Photo: Adrián Conde (Back row, first left); Rocío López Padilla (Bottom row, far right); Natalia Gutiérrez Garrido (Top row, second from right).
Having had the good fortune to stumble upon one of Málaga’s leading women’s clubs training at my local sports ground, I took the opportunity to chat to coach Adrián Conde, captain Rocío López Padilla, 30, and defender Natalia Gutiérrez Garrido, 32, about CD Algaidas Femenino’s intriguing rise to prominence, the highs and lows of their time in the sport and get their inside track on the real state of Spanish women’s football.
Women’s Soccer United: Adrián, how did the opportunity to coach this team come about?
Adrián: To be honest it was quite coincidental, as the team came into existence and I started coaching it at the same time. In 2003 there was a regional six-a-side championship to be held at girls’ U-12/U-13 level and the guy in charge was too busy to go, so he got in touch with me as he knew there were a couple of girls playing in boys’ teams in my town Villanueva de Algaidas. Even though I’d never worked in women’s football before, I said that I’d start getting a team together and went about finding some players.
So, off we went to play in the Andalusia Championship in Ecija and we managed to win it, which gave us the chance to play in the national championship in Valencia against all other regional champions – with the winner representing Spain at the world championships – and we went and won that too! Then came the chance to take part in the global event, which was held in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and was a great experience.
We ended up reaching the quarter-finals, when we went out against eventual winners France. After that of course people realized that the girls had talent and that it was about time they were playing in a girls-only competition, not mixed in with boys, and so the decision was made to set up an 11-a-side team at a provincial level. And despite having such a young squad, by 2006 we’d won promotion to the national second division [Group 4], where we still are today.
Are any of the original team still here? No, a lot don’t play anymore and the rest have moved on, but of that group you have Estibi (23-year-old defender Estíbaliz Torralbo), who’s now in the first division with Espanyol, while Esther (21-year-old forward Esther González Rodríguez) is at Atlético de Madrid.
WSU: Natalia and Rocío, could you tell us a bit about your careers so far?
Nati: I’ve been playing for clubs for 20 years, since I was 12, and the best things have always been the sporting successes, the good times you have with your team-mates, and getting the chance to do something that you love. I’ve also picked up lots of experience, played in a lot of places and shared a dressing room with some real greats of Spanish women’s football.
For example here at Algaidas we’ve been lucky enough to bring Auxi Jiménez out of retirement [Editor’s note: Jiménez has three Spanish league winner’s medals, has twice finished first-division top scorer and appeared for Spain at EURO 1997]. I’ve also represented Andalusia with [former Spain player] Vanessa Gimber and got to know Rosa Castillo – who for me is one of the greatest women’s players of all time [Editor’s note: Castillo has also won three league titles and appeared for Spain at EURO 1997).
Another highlight was being part of the Spain U-18 squad that went on to finish second to Germany in the 1999/2000 European Championship, the first time that we’d got that far in the competition. Unfortunately I suffered a serious knee injury in a friendly prior to the second phase of qualifying, but it was great to have been involved.
Ro: Ever since I was a little girl I’ve grown up playing football with my cousins and my friends. I grew up with a ball at my feet, and I loved it so much I’d go and train whenever and wherever I could – my parents always taking me there, until I eventually got the chance of a trial for [Club Atlético] Málaga. I was about 14 at the time, I got through the trials and starting training with them. I loved it, it was close to my home and I ended up spending ten or 12 years with Málaga, pretty much all my footballing life!
After I left I spent a year out of the game to clear my head, but the football bug never went away and after chatting to some of my former Málaga team-mates, I came here. I’m now team captain and I feel great, really at home. The club really look after you, I’m having a wonderful time.
WSU: What can Algaidas achieve this season?
Nati: Well, we’ve got a very complete team this year, a nice blend of youth and experience. We older players have plenty to pass on to the younger girls and their enthusiasm is infectious too. If you want me to name names, then Ana María Mesa Luque is one of the best players in Málaga at the moment, while you also have Teté (María Isabel García Gamero), Elena [Sanchéz Medina], Marina [Luque Mané], Ro, Raquel Peña too.
Ro: First things first we need to make sure we stay up. Last year was a bit crazy, we were all thrown together and so we did well to avoid relegation. This year though we’ve got a stronger squad and more experienced players, while we’ve had a full pre-season together, been playing on better pitches and training more often, three evenings a week, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be thinking about finishing higher up the table.
WSU: All three of you have vast experience in Spanish women’s football. What are your verdicts on the current state of the game in this country?
Adrían: Basically, women’s football is really poorly treated in sporting terms, there’s no well-established infrastructure to enable a normal progression from bottom to top in the game. I’ve coached boys’ teams too and I’ve seen first-hand that the kind of attention given to women’s football is still way behind. It’s true that there’s a lot more demand for the men’s game, but the girls honestly work just as hard as any boy.
For example, I combine coaching this club with a role coaching the Malága region’s representative team, and I can see that there’s a huge amount of inequality in treatment. For example, when boys’ regional representative teams go off and play tournaments they take a physio, a fitness coach, a goalkeeping coach etc, whereas this year was the first time in my seven years in the role that we were allowed to take a physio with us. When you see that kind of inequality, it’s very hard to say that real progress is being made – the steps that are being taken are very much baby steps.
Nati: Unfortunately, there’s still not enough support or help for women’s football in Málaga, it’s not valued highly enough and it’s not well-organised at youth or club level. The most important factor is a lack of grants or subsidies, because if clubs had some kind of financial backing then they could start to trigger improvements. Unfortunately Spain’s economic crisis has affected all sectors of society and pretty much everything costs money: travel, food, accommodation, training facilities, referees etc.
Ro: The main thing is that the media here don’t cover us and don’t know enough about us to raise interest and awareness. You meet people who say “Primera División men’s football is boring”, so I tell them that if they want to try something different, something fresh, they should come and watch a women’s game – they’ll enjoy it more. We may not have the same fuerza (force, power) as the men, but we can play just as well as they can. Let’s hope that Spain qualifying for the Women’s World Cup – which is a historic achievement – can be used positively, to have an impact on the women’s game here.
WSU: Finally, what advice would you give to women and girls wanting to get into – and stay in – football?
Ro: Well, my first proper team was a futsal club, because it was easier to find five players than 11, and I’d really recommend it to girls starting out. You see loads of the ball, it’s great for your technique and you learn how to play in small spaces. The 11-a-side game is more about tactics and power, but because I’m a real battler, it suits me best! When they’re young I’d recommend futsal first and then later they can follow whichever path they like.
Adrián: While it’s fundamental to bring more women into positions of responsibility in the local, regional and national federations, the machismo that can stunt progress and slow development often comes from the girls themselves. There can come a point when it’s the girls who – due to their culture, education, family background – are the ones putting the brakes on themselves. They need to start saying “I want to start doing sport, I’ve got every right to do it, I’m just as capable of doing it and I’m going to go for it”.
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