Being crowned the UEFA player of the year for the second season running may be scant consolation for Alexia Putellas after the Spain star finished the campaign with the agony of a Champions League final defeat and then sat out Euro 2022 due to injury.
The 28-year-old is currently in the early stages of a long rehabilitation after suffering an anterior knee ligament tear in training in early July, just before Spain started their European Championship campaign in England.
Her club Barcelona said Putellas would be out for up to 12 months as a result and so she is set to miss the entirety of the coming season.
“I’m very happy to win this prize for a second year and even more at this moment,” said Putellas. “It’s wretched that I cannot do what I most love. This is motivation to get back to this place.”
It was a painful way for Putellas to be cut down in her prime, after she became just the third ever winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or last year, succeeding Ada Hegerberg and Megan Rapinoe.
There was no question she deserved that honour, after captaining Barcelona to victory in last year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0.
Putellas, who grew up in Catalonia and joined Barcelona as a teenager, then picked up the FIFA Best women’s player award for 2021 and has now been rewarded for her performances in helping Spain’s dominant club win another domestic league and cup double.
On top of that, she was the top scorer in last season’s Champions League with 11 goals, including three in a quarter-final trouncing of Real Madrid and two more in the first leg of the semi-final at home to Wolfsburg, a 5-1 victory watched by a women’s world record crowd of 91,648 at the Camp Nou.
“I completed a dream that all male and now female Barcelona fans have, which is to play in a full Camp Nou,” said Putellas.
That attendance sums up how much Putellas and her Barca teammates have captured the imagination locally, although they were unable to offer their supporters a second consecutive Champions League crown.
The attacking midfielder, wearing the captain’s armband, scored in the final against Lyon in Turin, but by that time Barcelona were already 3-0 down and there would be no comeback.
Lyon have now won six of the last seven Champions Leagues and it remains to be seen if Barcelona can reclaim the title in the season ahead if Putellas is unlikely to play any part.
Putellas, who played for Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol and for Levante earlier in her career before returning to Barca in 2012, also had to watch from the sidelines as Spain lost in extra time to hosts England in the quarter-finals of the European Championship last month.
Spain were just six minutes away from winning that tie and they will be left to wonder what might have been had Putellas been fit.
Her country will also be hoping that the world’s best player can return to full fitness in time for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which is due to start on July 20 next year.