“We need more teams like Barça,” suggests Manchester City’s Leila Ouahabi

Speaking at the House of WePlayStrong ahead of last Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, Manchester City’s Leila Ouahabi reflected on whether Barcelona’s successes on the European stage can translate into heightened interest in women’s football within Spain.

The defender, who was recently called up to the Catalan national team for a friendly against Paraguay, also spoke openly about her ambitions with Manchester City after Gareth Taylor’s side narrowly missed out on claiming their first domestic league title since 2016.

50,827 fans flooded through the turnstiles at San Mámes to witness Barcelona record their first-ever victory over Olympique Lyonnais, retaining their UEFA Women’s Champions League crown in sensational style through Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas goals.

The House of WePlayStrong opened six hours before kickoff in the Basque Country – but the streets were already adorned with countless Senyera flags and seemingly all paths led to Barcelona’s designated fan meeting point in Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar. UEFA estimates suggested that 40,000 fans had made the trip from Catalunya alone.

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“I think here in Bilbao [there are] a lot of fans from Barça,” Ouahabi reflected. “But in Turin [host city of the 2021/22 UWCL final], I remember as well a lot of fans from Barça were coming and it’s for that reason I think that Barça have really good fans around the world.”

The Barcelona squad features a strong contingent of Spanish nationals, with many also contributing to la Roja’s success at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Despite their success, the women’s football landscape hasn’t experienced the same boom as the domestic English game did following the Lionesses EUROs win in 2022 – with Aitana Bonmatí recently telling BBC Sport that “nothing has changed.”

Ouahabi’s viewpoint was perhaps a little different, with the Manchester City star expressing that “in Spain, women’s football is growing. But I think the teams like Barça are very important for Spain because for me, in my opinion, [they are one of] the best teams in the world.”

“I think this improvement for Barça since years ago has done really good things and we need more teams like Barça,” she added.

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With ex-Olympique Lyonnais boss Sonia Bompastor recently confirmed as Emma Hayes’ successor at Chelsea, Manchester City may feel that 2024/25 is the perfect opportunity to disrupt the London club’s dominance in the Barclays Women’s Super League.

Under Hayes, Chelsea won five league titles in a row – but the Cityzens pushed them to the final day in 2023/24, falling short on goal difference alone. Ouahabi reflected on a gruelling campaign, suggesting that “we did really well this season – we had the same points [as] Chelsea, just we lost the title [because of] some goals.”

“We are growing, maybe we need to improve in some games because we can’t lose some games if we want to win the league, we need to win every game because this competition is really competitive. I think it’s just for details, and for the next season, we [will] try to improve these things,” added the 31-year-old.

But despite missing out on silverware, the Cityzens second-place finish in the Barclays Women’s Super League was enough to earn them a spot in the second round of the qualifying stages for the 2024/25 UEFA Women’s Champions League.

The final will remain on the Iberian peninsula for another season, with Lisbon’s Estádio José Alvalade appointed as the venue of the showpiece finale – and Ouahabi hopes that Manchester City will be in with a real chance.

“I hope that with Man City we can do a good Champions League [campaign],” she explained, “and I hope to play in this competition. If we play against Barça, it’ll be amazing.”

The House of WePlayStrong event took place in Bilbao on the morning of the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. UEFA’s WePlayStrong campaign is dedicated to celebrating and advancing women’s football across Europe.

The House of WePlayStrong included a variety of activities, speakers, and interactive experiences throughout the day.

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