Creative Soccer Culture

Mapi Leon For SoccerBible Volumes: 'All Power'

Blazing her own trail that’s led to the highest heights with Barcelona and now onto a chance for glory on the international stage with Spain, Mapi Leon is a maverick that we welcomed onto the pages of SoccerBible Volumes: ‘All Power’ edition with open arms.

Being brave isn’t necessarily about having the minerals to jump out of a plane or into the ring with Floyd Mayweather. Sometimes being brave simply comes from that pure acceptance of who you are, embracing yourself and living your best life. For a shining example of this you need look no further than FC Barcelona defender, María Pilar León Cebrián, more commonly known as Mapi León. 

See, while football is a team game, and any achievement within it is reliant on working as a group, no matter which way you flip it it’s still made up of individuals – success is just based on whether these individuals manage to form a cohesive unit. Mapi Leon is, without a doubt, one of the strongest characters in the game today; an advocate of individuality she’s not afraid to be who she is, to show what she loves, to embrace what makes her unique, and yet she is still part of one of the most successful sides out there; a side that has racked up back-to-back Primera Division titles and Copa de la Reina’s, with a Champions League thrown in for good measure. Fortune favours the brave? You better believe it.

Getting right into it – what shaped your personal style would you say?

I have always liked fashion. One of my friends studied fashion and worked in Paris so I think that has influenced me. Maybe before I preferred to go a bit more unnoticed and not attract so much attention, but now I don’t really mind, I wear what I like. If I like a certain hairstyle I’ll just have it, if I feel good people’s opinions don’t matter.

It feels like every tattoo of yours has a story attached to it – is that fair to say?

Many of them do, but there are many others that don’t. Some of them have a meaning and a story behind them and some of them I got because I like them, I love art and I believe that having tattoos is also a way of art, “walking” art. 

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You need one to mark such a historical season. How are you feeling after being part of history such as the record that was set at the Camp Nou?

I feel absolutely fantastic, very happy. I believe that sometimes when we are living it, we have a very busy life, like the rest of the people and we don’t stop and think about what we are achieving. Sometimes when a match ends and the final whistle blows it puts an end to that game. For the record-breaking fixtures, I remember hearing the announcement of the attendance three minutes before the end… I remember that and I started smiling, it was like “woah, this is amazing”, what we are doing and achieving. So, I am very proud to be part of that.

When you think back to yourself as a kid it really must be a moment of dreams. Did you ever think something like a full Camp Nou watching you and your team play would be possible?

No, obviously not. I would have never imagined playing in the Camp Nou, let alone at full capacity. When I was little I didn't even know there were women’s football teams. At no point would I have imagined it. Maybe one thing has nothing to do with the other, the Camp Nou you can see it and is where the boys play, but no, I didn't think it would be possible.

Could you sleep after that? It must have taken time to come down?

I got home late, had dinner late and obviously I had some friends over and my parents came over too, so it got a bit late. Match days with adrenaline and tension, I take caffeine – it doesn’t matter if it’s the evening or the middle of the night that I will take caffeine, not sure if its psychological or not but I will take it anyway – so yes, after matches, especially that one it does take a bit longer to calm down and go to sleep.

What other experiences would you compare that with?

You can’t really compare it with any other experience. I would tell you that, I wrote it on my Instagram, it was one of the best nights not of my sports career but of my life. Feeling that all those people came to see the match, I am going to say it 91,553 people watching us play. It is amazing, every time I think about it it’s so many people. When we arrived in the bus, and I saw all those people waiting for us I was gobsmacked to see how many people are moved by football and it makes me very proud to say that is a lot healthier environment than in the men’s football.

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Being part of history, how does that feel? Does it make you think about what’s next, leave you wanting even more?

Being part of history makes you very happy and when I'm older and can live it again telling my children and grandchildren it would be like: I lived this, I was there that day. I believe they are days that are never forgotten, Wednesday night is going to be something that I am never going to forget and of course it leaves you wanting more. Once you get a taste of it, who wants to stop? Once you are achieving things and things are getting better and progressing, getting these kinds of opportunities, I don’t think there will be anyone that says, I’ll settle with this, we want more of course.

Going back to those dreams as a kid, can you set the scene for us as to what it was like for you growing up and in Spain, wanting to play football?

I’ll be honest: I think I was lucky, and it was like any other kid who wants to be a footballer. I don’t know if my parents had to hear any comments but I should think they did, me being a child I was playing and I didn’t realise anything. I was just playing and my teammates, my friends from school always treated me well, so I didn’t have any problems with that. I didn’t feel less, I didn’t feel out of place in the team. I believe my parents probably had to put up with comments like “Look at her always playing football”, and things like that. But I believe it was like that, like any other kid who dreams of playing football.

We talked about what shaped your personal style, what were you watching, listening to, consuming as a kid – was it all football or did you have a mixture of passions as you were growing up?

When you are younger you obviously have different taste and likes than when you are an adult. You watch other things like any other person, it’s true that maybe when I was younger I didn’t really look at clothes and other things, it was all football. Football, football and more football.

I enjoyed drawing, it made me relax. I have said this at some point, they gave me an award in the Fifth or Sixth grade in primary school, but I was a child and I wasn’t aware that I could have an artistic career in relation to art or drawing. In this case I would love to be able to do tattoos, but I wasn’t aware. The award was a free art academy course, but I said to my mum that I didn’t want to go to the academy, I wanted to play football. Why was I going to go to the academy if I already knew how to draw and paint? I was maybe eight or nine, but yes, I believe the rest was all sport.

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Did being a professional football player ever seem like something that could be a reality?

I started becoming more aware of it when I went to Español and I was around 17-18. When I signed to play for Atleti is when I saw the reality. I would have played football, I was in Atleti, but I must say that the change to the Fútbol Club Barcelona was a massive change in my sports career. When it came to finances, I could have a more professional life, when I was in Atleti I had to work, I was coaching little girls because I couldn’t sustain myself with what the club paid. I had to pay for my car, I had to pay rent living in Madrid, and I could not afford it with that salary. So, it was a real change like, I’m playing for Barça and financially okay, which gives you peace of mind for the future knowing that you can start saving.

At the end of the day, the life of a sportsperson is relatively short, we invest so many hours on it. I am very competitive and when I take the pitch, I want to give it my all. If I have to coach little girls or have to get up early because I have to do other things it is normal that my body is not on 200 percent for competition. So that was when the real change happened, I was in Atleti and also in the national team, but when I signed to play for Barça is when I thought this is where I want to be and where I am going to be able to fully dedicate myself.

Gaining confidence, putting your own image out there and developing your tastes – how has that changed over the years? Has success on the pitch helped you develop off it?

I started gaining confidence as I have grown up, I gained experience, I gained moments, which when you find yourself in that situation again you know what to expect, you know how to act and how to resolve it. For example, when I was playing for Atlético de Madrid I felt very frustrated and I didn’t know how to manage that frustration. I felt that I wasn’t up to the standard and I didn’t know how to manage the fact that maybe I was making mistakes that I normally didn't make, I felt like it wasn’t normal in me. I cried a lot, maybe before we didn't have the facility we have today, now we have sports psychologists that help you manage those kinds of things. Before we didn’t have that or it wasn’t on “trend”. You learn from those experiences.

In the break I used to cry for a while and then I carried on, moments and experiences. I gained confidence from those moments, also when you are putting on a good show, you are playing well, you have your coaches confidence and you have your teammates confidence that makes you give 100 percent of you, confidence affects your performance. My likes have changed over the years, what I liked five years ago I no longer like. I don’t like the clothes I used to wear, maybe in a few years I’ll change again. I believe they are trends; I try to stay true to myself, what I like and what I’m comfortable with, I do it and wear it. I believe being myself is when I’m going to be more comfortable and have more confidence.

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Because you carry yourself so well, you’re a role model for a next generation that shows football players don’t need to be a robotic carbon copy of each other. How much do you push people to be themselves?

I think it is essential, you are never going to be more real than being yourself. Trying to copy a dribble is fine, that’s what Alexia is here for, but I think being yourself and acting in the way… I encourage people to find their own identity. There are people that don’t know how to find their identity and the things they like, you need to experiment, try new things. Try new clothes, try a new hairstyle, but most importantly have what ever makes you comfortable. At the end of the day is all about being yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin.

What about motivation. Where do you look for that?

I have always been very competitive so when it comes to motivation, I haven’t really needed much motivation other than wanting to win. I always want to win no matter what. I have always felt my parents’ support, every time I step on the pitch, I think of them because since they live in Zaragoza, they can’t come to see me all the time, so I think of them. One of my role models has always been Carlos Puyol, for what he represents as a person and the values he always shows.

“More than empowerment” – such a strong statement. What do you make of where football finds itself now?

I believe that we are proving that women’s football is interesting to society, I think we are slowly creating a space for ourselves, and we are aware that it’s difficult because of the level men’s football is at in Spain, which at a global level is at the top too. We work very hard to improve, we train hard to give the best of ourselves and I believe it can be seen in society and how we are slowly doing more things – like these kinds of interviews – and we are slowly changing.

How big do you think this summer is going to be to bring even more eyes and attention on the game?

The good thing about this summer is that at a football level there is our European Championships and I believe that will help us stay in the spotlight and make more people come to see and support us.

What would you change or improve if you could?

There is always room for improvement, always. Everything can be improved. What we focus on are mistakes and how to fix those mistakes, how do you say that phrase? Is like that phrase test and mistake. At the end of the day, you play matches, train, you fix mistakes, you fix mistakes again. This pass is not going well here or there, or when I must make a decision, then there is the execution. The thing is making mistakes and learning from them, watch videos and clips, watch plays I have taken part in and continue improving.

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What are you most excited about when you think of this summer?

Obviously the thing that excited me the most is the fact that there is a European Championship, there is an opportunity to be there with my team and represent my country. I think sometimes we forget about how privileged we are that we can be there, when you think about it there are only 23 people going to the European Championships to represent a country and I can be one of them. So, being there is what excites me the most.

You must be making all those around you incredibly proud – is that the case?

I hope so! Of course, my parents tell me how proud of me they are, at the end of the day there are moments that I’m living that no one around me thought that I was going to be able to live. One of my friends from Zaragoza who lives here in Barcelona went to see the match the other day and it was like woaah! I am going to repeat her own words: “She´s a fucking boss, she just scored a goal in the Camp Nou!” This kind of detail is what make me believe that they are proud of me.

What legacy do you want to continue to make? What is there left to achieve?

I think that feeling that I have stayed true to myself, I have given everything to achieve the goals I set myself or that at least I have tried as best as I could. I believe that the legacy I see it’s in my own skin and maybe it’s hard to see it right now. I am 26 years old; I am playing and all I want is to win, keep growing, keep improving and set myself ambitious goals. What is left to achieve or what I would like to achieve? I would love to repeat what we did last year and if we can add that we win the Supercopa this year I would love to repeat that. I know it is very difficult but what we do is work for it.

I would love to win a European Championship with the national team, or at least be able to be in the final. I want to win of course, that is what we play, train and compete for, whoever tells you that they don’t want to win is lying. Of course I want to win, there are very hard and difficult things, we must keep that in mind, when you are in high performance winning is very hard. In my case I’m with the 23 best players of my country, Spain, against the 23 best players from Germany, Denmark, etc… So, it’s very difficult but that is what I would love. Then, on a personal level I have a few projects that I would love to complete successfully when my football career comes to an end.

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Daniel Jones

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