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Aitana Bonmati: How Barcelona’s superstar is changing the game on and off the pitch

Bonmati is the reigning Ballon d’Or champion and has also advocated for a number of causes away from football

Sonia Twigg
Friday 24 May 2024 11:39 BST
Aitana Bonmati won the Ballon d’Or Féminin in 2023
Aitana Bonmati won the Ballon d’Or Féminin in 2023 (Getty)

Aitana Bonmati should be revered for her unquestionable footballing talent, but her desire to advocate for the issues that transcend sport truly sets her apart.

No male winner of the Ballon d’Or, such as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, has ever had to take a stand on human rights, player welfare, or the wider issues in the game. But Bonmati has chosen to use her platform and role-model status to speak out and to try and change the future of women’s football.

In 2023, Bonmati was named Uefa women’s player of the year, also winning the Ballon d’Or and the Fifa award for best women’s player: a clean sweep of individual achievements. She was also part of the Barcelona side that won the Uefa Women’s Champions League, and the Spain team that lifted the World Cup.

Speeches at events are typically used to thank clubs and supporters, even family. When accepting her award for Uefa women’s player of the year, Bonmati used her position to take aim at those involved in the scandal that had dominated the headlines in the aftermath of the Women’s World Cup final, when Luis Rubiales forcibly kissed Jenni Hermoso.

“As a society, we cannot allow the abuse of power in a working environment or disrespect,” Bonmati told the Uefa leaders, before adding: “To all the women who are suffering the same things as Jenni [Hermoso], we’re with you. We won the World Cup, but we’re not talking about that because of some things I [would] rather not ignore.”

Rubiales was eventually sacked, along with women’s head coach Jorge Vilda, and while the incident might have been branded as Spain’s MeToo Moment, Bonmati has consistently drawn attention to the lack of change in Spanish women’s football, even in the build-up to Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.

Bonmati was named best player at the 2023 World Cup
Bonmati was named best player at the 2023 World Cup (Reuters)

On the pitch, Bonmati’s skill and prowess do the talking, but her rise to the top has not always been so straightforward. At 13 she played boys’ football and faced the prospect of searching for a club when she was invited to train with Barcelona. Her versatility and talent were evident, and she went on to make her senior debut at the age of 16 with comparisons to some of the club’s greatest-ever players.

“Aitana Bonmati is a football player who has me completely in love with her for the way she plays. I would say she is the women’s (Andres) Iniesta playing for Barcelona,” Pep Guardiola said about her in 2023.

Bonmati epitomises this Barcelona team and all they have achieved on their rise to becoming the dominant women’s footballing force in Europe. She was instrumental in their 4-0 demolition of Chelsea in the 2021 final in Gothenburg, the club’s first Women’s Champions League trophy, and fulfilled a new, more attacking role with Alexia Putellas sidelined with injury the following season.

Bonmati’s Barcelona will be in this year’s Champions League final against Lyon
Bonmati’s Barcelona will be in this year’s Champions League final against Lyon (Getty)

“What has always characterised me has been my mentality,” Bonmati told The Guardian in March. “I’ve never missed training or a match. My mentality is something that I never lost and I think it’s been the key to what has made me the footballer I am.

“Talent is one thing, and you can work hard as well, but without this mentality of sacrifice, resilience, right and to want to be better every day… I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Being compared to Iniesta is significant, but being asked to do so in a world where women’s footballers have not always been fully paid is something else. As a teenager, Bonmati had considered moving to the United States in search of professional football but instead, she continued to fight for women’s football, all while being one of the sport’s best players.

The women’s Champions League final between Barcelona and Lyon will be shown live for free on DAZN here

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