Lluís Cortés' departure as FC Barcelona Femení's coach- after 7 trophies, including two league titles and a Champions League- brought about a mixture of emotions among the club and its supporters.
In terms of trophies, Xavi Llorens, who managed the side between 2004-2017, is the only other Barça coach who achieved more than what Cortés achieved at Barca in terms of trophies. Yet like the influential Llorens, Cortés' success was about so much more than results. Lluís Cortés unites the two most glorious eras of the club's history. Firstly, he took over the leftovers of his less-than-ideal predecessor, Fran Sánchez, in the middle of the 2018-19 season. Under Cortés' guidance, the team reached their first-ever UEFA Women's Champions League in history. He then went on to transform the team into one of the most thrilling sides to have played the game, becoming the first Spanish team to win a UWCL title on the way.
Cortés stamped his authority on the team right away. Barça’s passing game had always been a thing of beauty with the men's team, and that fluid, connected style of play is not much different from the other sports sections. Lluis Cortés made sure that Barça played true to their identity, as they learned to play quicker, more intensely, and more intelligently. Alongside this, there has been quite a shift in the mentality of the players and their demands after the UWCL loss in 2019. Cortés was one of the key catalysts to this change within the team. The results were seen in his first full season in charge when FCB Femeni went on to win the domestic treble by winning the Primera Iberdrola, the Spanish Supercopa Femenina, and the Copa del Rey without a single defeat. He made everyone believe that playing attractive football and winning trophies could go hand in hand.
This past season, playing under the eye of a global pandemic, Barcelona had its most demanding and enduring season to date. Each team was given four extra match days to play after no teams were relegated in 2019-20, and a lack of appropriate COVID protocol from the RFEF forced Barcelona to play a game every 3 days since the start of February. In spite of such a challenging calendar with both domestic and international competitions, Lluís Cortés made the impossible possible. With his talented group of players, he coached Barcelona to the club's first-ever continental treble for the women's section, thus creating a legacy of his own.
What did Llluís do to make the team click?
When Lluis took over a broken Barca in the middle of the 2018-19 season, the team lacked identity. They were behind Atlético Madrid in the title race, on course to miss out on a league title for the fourth season in a row. In addition, they had poor results in the Champions League, needing to come back in the Round of 32 against Kazakh team BIIK Kazygurt after losing 1-3 in the first leg. Although the previous coach Fran Sánchez was a below-par manager, the issue had persisted for much longer than Sánchez's tenure. It had been four years since Barcelona won their last league title. Markel Zubizarreta, the sporting director of the women's team, made the unexpected and bold decision by handing over the job to then-team analyst Lluís Cortés. Cortés previously had experience as an assistant coach for the Catalunya U-18 National Team. Upon his arrival, Barça returned to their roots of playing with a 4-3-3 formation, which catapulted them to defeating Atlético Madrid in the Wanda Metropolitano, as well as winning their first-ever UWCL semifinal(s). By that point, there was no Jennifer Hermoso or Caroline Graham Hansen, or even Patri Guijarro who missed the entirety of the second half of the season due to an injury. His tactical awareness was on point as he masterminded Barca to advance over Bayern Munich in the semifinal.
To no part of Lluís' blame, Barça Femení didn't have the squad to match the almighty Lyon in the 2019 Champions League final, and they battered Barça with an easy 4-1 scoreline. Lluís Cortés, along with the captains, decided to completely transform the intensity and frequency of their training to match Europe's giants and started the road to a comeback in the following season. With Vicky Losada out for half of the 2019-20 season with a hamstring injury, Cortés adopted a new midfield trio with Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati,best-ever and Patri Guijarro. Guijarro, who was fully healed from her injury, acted as a pivot, which seamlessly helped Barça maintain their style. His change to put Aitana Bonmatí brought about a much stronger attacking presence, especially with the introduction of Caroline Graham Hansen on the right. Each of these changes paid good dividends for the team in terms of flexibility and positioning.
Since the start of the 2019-20 season, there was no looking back for Lluís Cortés' Barcelona side as they went on to win the domestic treble without losing a match in all of their domestic games. Their only defeat of the entire season came at the hands of VfL Wolfsburg when Fridolina Rolfö broke culé hearts in a one-off Champions League semifinal. It became quite evident that the UWCL was within the grasp of the team if they figured out how to correct their shot conversion in knockout games. Thus, Cortés drew the blueprint for what was about to come in the following season.
Due to Barcelona's poor financial health, Lluís Cortés wasn't able to add depth to the squad and bring in new players. This was in contrast to their European counterparts like Chelsea, Lyon, Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich, and Atlético Madrid, who all signed multiple high-quality players in the summer of 2020. Cortés was forced to stick to the same group of players for another round. This time there were four more games than the previous season, and it looked like Barcelona would end up playing over 50 games if they went on to win all their trophies.
The challenge was nearly impossible, but Cortés and his team found a way to win the continental treble in one of the most celebrated ways one can dream of. In the league, Barcelona won 33 out of the 34 games they played, scoring an otherworldly amount of goals- 167. They did this while being forced to overcome adversity brought on by the Spanish Football Federation, who scheduled midweek matches even when they had knockout games in between league games, something that was not faced by any other major team in Europe. Against all odds, Barcelona broke their curse against French teams in the UWCL by beating PSG en route to the final in Gothenburg. In the final, Barcelona showcased one of their best ever performances when they thrashed Chelsea by blowing them away with 4 goals in the first 30 minutes. Barcelona then went on to win the treble and become the first-ever Spanish women's team to win a treble in women's football.
Eventually, every happy journey needs to end somewhere. Barcelona's journey with Lluis Cortes came to a halt when news about players' unhappiness was reported by SPORT after the international break. Allegedly, players were unsettled by his lack of rotation in matches, leading to multiple injuries, some of which required surgery. Given the circumstances, it's a natural process to have emotional and physical wear and tear after such a brutal season. In what seemed like a mutual decision, Lluís Cortés quietly parted ways with the club with a statement of departure directly after the final league matchday.
Lluís Cortés will not be Barcelona's coach next season, but his legacy will remain in the history of the club forever. It will be a monumental task for the players and the upcoming coach to surpass what Lluis Cortes' Barcelona has achieved. However, if one thing is certain, Cortés laid the groundwork of success, confidence, and dominance at FC Barcelona Femení that will surely carry on for a long time.