Barça Femení’s historic treble, breaking records on the pitch and stereotypes off it

Blaugrana defender Laia Codina speaks about the team’s unprecedented success and how it is helping advance equality

Barça Femení players celebrate on the pitch in Gothenburg after their 4-0 Champions League final victory over Chelsea in May 2021 (by Bjorn Larsson Rosvall/TT News Agency via REUTERS)
Barça Femení players celebrate on the pitch in Gothenburg after their 4-0 Champions League final victory over Chelsea in May 2021 (by Bjorn Larsson Rosvall/TT News Agency via REUTERS) / Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

June 12, 2021 10:00 AM

A historic league, cup, and Champions League treble that will change the trajectory of FC Barcelona Femení forever is an achievement the magnitude of which will take some time to come to terms with.

Laia Codina, the 21-year-old La Masia graduate, admits that the scale of the success of her team hasn’t really hit her yet, nor has it for the rest of the squad, and likely won’t until she’s at home, enjoying her break in the off-season this summer. 

A 4-0 win over Chelsea in mid-May saw Barça become the first-ever club to win the Champions League in both men’s and women’s senior football. 

This feat came after the team had already claimed the league championship with 26 wins from 26 games played, the title wrapped up with eight games to spare, scoring an average of just under 5 goals per game. The side also enjoyed an unbeaten run in the league that lasted over two years

Of all of the goals in all of the wins in a mesmerizing campaign, one in particular sticks out in Codina’s mind that defines their style. Aitana Bonmatí’s strike to go 3-0 up in the European final was “very identifiable with our team and what we want to do.” It came after a brilliant ball recovery, sublime movement, and a pinpoint through pass to set the midfielder through to score a goal that “partly decided the game.” 

They had come a long way from falling at the same stage two years earlier to French giants Lyon, who claimed their fourth of five consecutive European crowns. “2019 made us see we weren’t at the level, and that we still had to improve to arrive at where we are this year,” Codina explains. Now, the goal is to become the next Lyon, to begin a new era of supremacy in European football with the Catalans on top. 

Breaking stereotypes and inspiring the future

The success of this team goes far beyond trophy cabinets and honours lists. The Barça stars know that the fact that now they sit on the throne of European football has an impact on societal issues also. 

For starters, young girls growing up today now have the first-ever set of role models to look up to who have conquered all before them, something Codina considers “very important.” 

“Personally I’m very happy that young girls who are starting out to play football now have this Barça team that has won the first Champions League of any team in Spain as a reference.” 

After their recent 3-2 comeback win over Madrid CFF, the Barça defender said that “so many young girls came up to me and were saying just that, that thanks to us they’re going to start playing football. This makes me so happy.”

Among registrations with sports clubs across Catalonia, football is the number one sport across the board with 87,983 total players signed. However, the overwhelming majority are boys, 80,478 in all, with only 7,505 girls registered with clubs. It is the most popular sport for boys, and the fifth most popular for girls. 

Off the pitch too, the victories will influence perceptions in society as a whole. “These stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in society are hard to break. I think we’re breaking glass ceilings and this is a very important step,” she explains. “I think we have an important societal role to play.”

Victorious captain Vicky Losada spoke emotionally after the full time whistle in the Champions League final about how the triumph will “open doors” for women in all sectors, not just football. 

Codina knows first hand the conditions that girls suffer if they want to play football in Catalonia. Discrimination, neglect, and sexism are commonplace. The Barça number 3 played on boys teams for ten years as there were no girls teams for her to play on, and she found that it was parents of opposing teams, rather than players, who were more likely to insult her. 

The lack of facilities in place to accommodate girls wanting to play football was another large hurdle. She gives the example of often getting home an hour later than everyone else on her team as she had to shower in the referees’ changing rooms as there was nothing else for her, and she would have to do so after the officiating team was finished. 

She hopes that girls playing now, or at least in the future, won’t have to put up with these “stupid things.” 

2019 players’ strike 

From next season, the top division of women’s football in Spain will be fully professional, a “hugely important step forward” in Codina’s words. 

The women’s game has had a rocky road to reach this point, though. Players and unions fought for years to obtain a labour agreement with clubs and the league that would set some minimum standards for employment situations. These agreements are common in other areas of work in Catalonia, but female football players had to fight for years to get their first ‘conveni col·lectiu’ as it is known in Catalan. 

The minimum standards that proved so difficult to obtain include a minimum salary of €16,000 per year on 75% of the standard work week, meaning in reality a minimum salary of €12,000 was asked for - €1,000 a month. Additionally, players wanted assurances of salary in the event of injury, some paid holiday days, and the right to become a mother

Eventually, the entire league felt forced to go on strike in mid-November 2019 to achieve these bare minimum standards. Espanyol-Granadilla Tenerife was the first game scheduled but not played that weekend as the strike officially kicked off in Catalonia. 

Soon afterwards, clubs, unions, and players all came to an understanding, and the first labour agreement of women’s football was formally signed into law in August 2020. 

Included in this agreement was a stipulation that should a footballer become pregnant in the final year of her contract, one additional year would be added to her deal on the same terms. 

League professionalisation

There could be a new labour agreement drafted up soon too, as from 2021/22 the “Liga Ellas” (which translates to “Their League” but specifying women) will be fully professional, raising the standards across the board. 

FC Barcelona were one of the few clubs already operating professionally prior to this, but they will most likely improve in tandem with the league as they face better, more competitive, and more prepared opposition each week in domestic competition.

“There are teams where a lot of players combine their playing career with other extra work. They can’t be demanded to perform at the same level on the weekend [as full professionals],” Codina acknowledges. 

The league will now be run by the Consejo Superior de Deportes, the Superior Sports Board of the Spanish government, as well as the Spanish Football Federation, whereas up to now it was only the federation in charge. Extra resources will be put into it, new broadcasting deals will be drawn up, and exciting times await women’s football on these shores. 

A sports lawyer for the professional footballers’ association said the move will improve the situation of 90% of the players in the league, and the president of the Superior Sports Board said it is aimed at “benefiting society as a whole” and creating a “freer and more just” world.

Codina thinks “it will give a lot of recognition to women’s football, and it will be a change that gives a huge boost to the growth of the game and will have a big effect on the future as well as now.”