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Aitana Bonmati – Barcelona’s ever-present leader who always rises to the challenge

When Barcelona lost the 2022 Women’s Champions League final to Lyon, one player’s face stood out among her team-mates’ anguished expressions.

Aitana Bonmati took her silver medal, gave it a kiss and went to thank the travelling Barca fans. As she applauded those supporters, she made a promise to them: “We’ll be back.” Sure enough, the next year, Barcelona won their second Champions League title with a fine comeback against Wolfsburg.

After Barca lost the first leg of this season’s Champions League semi-final at home against Chelsea, Bonmati once again fronted up to the media. The midfielder was angry about how Emma Hayes’ visiting side had played, especially when it came to running the clock down to protect their 1-0 lead.

“To me, that’s playing dirty,” she said. Her anger was shared by Barcelona’s staff and fans.

It produced a similar result. With a player of the match performance in Saturday’s second leg at Stamford Bridge, Bonmati carried Barca to their fourth consecutive Champions League final and fifth in six years. She levelled the tie with her 25th-minute goal and won the penalty from which Fridolina Rolfo sealed the win with 15 minutes of the 90 to go.



Aitana Bonmati exclusive interview: ‘There’s no hiding. It’s what comes naturally to me’

Bonmati’s competitive nature and unbridled ambition are infectious. She has become a symbol for Barca through her style of play, earning the 2023 Ballon d’Or with the club she was formed at, while wearing the No 14 — the same shirt worn for the men’s team by the great Johan Cruyff.

But the 26-year-old’s positivity in the face of adversity has sometimes clashed with the outlook of a club who enjoy uncontested dominance in Spain.

“We are not used to losing, but we have full confidence,” Bonmati said before the second leg against Chelsea. “It is a challenge that motivates us.”

After that 2022 Champions League final, Barcelona focused on becoming more competitive after falling behind in games. Last season’s final against Wolfsburg was the crowning achievement of that work, as they rallied from two goals down to win 3-2.

Bonmati played a key role in last season’s Champions League title victory (Tullio Puglia – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

It has been a busy week for Bonmati.

She spoke extensively to the media after the first-leg loss to Chelsea — something she is not afraid of doing for club or country. She assumed that role during Spain’s triumphant World Cup campaign last summer, even after a painful 4-0 drubbing against Japan in the group stage. Both Bonmati and her entourage are very clear it is something she must do.

This week also saw the premiere of a documentary about Bonmati on Catalan station TV3, which involved cameras following the midfielder for two years.

One moment showed Bonmati interacting with Pep Guardiola. She picked up the Manchester City manager at his home in Barcelona and they went for a chat in one of the city’s hotels. During that conversation, they joked about the possibility of Guardiola returning to Barca as club president — and how he would sign her up to be sporting director for their men’s team.

Bonmati also went to Madrid to collect the Laureus award for the World Sportswoman of the Year last week. She was then present in Barcelona for the announcement of an agreement between her club and airline Vueling, which gave the women’s team their first-ever dedicated plane for their travels.

She was equally visible in that second leg against Chelsea, darting into the box to score a deflected opener.

Bonmati celebrated by grabbing the badge on her shirt and kissing it. Barcelona’s social media accounts did not hesitate in drawing parallels with another of their iconic midfielders:

Bonmati went on to win Rolfo’s decisive penalty as she was brought down by a combination of Jess Carter and Ashley Lawrence. That moment followed a controversial red card for Chelsea defender Kadeisha Buchanan which tilted the game in Barcelona’s favour, but Bonmati was everywhere for the visitors during the game.

It is not the first time she has shown her leadership qualities. Bonmati was integral to Spain’s World Cup win, pushing her team on after that early upset against Japan.

Saturday night was another big challenge, with a sell-out crowd against Barcelona and a level of opponent they lack in their domestic competition, Liga F.

In second-half added time, Bonmati dropped to the turf. Some might have thought she was doing it to get back at Chelsea given her words from the first leg, but she had actually gone down with cramp and had to be withdrawn for another Ballon d’Or winner in Alexia Putellas.

Bonmati was named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year last week (Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images for Montblanc)

When the full-time whistle blew, Bonmati came running out of the dugout to hug Rolfo and midfielder Ingrid Engen. The three players embraced and jumped up and down in celebration.

Perhaps this is exactly what Barca’s serial winners needed. Those at the club say they saw the hunger in players’ eyes from the moment they lost that first leg. Now they face an even bigger test in the final — their bogey team Lyon, who beat them in the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals.

Beating France’s record eight-time European champions on May 25 in the Spanish city of Bilbao would see Barca remain the continent’s best club team. It won’t be easy, but Bonmati and company have shown they are up for a challenge.

(Top photo: Crystal Pix/MB Media/Getty Images)

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