Not long ago, FC Barcelona's women's team were considered also-rans in the Primera División Femenina and indeed were relegated in 2006/07. At the midway stage of the current campaign, however, they have dropped only two points from 17 games.
The groundwork for their rise was laid in that relegation season with the arrival of Xavier Llorens as coach. Famed as Lionel Messi's first trainer at Barcelona when in charge of the boy's Under-14 B side, Llorens explained how he made the switch.
"For 17 years I was training children in the youth categories," Llorens told UEFA.com. "José Ramón Alexanco – who was then in charge of the youth set-up – spoke with me and mentioned that I should take charge of the women's side. He said there had to be changes and that if at the beginning the team went down it didn't matter.
"I started completely from scratch. We dropped down a division but then came back up and based on that we could see where we were going wrong. Little by little we began to resolve [the problems] until we arrived at where we are today. The best part of the whole process was that we always had the support of the board of directors."
The backing of the club, headed by president Sandro Rosell, has helped the women's department take a giant leap forward in both quality of play and the results gained by this crop of players. "The hard work started in the era of [former president] Joan Laporta and since the new board have come in we've received another helpful push despite the fact we were already doing well," Llorens added.
That is now paying off. Barcelona currently have a chance of challenging next season for a unique treble of UEFA Women's Champions League, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Futsal Cup. They have been able to reinforce with talents including Miriam Diéguez, Sonia Bermúdez, Kenty Robles, Ludmila Manicler and Alba Aznar.
"In terms of the budget for signing players, things haven't changed greatly," Llorens went on. "The difference now is that players want to come to Barça."
Miriam and Sonia, recruited from champions Rayo Vallecano de Madrid, made a particular impact as Barcelona kicked off the campaign with a record 14 straight wins. "Both Miriam and Sonia have incredible talent, a great winning mentality and as people they are fantastic," the coach said. "Sonia always wants to get involved – she controls the ball perfectly and knows how to burst forward, plus her final touch is fantastic. She brings so much to the team."
The Spanish Cup holders are three points clear of Athletic Club after 16 wins in 17 top-flight matches – slipping up in a 3-3 draw last month at RCD Espanyol de Barcelona. "We like to work on things on a week-by-week basis and concentrate on each game as it comes," Llorens said.
"Despite the excellent run we've been on, everyone is aware that we could lose at any time. Perhaps the day when we least deserve it, we will lose. That said, our intention is to continue achieving good results while giving our all on the pitch."
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