BARCELONA — When Jonatan Giráldez first moved to Barcelona from his hometown of Vigo over a decade in the past, he used to take pleasure in walks round Montjuic the place the long-lasting Olympic Stadium, used for the Video games in 1992, is positioned. On the time, he was going by a variety of jobs — as a charity avenue fundraiser, a dessert chef and in malls — to fund his dream of working in soccer.
Lots has modified since then. On Sunday, the Barcelona Femení head coach takes his facet to the 50,000-capacity Olympic Stadium to host Real Madrid in El Clásico.
After finishing numerous teaching programs, Giráldez ultimately landed a job on the Catalan Soccer Federation by way of Espanyol earlier than turning into the ladies’s assistant coach at Barça in 2019. He changed Lluís Cortés after the Blaugrana had received the treble in 2021, together with a first-ever Champions League, and has continued to make the crew even higher, with world-record crowds flocking to Spotify Camp Nou to look at them.
Final season, in addition to successful Liga F for a fourth successive season, they picked up a second Champions League title, coming from 2-0 right down to beat Wolfsburg within the remaining simply eight days after Giráldez had turn into a father for the primary time.
Barça’s success means he cannot take anymore nameless walks across the hilly Montjuic space of the Catalan metropolis. As an alternative of the strain to boost sufficient cash to pay his €800 hire, the 31-year-old is coping with methods to maintain Barça on the high of the sport now they’ve a goal on their again.
After reaching the final three Champions League finals and successful two of them, Barça are extensively seen because the crew to beat in Europe. French giants Lyon — whom they’ve by no means crushed and misplaced Champions League finals in opposition to in 2019 and 2022 — could argue with that, however domestically there might be no doubts about Barça’s dominance.
Nonetheless, the hole is closing as huge golf equipment put money into their girls’s groups. That is most notable in England, Germany and France, but additionally in Spain the place Madrid, as is the case within the males’s recreation, have emerged as Barça’s greatest rivals.
Every season, Los Blancos add extra expertise from world wide to their squad. Scotland‘s Caroline Weir (who will miss the Clasico by damage), Colombia‘s teenage sensation Linda Caicedo, Australia‘s Hayley Raso and Denmark‘s Signe Bruun are among the many worldwide stars supplementing a core constructed on Spain’s World Cup winners like Misa Rodríguez, Ivana Andrés, Teresa Abelleira, Olga Carmona, Oihane Hernández and Athenea del Castillo.
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Every season, since absorbing CD Tacon in 2019, Madrid get a bit bit nearer. In 2021-22, they completed 30 factors behind Barça. Final season, they completed 10 factors again. This season, after simply eight video games, the hole is simply three factors.
“Madrid are [cutting] the distance,” Barça winger Caroline Graham Hansen stated on Thursday. “They are working hard, signing better players every year and that brings them closer. But we are also upping our level every year. We know Sunday will be a huge battle and we can’t wait to get out there. It’s El Clásico and that means a lot for us. Playing against Madrid is always special.”
Three consecutive group stage appearances within the Champions League have helped Madrid’s development and enabled them to draw extra high quality — and so they simply drew 2-2 with WSL champions Chelsea in midweek. “They have some decisive players,” Giráldez instructed ESPN on Thursday. “Olga [Carmona] is in great form: practically everything she touches is a goal or an assist right now. Caicedo, in this role she is playing this season, more inside, has the capacity to attack space and drive at opposition.
“Within the case of Bruun, they’ve managed to discover a referential ahead for enjoying direct. She has six targets within the league; she’s a purpose scorer. Dropping Weir to damage was not nice in that sense, however others have shared the targets.
“As I have said many times, the higher the level of all the teams, the better it is for everyone. It makes [the league] more attractive and demands more from us on a daily basis.”
The concept that Barça profit from a wholesome rivalry with Madrid is shared by the gamers.
“It’s important for women’s football to have a strong Madrid,” Graham Hansen added. “[El Clásico] is a big game, a game the whole world knows and it’s important that it reflects the level in the women’s game. It has to be the game of the year for the women, as it is for the men. Therefore, it’s really good that [Madrid] are also doing things well.”
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Madrid aren’t but doing issues properly sufficient to beat Barça. In 11 conferences since they have been formally referred to as Real Madrid, they’ve misplaced all 11 video games. The final assembly in March, although, ended simply 1-0 to Barça — Fridolina Rolfö‘s penalty the distinction between the 2 groups on the Johan Cruyff stadium.
That shut recreation could possibly be an indication of issues to return. Having clinched two Champions Leagues in three years and received all 30 of their league video games in 2021-22, Barça have little or no room to enhance, even when they nonetheless keep that motivation and starvation for fulfillment as a squad.
“Intensity is not an in-game issue,” Giráldez provides. “Playing with intensity or not is down to training; it’s about creating that habit. Right now, during the week, I would say it’s the best I have seen [Barcelona training] all season. The last two sessions I have seen the team with bags of intensity and a real desire to compete.”
Barça’s gamers can solely management a lot, although. Different points aren’t of their arms, comparable to how a lot different golf equipment are in a position to spend. And whereas Barça’s girls’s crew are the one crew on the membership — in addition to the lads’s first crew, there are basketball, futsal, hockey and plenty of different groups — that aren’t operating at a loss, they’ve been affected by cutbacks.
In the summertime, Geyse Ferreira and Laia Codina had been each allowed to depart for switch charges, becoming a member of Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. Neither had been assured starters at Barça, however had been nice squad choices; the cash obtained was not re-invested. The solely summer season signings had been free brokers: full-back Ona Batlle from United, and younger Dutch midfielder Esmee Brugts.
It’s in opposition to that backdrop which sporting director Markel Zubizarreta — thought-about by many to be the architect of the present squad — not too long ago left his function. Final week, Marc Vivés was introduced as his successor and the duty he faces shouldn’t be a small one. Giráldez, goalkeeper Sandra Paños, defender María Leon, England worldwide Lucy Bronze, Spain ahead Mariona Caldentey and, maybe most significantly, two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas are amongst these out of contract on the finish of the season.
The Putellas state of affairs is especially precarious, with numerous stories within the native media about curiosity from overseas and a stand-off over wage calls for as Barça wait to see how she recovers long-term from the ACL damage she suffered final season. She is a doubt for Sunday’s recreation after receiving a minor knock within the Champions League win over Benfica, however has been a first-team common once more this season, scoring 5 occasions in 9 appearances in a brand new attacking function.
These are all points for Vivés to resolve within the coming months. For now, Barça stay as aggressive as ever, with maybe the most effective set of midfielders on the planet — with Putellas, Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí, Patri Guijarro and England’s Keira Walsh amongst them — and among the greatest children, together with thrilling attacker Salma Paralluelo, who starred on the World Cup for Spain.
With Camp Nou being redeveloped, over 30,000 are anticipated to attend Sunday’s recreation on the Olympic Stadium, which is briefly housing the lads’s crew and will probably be used for the ladies’s crew’s greatest video games this season.
For Giráldez, that can imply a visit down reminiscence lane.
“When I first game to live in Catalonia, Montjuic was the place I most like to go,” he stated. “It’s a special place because of its history, the Olympic Games and because it’s where our men’s team are playing now. Every week we have 5,000 fans at the Johan Cruyff, but this allows many more to come and enjoy a great day of football which, I hope, ends with a win.”