MADRID — Alexia Putellas heads to the Women’s World Cup after winning back-to-back Ballon d’Or awards and helping Barcelona win two of the last three Champions League titles.
Even so, her role on Spain’s national team is in doubt. The 29-year-old midfielder with a knack for scoring has barely played for her club since recently returning from a leg injury that sidelined her for nearly 10 months.
Alexia was included on Spain´s squad for the tournament beginning later this month in Australia and New Zealand. But it is not clear what part she will play on a team that has made huge strides in recent years.
Alexia, who leads Spain with 100 appearances, has had a role in that boom by becoming only the second Spaniard, woman or man, to win the Ballon d’Or.
Spain opens the World Cup against Costa Rica in Wellington on July 21. Japan and Zambia are also in Group C.
She was set to take the 2022 European Championship by storm, only for the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee to rupture days before the tournament. She played her first game since that injury in late April when Barcelona clinched the Spanish league title.
In total, she has made six appearances since her injury, all as a substitute, including in the Champions League final. She lifted the trophy as Barcelona’s captain after her teammates pulled off a 3-2 comeback victory over Wolfsburg.
Spain coach Jorge Vilda praised Alexia when he announced his preliminary squad. But it was unclear if he felt he would get more from her playing as a starter or as a backup who could handle the pressure of the final minutes.
Alexia guided Barcelona to its first European Cup in 2021. The next season she led the Champions League in scoring with 11 goals but Barcelona lost in the final.
This season, she was an observer until the final minutes of her club’s triumphant Champions League campaign. If fully recovered, Alexia would be a formidable weapon for Spain thanks to her ability to join the attack, find spaces to shoot, and her superb strike from distance.
“We know that she is going to help us a lot, not just on the field, but also with her leadership and the respect she commands from the other players, her experience, her ability to know what is needed, and that talent she has to rise to the challenge,” Vilda said. “That is what we were missing in the last European Championship.”
But Alexia is also returning to a team that has undergone an unwanted overhaul.
Relations deteriorated between several players and Vilda after Spain exited last year’s European Championship in the quarterfinals.
Fifteen players, including several Barcelona teammates of Alexia, said they would not continue to play for Vilda unless he improved his coaching methodology.
The federation interpreted the players´ decision as an attempt to force the ousting of Vilda. The federation backed the coach firmly and left the rebels off the team.
Now, three of the 15, including Barcelona playmaker Aitana Bonmatí, have been included after a behind-the-scenes reconciliation with Vilda.
The 12 still left off the squad include Patricia Guijarro, who scored twice in Barcelona’s win over Wolfsburg.
Alexia was injured at the time of the split between the players and coach and was not among the 15 who refused to continue playing. She did show support for them in a message posted on social media. That, however, did not impede her return for Spain once she had healed.
Alexia may also have to deal with off-field distractions – this time from her club.
Spanish radio Cadena SER recently reported that Barcelona would consider selling Alexia if they had a strong offer.
Alexia, who is from a town near Barcelona and has one more year on her current deal, reportedly has no interest in leaving. The indebted club is burdened by a massive payroll for its men´s team and is expected to try to shed some male players.
Barcelona told The Associated Press that it is in negotiations with Alexia to give her another contract and has no desire for her to leave. The club also said it has no plans to trim the budget for its women´s team.