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Hinchas y Jugadores - Barcelona Women with Michele Taylor (9th May, 2017)

Michele Taylor is the voice of the Barcelona women's team. Full stop. You can follow her on Twitter here.

If you're interested in following the Barcelona women's team for official updates, follow them here.

A bit about yourself and your background

I’m a Fiji-Kiwi. Born in Fiji and then moved to NZ with my family when I was 15, where I finished school and then worked in professional photography/film processing/photo printing until 2004 when I moved to Dubai. Since then, we’ve also lived in Germany, Australia and Spain. Now we spend our time between our families in Germany and New Zealand.

How long have you been a fan of Barcelona and what made you support them in the first place?

We watched the Men’s 2008 Euro Final between Spain and Germany, and were amazed by Spain’s playing style. It was beautiful to watch. When we moved to Barcelona in early 2009, we quickly became fans of the FCB men’s team. Their playing style was so exciting! We attended as many games as we could, as we loved watching the team’s off-the-ball movement which we couldn’t see on TV when the cameras always focused on who had the ball.

Info on the women’s team was very hard to find, and it wasn’t until the team won the Liga in 2010/11 that the club really publicized their existence! BarçaTV began televising some of their games, and I was hooked. We began making the trek out to the club’s training grounds, (where the women played their home games), as often as we could to watch them.

News was still hard to find about the Barça Femení teams, even in Catalan and Spanish. It wasn’t until the club revamped their website about 4 years back and included a women’s section that we began to get more information. Even now, though, most of the news doesn’t get translated to English - only Catalan and Spanish. So I decided to start the Barca Women account to get out more information about the FC Barcelona teams and Spanish women’s football. The official FCB Femení twitter account still doesn’t tweet that much in English.

Given the transfer windows and the squad that was assembled at the start of the season, is Barcelona where you want it to be?

It was always going to be a year of transition and adjustment, given that the team signed 3 foreign players this season. We’ve had foreign players before - Andreia Norton (POR), Jelena Čanković (SER), Kenti Robles (MEX) and others - but with the team going pro in the previous season, the bigger budget allowed coach Xavi Llorens and his staff to look for players of a different calibre.

It would be nice to be leading the Liga Iberdrola with a bigger margin! There is no room for error given that, at the time of writing this, Atlético Madrid is equal on points with Barça and we are only ahead on Goal Difference.  For the first few weeks of this season, Atléti, Barça and Valencia were unbeaten and level on points. Atléti remains the only unbeaten team and also turned pro this year which has amped up the competition, and that can only be healthier overall for Spanish women’s football.                          

Of the signings made this season, which one worked out the best/had the most impact and why?

At the beginning of the season, in came CB Line Røddik Hansen (DEN), MF/FW Andressa Alves (BRA), RW Koko Ange N’Guessan (CIV), LB Leila Ouahabi (ESP) and GK Andrea Giménez (ESP). The latter is a signing for the future and has played the season with Barça B while training with the 1st team.

MF Vicky Losada (ESP) was released from Arsenal at the end of last year and was re-signed without hesitation.

They have all played really well and slotted in very quickly to the style of play and into the team dynamics.

Line Røddik has been a seamless addition and the one who has fitted-in the best. She has also contributed off the pitch with advice to the coaching staff. Coach Xavi Llorens has said that he has learned a lot from Line’s input.

Leila has come back into the team as if she never left it. She returned as a more rounded player and her stand-out performance of the season, thus far, was the away UWCL match vs. FC Rosengård where she not only scored, but dominated the left side in defence and attack.

Vicky returned from Arsenal having won the fans’ Player of the Year award. Like Leila, it’s as if she never left.

Andressa took a little while to hit her stride as she came to grips with positioning and her role on the pitch, but now she is a valuable team member - the best player when it comes to transitioning the play from defence to attack and vice versa. She has the ability to hold the ball while the other players reposition themselves.

Koko Ange hasn’t played as much, as we are blessed with a load of talent up front and fans were scratching their heads about her signing at the beginning of the season. But when she is on the pitch, she is dynamite up the right wing. So fast. She scores and provides some key assists & passes. Defensively, she was lacking at the start and tended to lose the ball very quickly, but she has improved a lot in this aspect of her play as the season has progressed.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Barcelona this season? Any standout players?

Strengths have included having a very talented and skillful squad of players. There is a great team spirit. The team has benefited from the introduction of the foreign players, the promotion and retention of some of the next generation of Spanish senior players, and a solid base of current & former Spanish senior International players.

A weakness would be from a tactical perspective in the first half of the season. When facing pressing teams, particularly in the Midfield, the Blaugrana couldn’t find a reply. This changed when coach Llorens adapted a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 when Barça had the ball, switching to a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 when in defence.

The team has also been guilty of depending on superior fitness when it comes to facing teams that put up a good fight, only to fade when they begin to get tired. Barça sits back and waits for them to get exhausted. This only works against the lower-table amateur teams, so they have had to counter that with the more tactical variations which we have seen in the latter half of the season.

It’s difficult to pick out standout players from this team, but I would say that the Liga’s leading goal-scorer, Jenni Hermoso, is one who deserves the accolade. She is a joy to watch - the best protector of the ball at her feet that I have seen, and so skillful and strong in front of the goal. She’d be a great Futsal player if she wanted to switch codes!

Our captain, Marta Unzué, is a stellar player and fans constantly wonder why she hasn’t been considered for national selection. She gets the job done. A couple of seasons ago, she was moved from Right-Back to Midfield. She excels in both positions.

Line Røddik has also had a stellar season, and Marta Torrejón continues to develop her game & is having a great season both with the Spanish National team and Barça.

List some things you appreciate and some things you can’t stand about the club management. Rant away :)

I appreciate that the club made the women’s team into a professional entity. It has a long way to go before it reaches the heights of PSG, Olympique Lyon or Wolfsburg in terms of monetary budget and the ability to “buy all the players”, but it’s a great start and they’re leading the way in Spain. To be honest, I’d be happy if the club didn’t try to buy their way to success, and continued to place emphasis in developing players in-house or sourcing talent from within Spain.

As far as ranting about the club management, I’m tired of it! The current President and Board seem to only have profits and the revamped Camp Nou plans on their minds. As a member-owned club, FC Barcelona does not have to run at a huge profit, as long as the FIFA Fair Play rules are adhered to. But the revamping and expansion of the Camp Nou complex is making them single-minded about saving money so that the project doesn’t run at a loss to the club.

We’re seeing the effects of the past-President Sandro Rosell’s “Austerity measures” and the current Board’s penny-pinching throughout the club - more so with the other sporting disciplines where player purchases have not reflected the needs of the teams, e.g. the Basketball team. We’ve lost a lot of knowledge out of La Masia - the club’s training school - when longtime incumbent staff were let go as Rosell seemed hell-bent on getting rid of any of the staff who were appointed under the former President Joan Laporta. All that experience and knowledge, that no money can buy, went out the door with those people.

But the biggest error that I can see in the immediate future, is the demolition of the existing Miniestadi which is situated next door to Camp Nou. At present, the men’s B team play in the Miniestadi, and the women’s team plays there for the bigger Liga games and when they play Champions League. The plan is to build a new Minestadi further out of the city at the club’s training centre, the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper.

Unless you have private transport, the FCB training grounds are difficult and arduous to access. It’s a long way out of town when compared to where the Miniestadi is currently located. At a time when the club should be encouraging fans to attend games and to build up attendance, to me it seems like a backward step to make the games more difficult to attend. It makes no sense to make the women’s team into a professional side, and then not try to actively build up the fanbase by making their games more accessible to the majority of the fans.

What has the mood among the fans been during the campaign? Do you generally agree/disagree with them?

On the whole, we’re a very supportive lot. That’s what is so different compared to followers of the men’s game. Our women’s team can have a bad game and you’ll find very few people picking particular players to bits for bad performances. We’ll recognize a bad play without condemning the player for the rest of their lives!

I’ve seen criticism of Coach Xavi Llorens and his tactics. I agreed with them at the beginning of the season, but in the latter half something has changed and the team is a lot better in that area now.

We do agree that Llorens tends to stay with his “Gala 11” too much - choosing the same players for every game. Again, he’s mixed that up in the latter part of the season. But the pressure is now on him to win every game, so he goes with the tried and trusted.

Are there any talented youngsters at the club that you expect to have a big future?

Yes - lots!

As with the Spanish women’s Senior International selection, we already have great club representation in the Spanish women’s U17 and U19 squads, and in the Catalunya U16 and U18 teams. Laia Aleixandri, Berta Pujadas, Ona Battle, Ana Torroda, Candela Andújar to name a few.

Already in the Barça senior squad are a few of the talented 18-20yo players who are great contenders for the senior Spanish squad in the coming years - Aitana Bonmatí, Sandra Hernández, Patri Guijarro and Mariona Caldentey.

Currently, the most exciting player to watch is 15yo Claudia Pina Medina. At the time of writing, she is with the Spanish WU17 team in Poland at the UEFA WU17 Euros. She regularly plays at U17 level and appears quite often with the Barça B team, playing with women who are 3-4 years older than she is. Claudia is a scoring machine but, more than this, she has a level of maturity and knowledge of what to do on the pitch that is well beyond her years. She’s an unselfish player who will create opportunities and then pass to a better-positioned team-mate to shoot on goal. This season, she has averaged 2.2 goals per game! A couple of seasons ago, she averaged 5 goals per game - 100 goals for the season in 20 games. She’s a phenomenon.

If you could make one realistic signing for Barcelona this summer who would it be?

Oof - ask me a tough question why don’t you?!

Whoever comes in will need to make the team stronger and better. I don’t want a big name for the sake of it. I love that the club signed a player like Line Røddik Hansen who can contribute to the betterment of the team both on and off the pitch.

We’re loaded up front and in the midfield with talent, and have 2 of the best GKs in Sandra Paños and Laura Ràfols. Another defender would be ideal, as a lot of our incumbent are now hitting the 30+yo mark, so it would be good to have an experienced player while we work to incorporate some of the more talented Barça B defenders.

I love all our players, and to see any of them leave is always with sadness. I envision that there will be a few exits at the end of the season - either due to strategic management decisions or some players wanting to go to teams where they will play more often than they do now at Barça. There is also the threat that some of our best players will be poached by teams in other leagues where there is more money and the desire within the players to experience new challenges.

Finally, predicted finish for Barcelona?

Either 1st or 2nd in the Liga Iberdrola. At the time of writing, there are only 3 games left for the season, and the biggest would be against Atlético Madrid in 2 weeks’ time. The winner of that will win the league. But we also face Valencia who are very strong at home and gave us a lot of trouble when we played them earlier in the season. That game ended in a draw. The Liga is Barça’s for the taking or the losing!

The advantage that Atléti has had over the season is that the Liga has been the only competition in which they have been competing. Barça and Athletic Club Bilbao have also played Champions League in between league games. While it may not appear that an extra 2-8 games is that big a deal, it has a big impact on how the teams train and prepare for the games. Last year’s league winner, Athletic Club, has suffered in the Liga Iberdrola this season due to Champions League games taking toll on the amateur squad. Their players work all week and train in the evenings, and the travel for the Away UWCL games can also be a factor.

Barça, while professional, was still impacted by the UWCL 1st round in which they played FC Twente. In the liga game between the 2 UWCL games, they played Real Betis and were held to 1-1 draw. The Blaugrana looked sluggish and out of ideas, and Betis took full advantage of it by equalising in the 77th minute. Playing in 2 competitions not only requires different physical preparation, but also impacts mentally on the players.

We exceeded expectations in the Champions League this season by making it to the semifinal stage. Last year when the team turned pro, coach Xavi Llorens put a 5-year plan in place and aimed to be in the semifinals in 5 years. The team achieved that in only 2 years. When you look at the caliber of their players and the money behind the other 3 clubs - O. Lyon, PSG and Manchester City - it was with a great sense of pride that Barça was in the semifinals. Here were 3 clubs who have been able to buy some of the best players, in all positions and from around the world, and Barça was there with them. It was a fantastic achievement.

The top 8 finishers in the Liga Iberdrola will play for the Copa de la Reina at the end of the season. It’s difficult to predict where we will finish in that, as the draw for the knockout rounds isn’t done until the top 8 teams have been confirmed.

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