The Pursuit of Perfection

BARCELONA, Spain — These are the naked statistics of Barcelona Femení’s season thus far. The workforce has performed 9 video games within the league. It has gained 9 video games within the league. It has gained them, actually, by such a margin that the phrase “gained” doesn’t fairly seize it. Barcelona’s first sport ended, 5-0. So did its second. In its third and fourth video games, it scored eight.

That was solely the beginning. The following week, it beat Alavés by 9-1. Late final month, it confronted Actual Sociedad, the one workforce nonetheless vaguely, theoretically, in its slipstream on the summit of La Liga Fémenina. That completed 8-1. In the midst of all that, it discovered time to deconstruct Arsenal, the in any other case unbeaten chief of Britain’s Girls’s Tremendous League, too.

Together with its two appointments within the Champions League, Barcelona has performed 11 video games this season. It has conceded three objectives — one every to Alavés, Actual Sociedad and Arsenal — and it has scored a scarcely plausible 60. Its coach, Jonatan Giráldez, has weighed all of that proof earlier than drawing his conclusion: Barcelona actually ought to have scored extra objectives.

The pure assumption may be that he’s, if not joking, then maybe exaggerating for impact, however Giráldez is sort of critical. In his thoughts, it’s a easy equation: You simply have to position the numbers in correct context. “We now have generated greater than 200 possibilities,” Giráldez stated. “So in case you take a look at it like that, we now have not scored very many.”

It is a supervisor’s job, in fact: to demand fixed enchancment from gamers, to refuse them the posh of resting on their laurels, to eschew the very thought of being happy. “That’s what coaches are like,” stated Marta Torrejón, the skilled Barcelona defender, “all the time wanting extra.”

Giráldez’s reasoning, although, is somewhat extra pragmatic. He was promoted to go coach final summer time after the sudden departure of his predecessor, Lluís Cortés, solely weeks after the membership had gained not simply the Spanish league and its home cup but in addition its first Champions League title, crushing Chelsea, 4-0, within the last.

Giráldez, 29, was given the job forward of a cluster of different candidates — at the very least 20 coaches from world wide speculatively despatched of their résumés — basically as a continuity candidate, somebody who knew “our concepts and our identification,” because the membership’s sporting director, Markel Zubizarreta, put it.

To Giráldez, the job is a substantial privilege and a continuing strain. Barcelona, now the foremost workforce in ladies’s soccer, has requirements to take care of and expectations to fulfill. He doesn’t ask for extra from his gamers out of rote intuition; he does it as a result of he is aware of that what seems to be a slight fissure at this stage of the season might show a deadly fault line in a while.

“We now have conceded two objectives from set items this season,” Giráldez stated. (The third, scored by Actual Sociedad’s Sanni Franssi, got here from a counterattack.) “One from a nook, one from a free kick. While you win a sport, 8-1, that goes unnoticed, however we now have to enhance that, as a result of after we play within the last rounds of the Champions League, towards Lyon or Paris St.-Germain or Wolfsburg, that motion might ship us residence.

“If we now have 25 possibilities in a sport, the goalkeeper saves 13, and 12 go huge. In a extra balanced sport, we’d not have so many possibilities, so we now have to ensure we take extra of them. We now have to work out why we didn’t rating extra objectives: We acquired 9 towards Alavés, however I had the feeling that we might have scored 15. Why didn’t we?”

It’s important, he rapidly provides, to acknowledge that it is extremely arduous to attain eight objectives in a sport, to understand and to have a good time that. After which demand even higher.

“You possibly can win, 8-0, and nonetheless have lots of issues to enhance,” Giráldez stated. “My job is to detect what we now have accomplished badly and modify it. It’s about enhancing each element.”

These particulars should not straightforward to seek out at Barcelona, not today. Within the eight years since Torrejón joined the membership, it has modified nearly past recognition. “It is sort of a totally different place,” she stated. “From zero to 100.”

When Torrejón arrived, coaching classes nonetheless passed off within the night, as a result of the gamers both attended faculty or went to work throughout the day. Already a fixture on Spain’s nationwide workforce again then, she had joined on the promise that Barcelona would flip skilled. There was speak of great funding, attracting a sponsor, constructing a profitable workforce.

When the transfer got here, in 2015, it felt “like luxurious,” Torrejón stated: arriving at Barcelona’s coaching complicated within the morning, having breakfast collectively as a workforce, having fun with entry to the membership’s medical providers and its conditioning employees and its state-of-the-art amenities. Nonetheless, although, “enthusiastic about profitable the Champions League was inconceivable,” she stated.

Barcelona didn’t select, not like a lot of its friends, to make use of the monetary clout of its dad or mum membership to speed up its development. “For 10 million euros,” or about $11.5 million, “you may purchase a workforce of one of the best gamers on this planet,” Zubizarreta stated. “There are groups on the market which can be initiatives based mostly on doing that. Lyon has accomplished it. Chelsea has accomplished it. Manchester Metropolis has an English core however they’ve accomplished it, too.”

Barcelona, he stated, needed to do it in another way. “The very best factor we will do is be ourselves,” Zubizarreta stated. As an alternative of upgrading its squad with a patchwork of superstars, it determined to permit the gamers it needed to flourish, to construct a workforce that was “distinctively Barcelona.”

Progress was halting. “It is extremely arduous to climb the ladder organically,” Torrejón stated. There was a Champions League semifinal look in 2017, however for 3 years in succession the workforce completed second within the league to Atlético Madrid. In that, maybe, lay the one conceptual distinction between the membership’s males’s and girls’s divisions. “The lads’s workforce not profitable trophies to speculate sooner or later wouldn’t, perhaps, be the best-received information,” Zubizarreta stated.

The reward appeared to return in 2019. Barcelona completed second within the league, once more, however certified for its first Champions League last. It met Lyon, the game’s equal of the Harlem Globetrotters, in Budapest, and was swept away within the first half.

“It was a mirror,” Zubizarreta stated. “We might see how far we needed to go.”

As quickly as he returned from Hungary, he sought out the membership’s conditioning specialists. There was no scarcity of expertise, however he knew that Barcelona’s gamers needed to be fitter, sooner and stronger to compete with the easiest golf equipment in Europe.

What adopted, in response to Giráldez, an assistant coach on the time, was a “brutal” change in the best way Barcelona educated. “We might enhance rapidly at first,” he stated. However the additional up the curve the gamers acquired, the tougher they needed to work even for the smallest positive aspects.

That strategy grew to become so embedded within the membership that it has endured even what may need gave the impression to be its apogee: the treble acquired beneath Cortés final season, capped by a destruction of Chelsea within the Champions League last that echoed Barcelona’s personal expertise towards Lyon two years beforehand.

And so, even now, Giráldez can watch his workforce, champions of the whole lot, scoring 5 and 6 and eight and 9 towards its opponents, with its purpose distinction — within the league alone — of plus 52, and ask for extra. And never solely can his gamers perceive his light chiding and detailed tape classes, however they’ll additionally admire them.

“The key is that we’re competing with ourselves,” Torrejón stated. “You compete together with your rival for factors or for qualification, however with your self to be higher day by day, in your place within the workforce. That’s the greatest wrestle: with your self. The coach may all the time need extra, however we do as a workforce. We’re by no means happy.

“Why be proud of scoring 4 when you must have scored eight?”

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