Endowed with strength, vision, a wand-like left foot and a penchant for spectacular goals, Alexia Putellas is, at the age of 20, already one of the hottest names in Spanish women’s football.
Twice a European U-17 champion with Spain (2010 and 2011), the gifted attacker also boasts a bronze medal from the U-17 Women’s World Cup 2010 and a silver from the European U-19 Women’s Championship 2012 – as well as forcing her way into La Roja’s senior squad for their run to the quarter-finals of the Women’s EURO in 2013.
Currently thriving at FC Barcelona, with whom she has claimed consecutive league-and-cup doubles since joining in 2012, Alexia spoke to Women’s Soccer United about succeeding for club and country, juggling football and university and her stunning individual goal against Zaragoza in the final of last year’s Copa de la Reina – which ran wild across YouTube and social media.
Women’s Soccer United: After a medal-laden time with Spain’s youth teams, you – as well as U-19 team-mates Amanda Sampedro, Nagore Calderón, Virginia Torrecilla and Dolores Gallardo –managed to break into the full national squad just in time for EURO 2013. How important are youth competitions in terms of preparing you for senior international level?
Alexia Putellas: They’re really important, because that’s when you really start to develop as a player and you see the standard of football outside of Spain. If you only play in the domestic championship, in the end you get stuck in a rut. When you take part in an U-17 international tournament, the standard of play and level of intensity are different. Then when you move up to U-19 level, you really see that there are players who’ve made more progress because in their countries they do things differently. And then once you reach the senior national squad, you realise that you have to work incredibly hard to hit the standards that certain national teams are at right now.
WSU: How was your EURO 2013 experience?
Alexia: Incredible! It was a real surprise: I’d already booked a summer holiday and had to cancel it, but I was delighted to do that for the chance to go to the EURO. I’d never even been in the senior squad before, so to do that at a EURO, particularly with Spain having gone so many years without taking part, was unbelievable. And then to score the winner in the first [group] game against England, my first competitive [senior] match for Spain, was a dream come true! In the end, I was fortunate enough to appear in every game – it was an experience I’ll never forget.
WSU: Spain are top of their qualifying group for the Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. If you qualify, what do you think is a realistic objective for La Selección?
Alexia: Realistically, it’ll depend a lot on the group-stage draw. If we get a favourable draw Spain can spring a surprise, because we’ve got good players, like we already showed at the EURO. I think that we can rise to the challenge, but we’ve got to make sure we qualify first. I hope to keep growing as a player and as a person so that, if we get to the World Cup, I can take full advantage of every second of the competition and, above all, enjoy it to the full.
WSU: The positives keep on coming for Spanish women’s football, with the U-17s finishing World Cup runners-up this year and the U-19s doing the same at European level – both of those campaigns under the guidance of coach Jorge Vilda.
Alexia: Spain are reaping the rewards of a lot of years of hard work and sacrifice. In the coming decade, I’m sure our national teams are going to give the fans plenty to celebrate. As for the players, for our part, we’ll keep working hard to try and take Spanish women’s football to the very top, so that people can also be proud of the women’s team [as well as the men’s].
WSU: What do you think needs to be done to get more girls in Spain playing football? What advice would you give to those youngster who want to play but find their paths blocked?
Alexia: Though more and more girls are starting to play football, it’s true that there’s a minority who want to play but their families or the people close to them don’t let them. I’d just advise them to never give up. If that’s their dream, then their parents won’t refuse to make their daughter happy. I think that, in the long term, parents like that need to let go of the reins a little bit for the sake of their daughters and let them pursue their dreams, whether it be playing football, playing a musical instrument or anything else.
WSU: What were the key steps in you playing and subsequently sticking with football?
Alexia: I started out playing with my friends in the schoolyard and later on, through a family friend who played for Sabadell, my parents put my name down there and that’s how it all started. Again, in terms of what’s needed [to get more girls playing football], perhaps one of the problems is that lots of girls don’t know that teams exist, and that can cause them or their families to decide against them playing. Gradually more and more girls’ teams are being set up and over the next ten years we’re going to witness significant developments in women’s football.
WSU: What has playing football brought out in you, in terms of discipline, mental strength and maturity, for example?
Alexia: Once you get to a certain age, you have to decide whether you’re going to follow the footballing path and the level of commitment that entails – making sure you look after yourself, demanding a lot of yourself, or following a different path – going out with your friends, not having any responsibilities and leading a lifestyle that might not be ideally suited to playing football. So, you get to that point in your life when you have to make a decision and I think that’s when you really become more mature. I chose to follow the football route and that, as well as studying, is what I’m focusing on right now. After my family, football is the main priority in my life.
WSU: What degree are you studying? Talking long term, is it something you could put to use within football?
Alexia: I’m studying Business Management and Administration, which is a degree course that I’ve been interested in since I was little. And if, one day, I can link that to football – the two things I most enjoy – that’d be wonderful. For the moment though, I just want to keep improving myself and keep juggling my studies and football.
WSU: Is it tough juggling your education with training and matches?
Alexia: Yes, it’s difficult to balance the two. Before I went to a university where you had to attend a minimum number of classes, but I couldn’t go to half of them because of training and away trips for European games or time with the national team. So, in the end I’ve had to start a distance-learning course. You need a lot of discipline and, to be honest, I’ve only just started, but I’m not in a hurry – my goal is to just to have my degree finished by the time my football career is over. For as long as I can stay in football, I’ll keep studying bit by bit, putting football first but without neglecting my studies.
WSU: Barça have won the league-and-cup double both seasons since you joined the club, and last year you reached the Champions League quarter-finals, where you lost to eventual winners VfL Wolfsburg. What do the club need to do to beat teams of that calibre?
Alexia: Barça have a very young team and, in my opinion, reaching the Champions League final is a medium- or long-term project. We’re still taking our first steps in European competition but, as this Barça team continues to evolve and gain more international experience, I think we can be a real force. We’ve got loads of players with incredible quality and we’ve got a lot to offer. But we’ll need time and we need women’s football to keep making progress in Spain, like it has been doing. We’ll take it step by step and see what happens.
WSU: Last but not least, we can’t let you go without telling us about your goal versus Zaragoza in the 2013 Copa de la Reina final – a strike that was an internet sensation and even shown on the Spanish national news. How big an impact did it have on your life and career? Was it an instinctive bit of skill or something you’d worked on in training?
Alexia: I can’t say it had a big impact on my life, as I’m still the same player, I do the same things and I still behave the way I did before scoring that goal. The only thing that’s changed is that in interviews I always get asked about that goal! It was an instinctive bit of skill, at that moment I took the chance to try it and fortunately for me it came off – I’ve not tried it again since!
Interviewed by Nick Aitken and Elena Ureña
UK-born but currently based in Spain, I’ve been covering men’s and women’s football for UEFA.com for several years, including trips to two Women’s U-19 European Championships