'I knew what to do to become a complete player' - Barcelona's Aitana Bonmati, the best player in Europe this season

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Aitana Bonmati Barcelona 2022-23
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The midfielder is having an incredible campaign and will hope that continues as the Catalans face Chelsea in the Women's Champions League semi-finals

Has there been a better player in Europe this season than Barcelona midfielder Aitana Bonmati? Arguably not. No one has been involved in more goals in the Women's Champions League, with the 25-year-old topping the assist charts and is only being outscored by Wolfsburg's Ewa Pajor - a striker.

Such contributions have helped Barca reach a fifth successive European semi-final, in which they will take on English champions Chelsea this weekend in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

But it's not just this year that Bonmati has caught the eye. For several seasons, with her attacking talents complemented by qualities on the other side of the ball, she has been up there as one of the world's best. Indeed, it's not rare to see her pop up in her own box with a goal-saving tackle.

"Three or four years ago, I decided that if I wanted to be a complete player, I had to do those things also," she tells GOAL. "Not only score and make assists, but also do defensive tasks to help the team."

Has she got the individual recognition she deserves in that time? Certainly not. The midfielder wasn't even nominated for the Ballon d'Or when Barca won the Champions League in 2021, and then finished a distant fifth in the 2022 voting despite a superb season being backed up by an excellent European Championship.

But that is not Bonmati's priority. Her goal is to win with her team and, with 12 major honours to her name already, she's certainly been doing that.

Now, with Barca just two games away from a fourth Champions League final in five years, the technically gifted Catalan wants to continue along that prosperous path...

  1. Total Barcelona dominance
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    Total Barcelona dominance

    It’s been another absolutely sublime season for Bonmati and Barcelona.

    So far this season, the team has played 36 games and won 34 of them. The only blips on their record are a Champions League group-stage defeat to Bayern Munich and a cup game that was handed to their opponents, Osasuna, after fielding an ineligible player.

    Despite a flurry of summer signings needing time to settle – including England duo Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh, Brazil forward Geyse Ferreira and talented teen Salma Paralluelo – and the absence of Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas due to injury, the Catalans are well on track for a fourth successive league title.

    “I think that we are having a great season,” Bonmati says. “We are a team that is so ambitious and, every year, wants to improve more and be better than last year. I think that I am so ambitious also. I want to be the best version of myself every year and show better things every year.

    “This year, I have a different role in the team because last year, the coach told me that when we build up the team, I had to be near the centre-backs, to help.

    “Now, this year, this role is taken by Keira and Patri [Guijarro] and I am in a position that is more offensive. I scored a lot of goals with my left foot that last year I didn't, so I tried to improve because if you can shoot with both feet, it's better.”

    Averaging a goal or an assist every 84 minutes in the league, she’s certainly having an attacking influence, but also one at the back, too, as she adds with a laugh: “I'm little but I try to help the team also in defensive tasks in every part of the pitch.”

  2. Adapting in midfield
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    Adapting in midfield

    That Barca have racked up such an incredible record without Putellas, who won the Ballon d’Or for a second time in a row earlier this year, is a huge testament to the quality of the entire squad.

    For many years, the club’s midfield has been one of Putellas, Bonmati and Guijarro, but the former’s devastating ACL injury has broken that talented trio up and the latter pair have had a role in introducing a new signing into the middle of the park, in Walsh.

    The England star joined Barca off the back of helping the Lionesses win Euro 2022, named Player of the Match in the final, and Bonmati has been doing her best to help her adapt to the unique ways of her new club.

    “I speak a lot with Keira because she doesn't understand Spanish,” she explains. “Sometimes, when she doesn't understand something, I try to help her.

    “Alexia, Patri and me, we have been playing together for a long time. We know each other a lot. Alexia is a great footballer, so [her injury] was significant for the team. But then we have to keep going.

    “Keira Walsh came in. We have different players who can play inside like [Claudia] Pina and Mariona [Caldentey] also. We have different options.

    “I think we are a good team because we have a lot of good pieces, not only one piece. I think that our success is because of the team.”

  3. Improving year on year

    Improving year on year

    This season, Bonmati believes the team has improved because it is even more complete. The new signings have settled in and are now having a serious impact.

    “We have a very large and good squad,” she says. “We have a lot of good players so we have a lot of things. You can make different starters, different XIs, and when maybe things go bad, you have substitutes that can change the match.

    “I think this year we have a complete team, a more complete team than last year.

    “We have a new team because we had a lot of signings. At the beginning, maybe it was a little bit difficult for them. It's normal because here in Barca, we train and we play so differently and you have to learn a lot of things that, if you have never trained here, it's so difficult.

    “But now we are playing together for nine months so the new players have adapted and we are a very, very good team.

    “I am here to help because I've been playing for Barcelona since I was 13 years old. I know the club very well and also the style.”

  4. Where is the individual recognition?

    Where is the individual recognition?

    When you watch Bonmati play, it is easy to tell that she has been at the club so long. The intelligence and elegance in her play typifies ‘the Barca way’, while her ability to adapt to different roles is in line with the ideas that Johan Cruyff brought to Catalunya so long ago.

    These qualities don’t just make her an excellent player for Barcelona, though. They make her one of the absolute best in the world, even if the individual recognition hasn’t always come her way.

    After Barca won the Champions League in 2021, Caroline Graham Hansen told GOAL that she didn’t believe players in the Spanish league got enough recognition.

    Indeed, the Norwegian was one of many that year who were a key part of that European triumph but would be overlooked when it came to individual awards. Bonmati was another.

    “I don't like to talk about these things because these things don't depend on the players, you know?” the midfielder says, giving her two cents on the subject.

    “What I can say is that our goal, our work, is to do the best play every day, to be the best team. When you are the best team and you play well and you win everything, maybe you have more options to be there.

    “Maybe you don't have to focus on this because it depends on a lot of things. If something has to come, it's going to come, but I prefer to focus on winning as a team and winning the Champions League, winning the league – winning,” she laughs. “And then we will see.”

  5. Happy memories

    Happy memories

    Like this season, Barca did a lot of winning last year. They won the league, the cup and the Super Cup – but came up short in May’s Champions League final as Lyon collected an eighth title.

    Bonmati separates that from this year’s goal to be champions of Europe, though.

    “This year, it's a new year,” she says. “Our goal is winning the Champions League. We are in the semi-finals against Chelsea. We want to win.”

    The upcoming tie will no doubt provoke happy memories for the Barca players who remain from the 2021 final. After all, it was the Blues that they beat so convincingly to win their first title, Bonmati scoring the third goal and being named Player of the Match.

    “It was a dream,” the midfielder, one of 14 players from that match still at the club, says. “It's very difficult to win a Champions League.”

    That said, she knows this match will be different. “The teams are improving and have different players. I think Chelsea is a good team and they are going to do different things.

    “We have to play with our style, having the ball and with having the ball, we are going to make chances. It's an equal match. It's difficult to have maybe 20-25 chances like in other matches. We have to be effective, very focused on scoring and also be careful of their counter-attack.

    "Chelsea feel good when they have spaces and then they can run at our defenders, so we have to be very focused on that, very focused on Guro Reiten, Sam Kerr and Lauren James who are these types of players that can do that. We are working on that.

    “It's going to be a good game I think, both the games, and equal games. These are the games that every footballer wants to play, in good stadiums.”

  6. Out to enjoy Stamford Bridge - again

    Out to enjoy Stamford Bridge - again

    As Bonmati looks ahead to playing the first leg at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, given her love for Barcelona, it’s perhaps no surprise that the midfielder mentions a particular moment from the club’s history that took place in west London.

    “Stamford Bridge, in our club, is a good stadium,” she says, with a smile. “We have good memories because Andres Iniesta scored a goal in that stadium that was a very important goal for the club, so I think that we can make history there also.”

    Iniesta's 93rd-minute strike knocked Chelsea out in the Champions League semi-finals in 2009 on away goals. Later that month, Barca beat Manchester United 2-0 in the final in Rome to win the competition.

    Bonmati and her team-mates will no doubt be hoping to ensure to venue remains a happy hunting ground for the Catalans, and that is solely what she is focused on. Not on a possible final, not on a possible second European crown and not on any individual awards.

    “First of all, I want to play in Stamford Bridge and [the second leg at] Camp Nou, to see what the feeling is. I don't want to think ahead to things that haven't happened yet. I want to focus on this Saturday first, then on Thursday, and then we'll see. The goal is clear.”

    You can add that laser focus to the list of reasons why she is one of the world's best.