November 30, 2021

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Barcelona Femení and the Pursuit of Perfection

Barcelona Femení and the Pursuit of Perfection

BARCELONA, Spain — These are the naked statistics of Barcelona Femení’s season thus far. The crew has performed 9 video games within the league. It has received 9 video games within the league. It has received them, the truth is, by such a margin that the phrase “received” doesn’t fairly seize it. Barcelona’s first sport ended, 5-0. So did its second. In its third and fourth video games, it scored eight.

That was solely the beginning. The subsequent week, it beat Alavés by 9-1. Late final month, it confronted Actual Sociedad, the one crew nonetheless vaguely, theoretically, in its slipstream on the summit of La Liga Fémenina. That completed 8-1. In the course of all that, it discovered time to deconstruct Arsenal, the in any other case unbeaten chief of Britain’s Ladies’s Tremendous League, too.

Together with its two appointments within the Champions League, Barcelona has performed 11 video games this season. It has conceded three targets — one every to Alavés, Actual 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 targets.

The pure assumption may be 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 put the numbers in correct context. “We’ve got generated greater than 200 probabilities,” Giráldez mentioned. “So when you take a look at it like that, we’ve not scored very many.”

It is a supervisor’s job, after all: to demand fixed enchancment from gamers, to refuse them the posh of resting on their laurels, to eschew the very thought of being glad. “That’s what coaches are like,” mentioned Marta Torrejón, the skilled Barcelona defender, “all the time wanting extra.”

Giráldez’s reasoning, although, is reasonably extra pragmatic. He was promoted to move coach final summer season after the sudden departure of his predecessor, Lluís Cortés, solely weeks after the membership had received not simply the Spanish league and its home cup but in addition its first Champions League title, crushing Chelsea, 4-0, within the ultimate.

Giráldez, 29, was given the job forward of a cluster of different candidates — no less than 20 coaches from all over the world speculatively despatched of their résumés — primarily as a continuity candidate, somebody who knew “our concepts and our id,” because the membership’s sporting director, Markel Zubizarreta, put it.

To Giráldez, the job is a substantial privilege and a relentless stress. Barcelona, now the foremost crew in girls’s soccer, has requirements to keep up and expectations to fulfill. 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 might show a deadly fault line in a while.

“We’ve got conceded two targets from set items this season,” Giráldez mentioned. (The third, scored by Actual Sociedad’s Sanni Franssi, got here from a counterattack.) “One from a nook, one from a free kick. Whenever you win a sport, 8-1, that goes unnoticed, however we’ve to enhance that, as a result of once we play within the ultimate rounds of the Champions League, in opposition to Lyon or Paris St.-Germain or Wolfsburg, that motion might ship us house.

“If we’ve 25 probabilities in a sport, the goalkeeper saves 13, and 12 go vast. In a extra balanced sport, we might not have so many probabilities, so we’ve to ensure we take extra of them. We’ve got to work out why we didn’t rating extra targets: We received 9 in opposition to Alavés, however I had the feeling that we might have scored 15. Why didn’t we?”

It’s important, he shortly provides, to acknowledge that it is vitally laborious to attain eight targets in a sport, to understand and to have a good time that. After which demand even higher.

“You possibly can win, 8-0, and nonetheless have numerous issues to enhance,” Giráldez mentioned. “My job is to detect what we’ve finished badly and modify it. It’s about enhancing each element.”

These particulars aren’t straightforward to seek out at Barcelona, not today. Within the eight years since Torrejón joined the membership, it has modified virtually past recognition. “It is sort of a totally different place,” she mentioned. “From zero to 100.”

When Torrejón arrived, coaching periods nonetheless passed off within the night, as a result of the gamers both attended school or went to work through the day. Already a fixture on Spain’s nationwide crew again then, she had joined on the promise that Barcelona would flip skilled. There was speak of serious funding, attracting a sponsor, constructing a successful crew.

When the transfer got here, in 2015, it felt “like luxurious,” Torrejón mentioned: arriving at Barcelona’s coaching complicated within the morning, having breakfast collectively as a crew, having fun with entry to the membership’s medical companies and its conditioning workers and its state-of-the-art services. Nonetheless, although, “eager about successful the Champions League was not possible,” she mentioned.

Barcelona didn’t select, in contrast to a lot of its friends, to make use of the monetary clout of its guardian membership to speed up its development. “For 10 million euros,” or about $11.5 million, “you possibly can purchase a crew of the most effective gamers on the earth,” Zubizarreta mentioned. “There are groups on the market which are initiatives based mostly on doing that. Lyon has finished it. Chelsea has finished it. Manchester Metropolis has an English core however they’ve finished it, too.”

Barcelona, he mentioned, wished to do it in another way. “The most effective factor we will do is be ourselves,” Zubizarreta mentioned. As an alternative of upgrading its squad with a patchwork of superstars, it determined to permit the gamers it needed to flourish, to construct a crew that was “distinctively Barcelona.”

Progress was halting. “It is vitally laborious to climb the ladder organically,” Torrejón mentioned. There was a Champions League semifinal look in 2017, however for 3 years in succession the crew completed second within the league to Atlético Madrid. In that, maybe, lay the one conceptual distinction between the membership’s males’s and girls’s divisions. “The boys’s crew not successful trophies to speculate sooner or later wouldn’t, perhaps, be the best-received information,” Zubizarreta mentioned.

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

“It was a mirror,” Zubizarreta mentioned. “We might see how far we needed 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 perfect golf equipment in Europe.

What adopted, in line with Giráldez, an assistant coach on the time, was a “brutal” change in the way in which Barcelona skilled. “We might enhance shortly firstly,” he mentioned. However the additional up the curve the gamers received, the tougher they needed to work even for the smallest positive aspects.

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

And so, even now, Giráldez can watch his crew, champions of the whole lot, scoring 5 and 6 and eight and 9 in opposition to its opponents, with its purpose distinction — within the league alone — of plus 52, and ask for extra. And never solely can his gamers perceive his mild chiding and detailed tape periods, however they will additionally recognize them.

“The key is that we’re competing with ourselves,” Torrejón mentioned. “You compete together with your rival for factors or for qualification, however with your self to be higher daily, in your place within the crew. That’s the largest battle: with your self. The coach would possibly all the time need extra, however we do as a crew. We’re by no means glad.

“Why be proud of scoring 4 when you must have scored eight?”

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