The Ballon d’Or Feminin goes to a Barcelona player for the third year in a row, this time changing hands between two-time winner Alexia Putellas and her teammate for club and country Aitana Bonmati.
While the decision to award the men’s crown to World Cup winner Leo Messi for an eighth time rather than Champions League winner Erling Haaland generated plenty of mixed opinions, there can be little doubt that Bonmati was anything but the most worthy recipient of the female award having being crowned both a world champion with her country and European champion with her club in 2023.
The midfielder was absolutely instrumental to both triumphs and can reflect on a dream 2023 as Bonmati climbed out of Putellas’ shadow to stake her claim as the world’s best.
Winning the big one with Barca
Bonmati’s golden 2023 started on very much the right note with the first trophy and first personal accolade coming back in January. In the week of her 25th birthday, she starred in the Supercopa Final, scoring two of Barcelona’s three goals in the victory over Real Sociedad, being named Supercopa de España Femenina Final MVP in the process.
That was the start of Barcelona’s pursuit of another sweep of domestic and European honours and part of a 21 game winning streak in all competitions.
If there was any doubt about the destiny of the Liga F title, it was removed by Barcelona’s 1-0 victory over Real Madrid in March. Bonmati finished the season with 9 goals and 10 assists in the league, despite only starting 18 matches, largely due to rotation as coach Jonatan Giraldez opted to keep his star fresh for bigger challenges.
Bonmati’s ability to ghost forwards from midfield and decisively impact the game in the final third continued as Barca advanced in the Champions League with the Catalan setting up her team’s leveller in the dramatic 3-2 comeback win in the Final against Wolfsburg.
The only thing that kept Bonmati from emulating the combined achievements of Messi and Haaland by winning the World Cup and a treble with her club, was Barcelona’s elimination from the Copa de la Reina for fielding an ineligible player in a Round of 16 tie (which they originally won 9-0) at Osasuna.
A world champion down under
As one of “Las 15” who made themselves unavailable selection for the Spanish national team in September 2022, there were serious doubts about whether Aitana Bonmati would even go to the World Cup.
She was ultimately one of just three members of the 15 who boarded the plane to New Zealand for the tournament in July and would go on to start in every game for Jorge Vilda’s team.
A scorer in the opening game, Bonmati was also part of the Spain team that was humbled 4-0 by Japan in their final group game, a result which cast serious doubts about their credentials as potential world champions.
It’s worth noting that at that point, Spain had never won a knockout match at a major tournament.
Step forward Aitana Bonmati, to rise to the moment and get her team’s challenge firmly back on track with a marvellous individual display with two goals and two assists in the 5-1 Last 16 win over Switzerland.
From that point on, there seemed little doubt that Spain were on the cusp of achieving something special. Bonmati remained at the heart of things as The Netherlands, Sweden and England were defeated to give an immensely talented team the world title at the end of a tumultuous period on and off the pitch for the Spanish women’s team.
Ballon d’Or the crowning moment in a year of personal accolades
Bonmati has had plenty of opportunities to get used to personal accolades coming her way in 2023, which may have helped prepare her for the limelight on the big stage at Monday’s glitzy Ballon d’Or ceremony in Paris as she was deservedly crowned the world’s best female footballer.
The Catalan had already been named the UEFA Women’s Champions League player of the season and the UEFA Women’s player of the year in 2023. She also received the FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, leaving little doubt that she would add the prestigious Ballon d’Or to her collection this week.
“I’m a little nervous, I haven’t slept for a few days” said Bonmati as she accepted the award from tennis star Novak Djokovic, in front of many of the greats of world football.
“Very proud because it has been an exceptional year at a sporting level” she continued.
“Although now I am here to collect an individual award, football is a collective sport. So I would like to extend the award to my teammates, staff and workers from Barça and the national team. Without them, I would not be here today.
“Thanks to the teams I have played for – Ribes, Cubelles and above all, Barça, my club, headed here today by its president, Joan Laporta.
“Thank you for betting on us when no one believed, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a professional footballer. Who was going to tell me when I was a girl that I would end up playing in a full Camp Nou?”
At 25, Bonmati has already fulfilled her dreams and more, yet there could be so much to come.
In theory, she’s only just entering her prime years as a footballer and as part of the world’s best club and international sides, there will surely be many more special nights and personal triumphs ahead.