Why Alexia Putellas deserves to win the 2021 Ballon d'Or Féminin
When Barcelona won the 2021 Champions League final with a resounding 4-0 victory, it was guaranteed that year-end awards would start to swing in the club’s favor. Despite making it far in the Champions League for the past two seasons, players from the Catalan club have been notably absent from the 2019 and 2020 year-end awards. Although decisions like this are only natural given the trends of voting panelists, many fans, cules or not, looked at the nominees and felt like deserved players were missing from selection.
Luckily for Barcelona, the magnitude of their treble-winning campaign hit home for many journalists, coaches, and other highly-influential members of UEFA and FIFA voting panels. At the end of the season, 8 Barcelona players were named to the UEFA Women’s Champions League Squad of the Season, 7 Barcelona players were nominated to the UWCL positional awards, and Barcelona players swept the 3 nominations for UEFA Women’s Player of the Year. Later on, 5 Barcelona players were nominated for the Ballon d'Or Féminin. Of these players in selection, there has always been one player poised to win them all- Alexia Putellas.
Alexia Putellas has been at her peak for a while now, but in the past two seasons, she has undergone a complete transformation. In 2019, Alexia was freed from her compensatory position on the left-wing and has since comfortably settled into a left center-midfield role. With incredible vision and a keen eye for goal, her ability alone has put her in pole position to be considered the best player in the world.
In the 2020-21 season, Alexia scored 26 goals in all competitions, the most of any midfielder in Europe. The majority of these goals were scored in the league, where Alexia’s consistency was key to Barcelona’s utterly dominant campaign. Barcelona scored 167 goals that season, with Alexia being directly involved in 30 of them. Of these 30 goals and assists, many were recorded in important matches such as those against Real Madrid in the first ever Women’s Clasico. Alexia scored in both games against Los Blancos, including Barcelona’s first home game against their historic rivals. She also scored the first ever competitive goal for a woman in the Camp Nou, breaking the floodgates against a tough and defensive RCD Espanyol side.
The league was not the only competition where she showed her consistency, as Alexia performed at a high level in all of the domestic cup competitions she played in this season. The first of which was the 2019-2020 Copa de la Reina, postponed about eight months due to COVID restrictions. In the final of that cup, Alexia scored the game-winning goal with a penalty and made Barcelona the club with the most all-time Copa de la Reina titles. In the 2020-21 version of the cup, Alexia had the best Copa de la Reina tournament of her career so far. She scored in each match of the competition, all against formidable opposition. In the semifinal, she scored two goals and then went on to do the same in the final against Levante UD. Levante, who nearly found themselves coming back from 2-0 by scoring twice within ten minutes, were shut down by Alexia scoring Barcelona’s third. Alexia scored her second goal of the match not soon after as Barcelona won their seventh all-time Copa de la Reina title and completed the continental treble. Alexia picked up the MVP of the Final award, the third of her career.
Unfortunately for Barcelona, the club weren’t dominant in all of their domestic competitions. Where they slipped up the worst was in the Supercopa Femenina, where they had an early exit against their arch-rivals Atlético Madrid in the semifinals. Atlético won the game on penalties, but Alexia showed up big and scored a fantastic free kick in the 90th minute, tying the game and forcing a period of extra time. Barcelona exited the tournament on penalties, but that goal established Alexia as the second-highest goalscorer in FC Barcelona Femení's history.
Barcelona bounced back from their Supercopa woes to make history in Europe’s top international cup competition, the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Although Alexia didn’t get on the scoresheet for most of the knockout rounds, she as usual was an essential part of Barcelona’s starting XI. Alexia was the club’s biggest creator behind Caroline Graham Hansen and Lieke Martens, and picked up more defensive duty than normal on the other end of the pitch when facing some of Europe's strongest forwards.
After defeating PSG 2-1 to make their second Champions League final, Alexia began to develop a nagging issue with her hamstring. A day before the final, the midfielder was seen training away from the group. Fans and teammates alike worried that she may not be able to start one of the biggest matches of Barcelona’s history against the English champions, Chelsea. Although she later explained that her hamstring “felt like it was going to snap in half” Alexia showed her importance to the team when she played the final anyway and bagged a goal and an assist. She scored Barcelona’s second goal, which was a penalty against German keeper Ann-Katrin Berger, who had already made 3 penalty saves in Chelsea’s Round of 32 clash against Atlético Madrid. Some minutes later, Alexia’s quick one-touch through ball split Chelsea’s defense and allowed Aitana Bonmatí to dribble past Jess Carter and slot the ball past Berger to make it a third. Barcelona ended up winning 4-0, the largest margin of victory in a single-legged UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Alexia’s Champions League performances earned her UEFA’s Women’s Champions League Midfielder of the Season award and the UEFA Women's Player of the Year award.
This summer, Alexia was given two captaincy roles with both her club team and her national team. In June she was named as a co-captain of Spain with Irene Paredes and Jenni Hermoso, and in August- upon the summer departure of Vicky Losada- Alexia was officially given Barcelona's first-captaincy role for the first time in her career. Gaining two improved captaincy roles within the span of a few months is demonstrative of her importance to her clubs.
Alexia's individual campaign for the 2020-21 season was nothing short of historic, but she is continuing to make history well into the current 2021-22 campaign. Her most notable achievement so far this year was surpassing Barcelona teammate Marta Torrejon for Spain's cap record, where she now sits with 91 international appearances to her name. On an individual level, her stats this season have been nothing short of otherworldly. Alexia has 5 direct goal contributions in 4 Champions League matches and 19 direct goal contributions in 10 league matches. 9 of those goals and assists were recorded against some of Barcelona's hardest opponents of the season- Arsenal, Hoffenheim, Real Sociedad, and Levante. In fact, the only match so far this season where she played but did not score or assist was against Atlético Madrid, where Barcelona won 3-0 away.
An easy enough case can be made that Alexia is the greatest player alive right now. This past year, she has racked up the accolades, scored the goals, broken the records, and showed up in all the big moments that would justify her case as worthy of the Golden Ball.