BARCELONA -- Aitana Bonmatí's parents instilled strong values in her from an early age. Rosa and Vicent fought to change an old Spanish naming law that dictated the father's surname must always come first (in Spain, children have double surnames.) The Barcelona and Spain midfielder could have been named Aitana Conca Bonmatí. Instead, she is Aitana Bonmatí Conca. The law change was a step forward for women's rights and equality in the country.
As she was presented with the Ballon d'Or trophy on Monday, Bonmatí -- whose victory speech mixed Catalan, Spanish and English -- thanked her parents, who watched emotionally at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
"You fought for change and you succeeded," she said. "I carry that fight and resilience in my blood."
Bonmatí, 25, has shown plenty of that fight to rise to the top of the game, culminating with being named the best player in the world on Monday after a season that saw her win Liga F and the Champions League with Barça, then the 2023 World Cup with Spain.
A relentlessly hard worker, she is rarely satisfied with her performances, even though she is technically gifted like few of her contemporaries. With 13 goal contributions from midfield in last season's Champions League (more than anyone else), she was named UEFA Women's Player of the Year in August. And her string-pulling performances for Spain at the World Cup saw her named the Player of the Tournament.
Winning the Ballon d'Or was the natural end to a record-breaking year, but not everything has been straightforward. Bonmatí spoke up as Spain's players pushed for better working conditions in the fallout from the Luis Rubiales scandal, while she went on strike in search of improved salaries for the rest of Liga F, and she also works tirelessly with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
"As role models, we have a responsibility on and off the pitch," she added at the end of her speech, switching to English. "We should be more than athletes. We should lead by example and keep fighting together for a better, peaceful and equal world."
After winning the Ballon d'Or, Bonmatí spoke to ESPN about how much has changed in the past three years and how there is still much more to be done.
ESPN: Do you remember when this photo [shows her the photo below] of you and Alexia Putellas was taken?
Bonmatí: That was after the Wolfsburg semifinal [in the Champions League in 2020], right? We had just lost and it was an unfair result. We controlled the match and created a lot of chances, there was even a penalty [not given] ... There was no VAR. The feeling was of frustration because we had lost unjustly. It was also a tough year with COVID. We had to restart the Champions League in the summer, I suppose that moment was a culmination of everything.
Since then, you have won two Champions Leagues with Barça, a World Cup with Spain and you and Alexia have shared the last three Ballons d'Or.
The last three years have been brutal. We have been in three straight Champions League finals, which is not something you do every day, and won two of them. The growth of the team has been amazing in that time.
On a personal level, the culmination of all that success was succeeding Alexia and winning the Ballon d'Or. Have you been able to enjoy the moment?
Very little to be honest because I have not stopped! The next night [the ceremony in Paris was held in the middle of an international break for the women] I had a game with the national team in Zurich, imagine. I've been back [in Barcelona] for just over a day now, but there have been a lot of commitments. I have not had much time to think. It's been nonstop.
How does it compare with team success?
I enjoy winning trophies with [Barça and Spain] more. I always say that collective success is what gives you the chance to be nominated for the individual prizes, which is what we show every year as a team by always having players nominated. That's significant for us and shows that we are doing things well at the club. Barça have been pioneers at club level and are a reference across the world. The club bet on us and we have responded. We have fought for the badge and we will keep doing so.
Sam Marsden explains why he feels Spain's Aitana Bonmatí was the best player at the Women's World Cup.
A lot has changed even in your short career.
I never would have imagined to be where we are now and to have experienced everything we have experienced, honestly. Eight years ago when I debuted in the first team I never would have imagined a Champions League final, the fans we have that filled Camp Nou, being idols ... before this did not happen. And in my early years in the first team, it didn't happen, either.
Which one performance from the last year defines Aitana Bonmatí?
The World Cup final was a good game [a 1-0 win over England in August] although I say that because it is one of the closest ones perhaps ... a little bit of recency bias.
How has your life changed on the back of such a trophy-laden year?
Winning the Champions League, the World Cup and individual prizes has massive repercussions. Obviously, a lot more people know you. But, in general, the change has been progressive, so I was ready for it and am more than happy to accept it and anything else that is to come. My life has changed. In fact, I almost haven't realised, but thinking about it now I realise it has changed. It has just been so quick that you don't take it in.
How was the Ballon d'Or ceremony?
It was good; there were a lot of emotions. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could because you never know if you are going to be on that stage. Also, knowing that my inner circle was there, my teammates, people from the club, it was a beautiful moment. I was actually so nervous before the speech which I had prepared. I am very demanding, as I say, and I want to do things right on and off the pitch, so the speech was important. I wanted to do it in the three languages [Catalan, Spanish and English], giving emphasis to my native tongue [Catalan]. It was a unique moment.
You always say you're very demanding, that you put a lot of pressure on yourself.
The worst pressure is the pressure I put on myself. I consider myself a very self-demanding person, sometimes I exceed my own limits. It's true we're in the spotlight, we are at the club we are at and having done what we have done, we are always obliged to win and to play well. The day we lose, or the day we draw, is a disaster. It's true that you have to learn to live with that, but it's normal in this profession and I accept that responsibility.
Your Barça teammates Salma Paralluelo and Fridolina Rolfo came third and fourth in the Ballon d'Or this year, Putellas won it in the previous two years -- is it a talking point at the club? Who could win it next?
No, we don't really speak about it in the dressing room, we are just focused on doing well as a team.
Tennis player Novak Djokovic presented the award ...
I didn't expect that ... to receive the trophy from an icon from the world of tennis was a cool moment. It was a surprise.
There has been criticism, though, of how the Ballon d'Or treats women's football in comparison to men's football.
It's true that they have only given out the women's Ballon d'Or since 2018 and the men's has been going for much longer . I understand everything happens progressively and changes are being made, not just with awards but in other areas of the game where there is still a lot more to be done.
The men's game has the Kopa Trophy for the best U21 player and the Yashin Trophy for the best goalkeeper. Would you add these for women as well?
Yes, but that's the reason I say I think in the coming years these changes will be made, but I don't want change to only focus on individual awards, but on the day-to-day changes that can be made in the game. I am talking at club, national team and league level. It's much more than that [Ballon d'Or changes] and that is what we need to focus on.
This is something you fought for with Spain this year, but also in Liga F with the strike over pay and working conditions.
I am someone that always says that as players we should transcend the pitch. I want to be a reference on and off the pitch and I try to take my values beyond a football pitch. It's all good what we do on the pitch, but it is also important to raise our voices, stand up for what we need to in certain moments and to help disadvantaged groups in society as well.
As you do with your refugee work with UNHCR ...
Yes, I use my time to help some of the most vulnerable people in society. I find it fulfilling. I think I have a big responsibility because of who I am. I think I can help. My idols were men: Xavi [Hernández], [Andrés] Iniesta and, when I was older, Pep Guardiola as a coach was an idol because the years when he was with the [Barça] first team were very enjoyable. And, at the end of the day, it's not just talking about creating role models for girls, either, but about boys as well. That's very important. If I had male idols, why can they not have female idols? I think that is a huge positive because from a young age they are seeing equality.