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1. I owe a lot to Pep Guardiola
When you’re a kid growing up in Catalonia, the Pep Years belong to legend. Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Messi.… You know the team, no?
I remember watching the games from a bar in Sant Pere de Ribes, the town where I grew up, a 40-minute drive from Barcelona. (Travel info: It’s next to Sitges. If you ever go, call it “Ribes.” To us locals that’s very important, hahaha.) I would zoom in on Xavi and Iniesta: How they moved, how they created chances, how they scanned the space around them before receiving the ball. Iniesta was always driving the ball forward, so I tried to do that. Today I feel I have the same way of understanding the game. The Barça Way, if you want to call it that.
I still follow Pep, wherever he works, because I love his football. When he wins, I am happy — except if it is against Barça :-D
2. I wanted to leave Barça
I saw zero opportunities.
Everybody dreams about playing at the Camp Nou. I went there when I was 14, and I remember it feeling so big. You look up at the 90,000 people, and you feel almost dizzy. But when I say that everybody dreams about playing there, I’m talking about the boys.
You think girls thought about it? Pffffft. No chance. Not this one, anyway.
Back then Barça Femení were not on TV. They were not on social media. There was definitely no chance of women playing at the Camp Nou. For a long time, the best female teams in Spain were not professional, either.
So when I was playing for the Barça U15s, I couldn’t see a way of making a living off football here. I didn’t know much about women’s football elsewhere in Europe, like England or Spain or Germany, but people spoke a lot about the U.S. You could study there while playing, and after that you could have a professional career. I was like, Oh, great! My parents and I were even talking about the University of Oregon, and what exams I’d take.
I will always love Barça. But you have to think about your career, no?
Then when I was 17 and playing for the second team, Barça suddenly made the first team professional. The year after I was promoted to the seniors. In two years I went from “Yes, I’ll go to the U.S.” to “Oh wow, I’m a full-time pro at Barça.”
3. My parents fought the Spanish law
They are teachers of languages and Catalan literature. Their house is pretty much a library! Before, whenever a couple had a child in Spain, they were obliged to put the surname of the father first and the surname of the mother second. I don’t know if there was any real reason for it. That was just how it worked.
Anyway, my parents didn’t like it. They have always fought hard for equality, so when I was born in 1998, they took part in a big effort to get the rule changed. And they succeeded. My first surname, Bonmatí, is from my mother, and my second surname, Conca, is from my father.
I’m very proud of what they did. This willingness to fight for women’s rights, I feel that I have it in my blood.
4. The player strike was so difficult
Soooo difficult. You miss out on matches, money, sponsors, everything. You get killed in the press. But I wanted to be part of it. I felt that the Spanish football federation needed to invest more in us. Certain changes needed to be made if we were to win big tournaments. Which is what we want to do, otherwise what’s the point?
During the season — and I can only speak for myself here — I had some meetings with the federation. Both parties agreed and accepted that some things had to change in order for me to come back. At that moment I was hopeful that the federation would give us the backing we deserve. And so in the end, I decided to play this World Cup.
I don’t want to dwell on this any more for now. I’m just super excited about this tournament. And I feel confident that I made the right decision.
5. When the Camp Nou sold out, I didn’t really believe it
We had already played there with Barça Feminí, but the stands were closed due to the pandemic. When they moved us back there for the Champions League quarterfinal against Real Madrid last year, I had no idea how big it would be.
Sure, it was a Clásico, but we are used to playing in front of a few thousand people. The only guarantee was that, since I have so many friends and family members in Barcelona, at least 100 would show up!!
I was following the social media account to track the ticket sales. The updates went something like this:
“We have sold 25,000 tickets.”
“We have sold 50,000 tickets.”
“We are SOLD OUT.”
I’ll be giving 200% to help the team at this World Cup.- Aitana Bonmati
Honestly, I really thought that. A full house would mean that we’d break the world attendance record for a women’s match. I was convinced that many people would not turn up. It was raining earlier that day, too.
When we walked out of the tunnel, we realised that this was real. I got goosebumps when we lined up to hear the Champions League anthem. I looked up and around me. This time I felt dizzy, too.
We beat Madrid 5–2, and it was just a big party really. I have two strong memories. The first is when I scored the goal that made it 2–2. The second is when the stadium announcer said something like, “Today we are 91,553 people at the Camp Nou. We are in the history books.”
Everybody began to cheer, and I just remember thinking, Wow, we really did it.
6. That Lyon defeat made us champions
You saw the Champions League final, right? When Wolfsburg scored after two minutes, my mind raced back to the final the year before, when Lyon scored in the sixth minute and we lost 3–1. My first reaction was, NO! NOT AGAIN!!
But that only lasted a second. There is actually a video of me where you can see me go, Noooooooooo. Then the next moment I begin running towards our goal to find the ball and get it ready for kickoff. There was a lot of time left, you know?
The next minutes we dominated completely. We created chance after chance.
We missed and missed and missed.
I was like, Surely the goal has to come soon….
… and then they scored out of nowhere. 0–2.
Still, when I came into the dressing room at halftime, all I saw was positivity. We had learned what we did wrong against Lyon, and we all agreed to be confident, stay calm and keep playing. That’s why we won 3–2.
7. We want to fight for everything
Australia and New Zealand are amazing places, but we’re not here on holiday.
Our team is different now. At the 2019 World Cup we lacked experience. This time we have a core of players who have won everything with Barça. When you know each other from the club, it’s easier. And since Barça has grown so much, it’s logical that the national team improves, too. We have done a lot of physical work at Barça, and we have built a much stronger mentality. Without this, winning the World Cup is impossible.
8. I learned a lot in Vietnam
My favourite way to disconnect is to travel. A few years ago I was trekking in the Vietnamese mountains by the rice fields, and I saw some kids running around on the sharp rocks. They were alone. They had no shoes. And they were sitting on the edges of some seriously tall cliffs. In our culture, their parents would have run after them screaming, “HEY, GET DOWN FROM THERE!!” But these kids were just smiling and chillin’.
In Europe we have everything, but we always think about what we don’t have, you know? Those kids didn’t even have shoes, but they were happy.
9. A lot of people need our help
Sometimes I think that this world is s***. So many people have to leave their homes without wanting to because of war, and they arrive in places like Spain and Italy with no money, no friends and without speaking the language. Some have lost a wife, a kid or a husband. Honestly, it breaks my heart. We know about Ukraine here in Europe because it’s close to us, but there are so many people struggling in all corners of the world. Women in Afghanistan cannot go to university or even leave their home alone, because they are women. How crazy is that?
Every year the goal is the same: Win everything.- Aitana Bonmati
Tragedies like this make me realise how privileged I am. Last year I began working with the UN Refugee Agency in Spain, ACNUR. They arrange football training in Barcelona for female refugees to give them a support network here and help them integrate. That’s pretty cool, no? I always ask my teammates for spare boots and clothes that they can have. It’s not going to fix the world, but I already think it has improved quite a few lives. For me, that means a lot.
10. I don’t want to stop
Playing for Barça is very intense. There is always the next training session, the next game, the next trophy. Every year the goal is the same: Win everything. One day when my career is over, I’m going to travel the world for a year or two, and immerse myself in places like Colombia and Japan.
But right now I want to keep winning. I love this pressure, the feeling that you cannot fail, that you have to demand the best of yourself every single day. It has become part of who I am.
I’ll be giving 200% to help the team at this World Cup. And as always, I’ll be out there playing the football I learned from Xavi and Iniesta. The way I like the most.