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Junior Senior with Spain's Clàudia Pina and Irene Paredes

One came all the way through the youth ranks at professional clubs while the other was only allowed to join a team at 14. We compare their routes to the top.

Clàudia Pina and Irene Paredes
Clàudia Pina and Irene Paredes

Irene Paredes made her international debut in November 2011, and was included in Spain squads for the 2013 UEFA Women’s EURO and the 2015 and 2019 editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 31-year-old central defender is captaining her country in England and scored the equaliser against Finland in their opening group match.

On the club front she started her career in her native Basque Country, starting with local club Zarautz before moving first to Real Sociedad and then rivals Athletic Club. In 2016 she signed for Paris Saint-Germain, spending five years in the French capital before joining the newly crowned European champions Barcelona in 2021.

Clàudia Pina is a team-mate for both club and country, but is a relative newcomer to the international scene, making her debut last year. A product of the Barcelona youth system, in 2017 she achieved the distinction of being the highest scorer in UEFA national team football, both male and female combined, with a total of 16 goals at youth level in the calendar year.

With a decade between the two, they have hugely differing experiences of youth football, teams, and facilities, but the hard graft paid off for Paredes, who shares her advice with her young team-mate…

How did you start playing football?

Paredes: I started playing football in my village Legazpi, which is small, and I couldn’t play in any team because there was only a senior team for girls, so you had to be 14 years old to play. Then I’d play in the streets, with my friends, and once I turned 14, I made the team.

Pina: When I was a child, I would always have a ball at my feet. Actually, I never had any obstacles; I could always play with my friends in a team. Later, when I grew older, Espanyol contacted me, and that is where I started playing with girls at nine or ten years old. Then, two years later, Barcelona contacted me.

 Paredes (R) heads home against Finland in Spain's opening game at Women's EURO 2022 - a long way from where she started!
Paredes (R) heads home against Finland in Spain's opening game at Women's EURO 2022 - a long way from where she started!AFP via Getty Images

How were the facilities when you started?

Paredes: Back then, I was mad that I could not play on a team with boys because they did not let me. But, at the same time, playing in the streets taught me so many things that you cannot learn today, such as playing with any kind of ball on any field, falling down, hitting yourself with whatever… At the end of the day, it’s another kind of learning. Maybe you [Clàudia] had that learning in a team, but that was my situation, and I learnt all that in the streets.

Pina: I started playing in my hometown. Obviously the facilities were not of the same level as at Espanyol or Barcelona, but they were not that bad. We had our own indoor pitch for futsal. We had a closed indoor area for ourselves, but it was very small. Then, when I went to Espanyol a lot changed, and when I then moved to Barcelona the facilities, medical team, and everything were really different.

Paredes : You are now used to it for the better, and if you were to go back to those clubs the conditions would be better. That is great. When I got the chance to play when I was 14, it was in the facilities in my hometown which was an artificial pitch with sand. It really burnt you. We used balls from my home. I trained every day. I was just a kid back then. The schedule was rubbish, the dressing rooms were colder than outside, but as I changed teams things improved but back then it was impossible to imagine we would get to where we’ve got to nowadays. 

The Spain squad pose with the injured Alexia Putellas, who misses Women's EURO 2022 with injury.
The Spain squad pose with the injured Alexia Putellas, who misses Women's EURO 2022 with injury.UEFA via Getty Images
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Who were your heroes?

Paredes: I didn’t have any female role models because while it is true there were some women’s teams back then playing in La Liga and the Champions League, they weren’t seen, so I didn’t know about them and couldn’t support them. At that time, I supported Real Sociedad men’s team, but I never had any female role models.

Pina: I was more interested in men’s football since it was followed a lot more, but I started watching women’s football when I turned eight or nine. Back then, I noticed Alexia Putellas, and she’s a role model up to now. She’s the best in the world.

Irene, when did you start to dream of becoming a footballer and think that it was going to be possible?

Paredes: Well, I never had the aim exactly of becoming a professional footballer. However I was always aware of how much I liked the game, I loved having fun, and then opportunities came my way. When I got the chance to play in the First Division, I thought it was great. That was at Real Sociedad, and from then on in, I sought to improve further, not just because I was now a pro, but because it meant I could play better. It meant less effort and better conditions to carry out what nowadays is my job but perhaps it was at Athletic Club when I realised that I could make a living out of this.

Pina was a prolific goalscorer at youth level
Pina was a prolific goalscorer at youth levelAFP/Getty Images

Pina: I played for fun and because I was good at it, I kept on improving. Then one day it dawns on you that you are in the Barcelona B team. I then got a chance to play with the first team, which by this point had won many league titles and cups. You see it becoming more feasible and you become more involved. When you make it you just want to go as far as possible and be like a player you looked up to in Barcelona’s first team. Fortunately right now I have made it. Another dream come true for me was making it to this Women’s EURO and now we’re experiencing it as professionals.

Irene, could you give Clàudia a piece of advice from your experience?

Paredes: Well, my advice would be to keep doing what you’ve done so far. Have fun training because that’s how you improve and how you’ll improve the other players, and make the most of this time, these competitions, because they fly by. It’s something you’ll never forget. The 2013 EURO in Sweden was my first tournament with the Spain national team. A lot has changed since then. We were talking about this the other day – we paid homage to those girls – we were an amateur team. We did not have any of the same things in the team as we do now, both in the team itself and beyond. Now it’s a real pleasure to come here and be fully dedicated to training and then rest until the next session so that we’re fresh.

Clàudia, what are your thoughts on that?

Pina: I hope I can enjoy my first EURO and make the most of every moment; that’s what’s important. I’ll try to get us as far as possible and that I learn every day [with the team]. You have all worked hard to give me the chance of experiencing a EURO of this standard with the team we have and all of the things we have at our disposal. I hope that we come out triumphant!

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