Barcelona Femení and the Pursuit of Perfection


BARCELONA, Spain — These are the naked statistics of Barcelona Femení’s season to this point. The staff has performed 9 video games in the league. It has gained 9 video games in the league. It has gained them, the truth is, by such a margin that the phrase “won” doesn’t fairly seize it. Barcelona’s first recreation ended, 5-0. So did its second. In its third and fourth video games, it scored eight.

That was solely the begin. The subsequent week, it beat Alavés by 9-1. Late final month, it confronted Real Sociedad, the one staff nonetheless vaguely, theoretically, in its slipstream at the summit of La Liga Fémenina. That completed 8-1. In the center of all that, it discovered time to deconstruct Arsenal, the in any other case unbeaten chief of Britain’s Women’s Super League, too.

Including its two appointments in the Champions League, Barcelona has performed 11 video games this season. It has conceded three objectives — one every to Alavés, Real Sociedad and Arsenal — and it has scored a scarcely plausible 60. Its coach, Jonatan Giráldez, has weighed all of that proof earlier than drawing his conclusion: Barcelona actually ought to have scored extra objectives.

The pure assumption is perhaps that he’s, if not joking, then maybe exaggerating for impact, however Giráldez is sort of severe. In his thoughts, it’s a easy equation: You simply have to position the numbers in correct context. “We have generated more than 200 chances,” Giráldez mentioned. “So if you look at it like that, we have not scored very many.”

This is a supervisor’s job, of course: to demand fixed enchancment from gamers, to refuse them the luxurious of resting on their laurels, to eschew the very concept of being happy. “That’s what coaches are like,” mentioned Marta Torrejón, the skilled Barcelona defender, “always wanting more.”

Giráldez’s reasoning, although, is fairly extra pragmatic. He was promoted to go coach final summer time after the surprising departure of his predecessor, Lluís Cortés, solely weeks after the membership had gained not simply the Spanish league and its home cup but additionally its first Champions League title, crushing Chelsea, 4-0, in the remaining.

Giráldez, 29, was given the job forward of a cluster of different candidates — at the very least 20 coaches from round the world speculatively despatched of their résumés — primarily as a continuity candidate, somebody who knew “our ideas and our identity,” as the membership’s sporting director, Markel Zubizarreta, put it.

To Giráldez, the job is a substantial privilege and a continuing strain. Barcelona, now the foremost staff in girls’s soccer, has requirements to take care of and expectations to satisfy. He doesn’t ask for extra from his gamers out of rote intuition; he does it as a result of he is aware of that what seems to be a slight fissure at this stage of the season may show a deadly fault line in a while.

“We have conceded two goals from set pieces this season,” Giráldez mentioned. (The third, scored by Real Sociedad’s Sanni Franssi, got here from a counterattack.) “One from a corner, one from a free kick. When you win a game, 8-1, that goes unnoticed, but we have to improve that, because when we play in the final rounds of the Champions League, against Lyon or Paris St.-Germain or Wolfsburg, that action could send us home.

“If we have 25 chances in a game, the goalkeeper saves 13, and 12 go wide. In a more balanced game, we would not have so many chances, so we have to make sure we take more of them. We have to work out why we did not score more goals: We got nine against Alavés, but I had the sensation that we could have scored 15. Why didn’t we?”

It is essential, he shortly provides, to acknowledge that it is extremely arduous to attain eight objectives in a recreation, to understand and to have a good time that. And then demand even higher.

“You can win, 8-0, and still have a lot of things to improve,” Giráldez mentioned. “My job is to detect what we have done badly and modify it. It is about improving every detail.”

Those particulars are usually not simple to search out at Barcelona, not today. In the eight years since Torrejón joined the membership, it has modified nearly past recognition. “It is like a different place,” she mentioned. “From zero to 100.”

When Torrejón arrived, coaching periods nonetheless happened in the night, as a result of the gamers both attended faculty or went to work throughout the day. Already a fixture on Spain’s nationwide staff again then, she had joined on the promise that Barcelona would flip skilled. There was discuss of vital funding, attracting a sponsor, constructing a profitable staff.

When the transfer got here, in 2015, it felt “like luxury,” Torrejón mentioned: arriving at Barcelona’s coaching advanced in the morning, having breakfast collectively as a staff, having fun with entry to the membership’s medical companies and its conditioning employees and its state-of-the-art services. Still, although, “thinking about winning the Champions League was impossible,” she mentioned.

Barcelona didn’t select, in contrast to many of its friends, to make use of the monetary clout of its mum or dad membership to speed up its progress. “For 10 million euros,” or about $11.5 million, “you could buy a team of the best players in the world,” Zubizarreta mentioned. “There are teams out there that are projects based on doing that. Lyon has done it. Chelsea has done it. Manchester City has an English core but they have done it, too.”

Barcelona, he mentioned, wished to do it in a different way. “The best thing we can do is be ourselves,” Zubizarreta mentioned. Instead of upgrading its squad with a patchwork of superstars, it determined to permit the gamers it needed to flourish, to construct a staff that was “distinctively Barcelona.”

Progress was halting. “It is very hard to climb the ladder organically,” Torrejón mentioned. There was a Champions League semifinal look in 2017, however for 3 years in succession the staff completed second in the league to Atlético Madrid. In that, maybe, lay the solely conceptual distinction between the membership’s males’s and girls’s divisions. “The men’s team not winning trophies to invest in the future would not, maybe, be the best-received news,” Zubizarreta mentioned.

The reward appeared to return in 2019. Barcelona completed second in the league, once more, however certified for its first Champions League remaining. It met Lyon, the sport’s equal of the Harlem Globetrotters, in Budapest, and was swept away in the first half.

“It was a mirror,” Zubizarreta mentioned. “We could see how far we had to go.”

As quickly as he returned from Hungary, he sought out the membership’s conditioning consultants. There was no scarcity of expertise, however he knew that Barcelona’s gamers needed to be fitter, sooner and stronger to compete with the highest golf equipment in Europe.

What adopted, in accordance with Giráldez, an assistant coach at the time, was a “brutal” change in the means Barcelona skilled. “We could improve quickly at the start,” he mentioned. But the additional up the curve the gamers bought, the more durable they needed to work even for the smallest positive aspects.

That method turned so embedded in the membership that it has endured even what may need gave the impression to be its apogee: the treble acquired below Cortés final season, capped by a destruction of Chelsea in the Champions League remaining that echoed Barcelona’s personal expertise in opposition to Lyon two years beforehand.

And so, even now, Giráldez can watch his staff, champions of every little thing, scoring 5 and six and eight and 9 in opposition to its opponents, with its objective distinction — in the league alone — of plus 52, and ask for extra. And not solely can his gamers perceive his mild chiding and detailed tape periods, however they’ll additionally admire them.

“The secret is that we are competing with ourselves,” Torrejón mentioned. “You compete with your rival for points or for qualification, but with yourself to be better every day, for your place in the team. That is the biggest struggle: with yourself. The coach might always want more, but we do as a team. We are never satisfied.

“Why be happy with scoring four when you should have scored eight?”