Notes about Womens’ Spanish Football by Alfonso Matamoros (Levante UD Ladies Manager)
June 6, 2013
In many countries men’s and women’s football are not recognised as equals, in some only men’s football exists, in others the female category exists on a small scale. There are countries where women’s foorball is steadily progressing, but only in a few does it receive real recognition and is followed by the media and fans. My own experience brings me to describe the model that exists in Spain: what is women’s football like there?
There are different categories in the structure of women’s football in Spain: there is a First and Second Division along with further amateur divisions and age groups divided up by autonomous region. Players compete in a league throughout the season and the top 8 teams who play in the top flight are eligible to play in the ‘Copa de la Reina’ or ‘Queen’s Cup’, but only the league champion is eligible to play in European competitions.
There are a few interesting points to analyse, the age factor being of particular interest: unlike in men’s football where children are categorised into groups according to their age (the age gap does not exceed two years: benjamines, alevines, infantiles, cadetes, juveniles) In female football players are grouped together from six to eleven years old, and then from age twelve upwards the age gap can be so wide that a child of 12 could be playing alongside a woman of 25. There is, however, a rule that means players are divided up according to their fitness levels.
If we analyse the over-12 age gap, we can see the difficulties that must arise when it comes to planning training sessions. Bearing in mind that in an amateur team there could be a girl of 14 years old in the same team as women of 36, we would have to plan a session that was physically, tactically and technically beneficial, whilst also including exercises suitable for an experienced, physically developed woman of 36. These situations are more commonplace than one might first imagine.
One surprising comparison between men’s and women’s football is the ability to take in and understand footballing concepts. Often in grass roots or amateur football, boys take many football concepts as given - they may be familiar with them but really, they don’t know them in great detail. And since they think they already know about tactical concepts, they don’t usually go the extra mile to find out exactly what is being asked of them. Asking questions is a fundamental part of learning, instead of taking things as given. However, young female players have a greater capacity for learning about all the footballing concepts a coach wishes to teach them, the level of discipline and willingness to learn is much greater among girls.
The differences between the sports, especially economically and professionally, are shocking. If we take the men’s and women’s first division as an example: a (male) player from the Liga BBVA can expect to earn an average wage of between €100 000 and €200 000, that’s of course, not counting the big-name earners such as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. However, a player in the ladies first division would have to be very lucky in order to live soley on what she earns from football. The harsh reality is that the majority of women play football purely for the love of the game, but a secondary source of income is vital.
We can delve a bit deeper into the analysis of women’s football: methodology, training sessions, competitiveness of players etc... and we hope to have a chance to do so in the space Gerard Nus grants us in his blog. To conclude, we are grateful that in the last few years, UEFA has developed a plan to structure and develop women’s football across Europe. At present, it seems to be making its mark in Northern European countries.
It can be said that in Spain, we have made important progress in terms of increasing the number of categories and federal licences which make it possible to improve facilities and the quality of teams. The level of professionalisation of the coaching staff has been an important step for women’s football; in the First Division there are teams with qualified coaches, fitness coaches, doctors and physios - as surprising as it may be, these professionals have not been involved in women’s football for very long.