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Barcelona enter era of dominance in women's football

May 25, 2024

Barcelona women won a historic first club quadruple after winning their third Champions League title in four years.

Barcelona players lift the Champions League trophy
Barcelona lifted their third Champions League title in four yearsImage: UDVIG THUNMAN/Bildbyran/IMAGO

Barcelona lifted their third Champions League title after a 2-0 victory over Lyon at a sold-out San Mamés Stadium on Saturday.

It capped an unprecedented season for the Spanish side who won the club's first-ever quadruple in their history, following goals from Aitana Donmati and Alexia Putellas.

Over 40,000 FCB Femini fans packed into the 53,331 spectator ground in Bilbao to witness their team stamp their current dominance at the top of women's football.

"It's a dream come true," Barcelona captain Putellas told TVE after the match. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort."

Success years in the making

This season capped an exceptional 10 months for Barcelona, as they followed up success in the Supercopa in January by wrapping up their fifth consecutive league title, with four matches remaining.

An 8-0 thrashing of Real Sociedad in the Copa de la Reina sealed a domestic treble before overcoming Lyon secured an unprecedented fourth title within the season for Jonatan Giráldez's team.

"Winning consecutive Champions League titles is not easy," defender Lucy Bronze added. "We go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe." 

The accession to becoming the undeniable force in women's football has been a carefully crafted project by former general manager Markel Zubizarreta.

Patience during lean years after professionalism

As far back as 2015, the plunge to finally professionalize was taken after the team had won four successive league titles and a commercial deal done with hardware company Stanley in 2014.

It gave the players the salaries they needed to focus solely on football but it paradoxically brought about a league trophy drought.

Atletico Madrid pipped Barca to the title in 2017, 2018 and 2019, having also invested in making their women's side professional.

"It was not just about winning," Isabella Aguilar, a lifelong Barcelona fan who has followed the club for over 20 years, explained to DW. "It was about the building blocks for the long term rather than wanting immediate success."

"As fans we understood that because the club were showing us how serious they were about making a lasting impact for the current players but also the young girls looking on."

Thinking outside the box

Off the field, progress was happening quickly as an academy was established for young girls who stayed at the fabled 'La Masia' training complex, putting them on a level pegging with their young male counterparts.

Players from outside of Spain who did not fit the classical "tiki taka" style, like Caroline Graham Hansen and Lucy Bronze, were brought in to enhance and influence a technically gifted but at times tactically one-dimensional Barcelona side. 

Alexia Putellas strikes the ball
Alexia Putellas signed a new two-year contract to keep her at Barcelona until 2026Image: EPA/Miguel Tona

The investment in infrastructure and in physiotherapists and nutritionists that understood how to get the best out of players was key too.

"You could see that what was happening within the club was not just lip service," Aguilar added.

"They were willing to put the time and effort into carving out a team that could symbolize what professional women's sport could look like for all female athletes."

Becoming a financial success

With the Catalans side assembling a team for a long-lasting future they signed a €3.5 million ($3.8 million) shirt sponsorship with Stanely in 2018 that made the women's side individually profitable from the men's side.

And, in 2019, they moved grounds from just outside of Camp Nou to the Estadi Johan Cruyff more than 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away — a change that increased attendances to their matches rather than reducing them.

"It was a big step towards giving the team the respect they deserved," Aguilar recalled feeling at the time.

"Fans turning up to the games were there because they wanted to watch and support women's football and the players responded to that."

With all the right ingredients on and off the pitch, success was not far from being realized.

Barcelona have won the Liga F trophy every year since 2019 and their players created the core of Spain's World Cup winning team.

The team regularly sells out league and Champions League fixtures at the 90,000 strong Camp Nou and amassed more the €8.5 million in revenue through shirt sales, tickets and sponsorship deals, according to the New York Times.

And, for Aguilar, it is no surprise that the Spanish club's "bravery" has been rewarded on the pitch.

"Barcelona have showed what is possible when you believe women's sport can be a commercial and sporting success," she said.

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru