in five years. Last season, on their way to the final they lost to Lyons, Barca twice broke the attendance record in women’s football. 91,553 spectators watched the quarter-final victory against the team real Madrid at the Camp Nou, with 91,648 spectators in attendance for their semi-final win over Wolfsburg, whom they meet again in this weekend’s showpiece in Eindhoven.

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Domestically, this Barca side can only be described as ‘conquering everything’. They have won the League F title four times in a row, two under previous coach Lluis Cortes and two more under his successor Jonatan Giraldez, and have enjoyed a 62-game winning streak during that time. However, after winning that year’s title, that streak ended in a draw Seville and then they lost their unbeaten streak against Madrid CFF last week, 64 games completed.

This success had repercussions. Players like Bonmati and double Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas have become idols for a new generation of fans. Bonmati is one of six players whose face adorns the huge façade in front of Camp Nou’s main stand. She can no longer walk the streets of Barcelona unnoticed at a time when commercial and media engagement has soared.

“I almost didn’t realize it, but now that I think about it, I realize it [my life] “It has changed, but it happened so quickly that you don’t realize it,” Bonmati told ESPN ahead of Saturday’s final.

Bonmati, 25, was never prepared for this level of attention. An only child from what she considers “not a footballer” family, she originally played basketball. At 5’7″, her talent could probably always be better used elsewhere, and after a kick in the schoolyard around the age of six she felt an instant connection to football.

She played in local boys’ teams until she joined Barca when she was 14. Even then, the 50km bus journey from their hometown outside of Barcelona to the club’s training complex was a world away from Camp Nou. Her mother, the only driver in the family, suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, so public transport was the only option. Eating her dinner on the go, it was after midnight when she returned from practice after a day of school.

There was no connection to the first team and no real route to a professional career. Even her senior bow as a fake #9 in the Copa de la Reina in 2016 feels a long way from where she is now.

“When I made my debut I could never have imagined a Champions League final, the amazing fans we have that fill the Camp Nou and become idols,” she says. “It just didn’t happen before. It didn’t happen in my first years with the team either.”

“I think the click or the moment I realized things were changing was when we won the first Champions League.” [in 2021]. That was an important moment. When you win, you get more recognition. That got a lot of people on board. From that moment everything went faster.

Barca’s progress, even if backed by investments, seems organic. There is a defined style shared between the men’s team and the youth teams that easily translates to the women’s team. There is a prototype player – think Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta from the men’s team – that the club is developing and Bonmati, who is graceful with the ball, all touches and technique, fits into that pattern.

“I’m certainly one of the examples,” she admits. “I’ve been at the club for 11 years and have grown here since I was young. I didn’t go and come back. I went through the whole process.”

“My idols were men, Xavi, Iniesta and, when I was older, Pep Guardiola because of the years he was [Barca] Trainers were so pleasant. It’s not just about girls, it’s about boys too. This is important. If I had male idols, why can’t they have female idols? I think that’s positive because they experience equality from a young age.

“I played in the same game [Barca] way for many years. I’m a player who plays in a key position. In every Barca team, the midfielders are so important that in that sense I feel like a benchmark that carries them [club’s] DNA in me.”

The term “Barca DNA” is on everyone’s lips. But what does that actually mean for Bonmati’s role in the team?

“It really takes a lot of things,” she adds. “It seems easy, but understanding football is not that easy. You have to have it.” Break, the space management, knowing where your teammates and your opponents are. It is important to constantly be aware of what is going on behind you and around you. It’s about knowing how to manage the moments during a game: what does the team need? When does the rhythm need to speed up or slow down? Should we change the game? It’s a combination of things. It’s about understanding football and of course having the appropriate technology and resources that you can support as a team player.”

Look at Bonmati, who can be as stubborn as she is talented, and you’ll see that she has all these qualities. With the injured Putellas absent this season, the team has focused on her. She responded with 19 goals in 36 appearances, including five in the Champions League, as well as seven assists, which are the best in the competition.

She’s happier playing in a more advanced midfield position – “I like creating and being close to the box,” she admits – and individual awards could follow if Barca win a second European trophy this weekend.

“I think everyone would love to win the Ballon d’Or,” she says. “But it depends on your achievements. I focus on myself, what I can do better and how I can help the team. My goal is to keep improving in the areas where I need it and to be better than last year. From there I’m sure good things are to come.

But being able to win Champions League and Ballons d’Or on a regular basis obviously increases the pressure on every player and that was the challenging aspect of Barca and Bonmati’s success. The demands are now sky high. Was she mentally prepared?

“In elite [sport]”It’s hard times,” she says. “All elite players have gone through difficult moments because the pressure is so high, the demands on yourself are high and you’re always in the spotlight.” You want to play well in every game, but at the end of the day you’re human and you have bad ones days. You suffer because you want to do your best, but I don’t think it’s ever been too much for me. I always say that the worst pressure is the pressure I put on myself. I’m a very self demanding person.

“It’s true, we’re very focused on that and being at the club we are and having done what we’ve done, we have a duty to win and play well. The day we lose or draw is a disaster. You have to learn.” I have to live with it, but it’s normal in this job and I accept that responsibility. Barca may have lost last week as their two-year unbeaten streak in Liga F came to an end, but with the title secured it wasn’t a disaster.

“Losing always hurts because we’re not used to it,” adds Bonmati. “But if you think about it with a cool head, you’ve already won the league and without a fixed goal, without wanting to, the body and the mind separate. It’s more mental than anything. You have to allow yourself to lose every now and then.” and then. We are not robots.”

Defeats are more common in Europe. Barca have lost two of their last three finals, in 2019 and 2022, to Lyon and have been defeated away from home Wolfsburg And Bayern Munich in the last 14 months. With fierce competition across the continent, it will be difficult to match Lyon’s streak of six Champions League wins in the past seven years, even if Barca are aiming for just that.

“Before, Lyons “Were the queens of women’s football, but now it’s more balanced,” says Bonmati. “There we are, the German teams, ChelseaLyons and Paris St Germain … it changes all the time. We’ve been lucky to be in the finals for the past few years, but who knows, next year we might not be. You must give value [to four finals in five years].

“We are used to it [reaching finals] And the day we don’t make it will be failure, but that’s not the case. It takes a lot to reach the final. I hope we can do more, but it’s more balanced now and that’s positive for women’s football.

“[Staying on top] It’s about reinventing yourself every year. There is a lot of tactical work now. In this sense, the level is constantly improving [the teams] know each other well. Depending on the players you have, you can do one or the other. I think this year we’re more direct with the players we have in certain moments than in previous seasons.

“Our style will always remain the same, but there are facets, movements and tactical concepts that change. It helps you improve and keep moving forward so teams don’t find a way to stop you.”

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