In depth with: Amanda Sampedro
From Terrace to Pitch
This article first appeared in the Football4Good Magazine: March 2020 - Read the full magazine by clicking here.
Following the historic pay deal for Spain’s female footballers, we spoke to Atlético Madrid Femenino captain and latest Common Goal member Amanda Sampedro about playing a part in football’s changing landscape for women.
Since making her debut over a decade ago, much has changed regarding the status of women’s football. Nowhere more so than Spain. Professionalism, investment, and record crowd attendances have all coincided with the country’s most successful national team – reaching last summer’s World Cup knockout stages for the first time in only their second ever appearance. Yet whether playing for La Rojas or Las Rojiblancas, Sampedro joins a host of teammates taking the Common Goal pledge. As she challenges for her fourth consecutive league title, she discusses straddling the two eras and the importance of female role models.
WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES IN FOOTBALL?
From a very young age there are many photos of me with a ball. I remember being six years old, on the way to school on my first day. There was a sign on the door that said there was a football team and whoever was interested could sign up. When I started it was only me and the boys. We made good friends and as we got older, we moved to the local team in our community.
WHAT ROLE DID FOOTBALL PLAY GROWING UP?
My father is a huge football fan. Since I can remember he’s spoken to me about Atlético de Madrid. I used to go to the Vicente Calderón Stadium with him, my mother, and my sister. We had season tickets. I remember perfectly the corner in the Calderón where I sat.
WHEN DID PLAYING BECOME MORE THAN A HOBBY?
I was very young when I made my debut with the Atlético first team, at age 15. At that time, it was not like now when maybe a group of several young girls come through all at once. Back then, we’re talking about a team of women in their thirties. The difference between myself and them was huge. Not long afterwards, I got called up to the U-17’s national team and then I started to realise that this was serious. I noticed a change in responsibility. I noticed it with my family too. Before they were coming, having a good time watching me have a good time, but suddenly they were nervous. They’re weren’t watching me play, they were watching football become my life and my work.
HOW DID THEY SUPPORT THAT TRANSITION?
I’m fortunate that together with my father we squeezed every last inch out of football and my mother has always been on top of organising and supporting my studies. If it had not been for them I wouldn’t have been able to study in parallel and succeed in my football career.
It wasn’t simply a matter of training in the afternoon, it was days spent away from school with the national team. Recovering physically was one thing, but I had to also catch up with my class on what I’d missed. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, I had my mother and sister close by to help me.
AT AGE 15 WHAT DID THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
Back then I didn’t have the luck that many girls have nowadays who, by being able to watch women’s football, have female role models. I used to imagine that I was Fernando Torres entering a stadium full of people, even if I was playing on a pitch made of dirt. It was hard to actually visualise myself playing in stadiums like the Vicente Calderón and the Wanda Metropolitano, where I’d never seen any women play.
IS IT THE SAME FOR YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP AND PLAYING TODAY?
The new generations have it slightly easier. They can follow a path that already exists and do not have to find one, as we had to ourselves. In sport, and in any area of life, if you want to get something and you can see the path to that something, it’s much easier than starting from scratch. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s different. It’s also super positive.
WHO WERE YOUR FEMALE ROLE MODELS GROWING UP?
My role models were male, my perception of reality and what success looked like were different to now. Now a young girl can look at me and see that this possibility exists. I realise now how much a woman needs to win to actually
be in the media. I have followed the careers of swimmer Mireya Belmonte and badminton player Carolina Marín – both Olympians. They’ve had to win and keep winning to become known. Seeing these figures in the media again and
again, you start researching and admiring. I respect individual sports athletes a lot because I understand the mental pressures you have on yourself. Living through that cannot be easy.
COMPARED TO INDIVIDUAL ATHLETES, WHAT ARE THE MENTAL PRESSURES OF PLAYING IN A TEAM?
In team sports, you have to manage the motivation and personal moments of each other. If one player suffers, you all have to suffer for them. Sportsmanship, solidarity and motivation, from one teammate to another, is essential. If I see
something I think is not good for the group, I’ll say something, so it doesn’t affect the group. Teamwork it is not easy but it is beautiful. I have the amazing fortune to be captain of Atlético and the national team. The more united we are, the better the bond, the clearer the goal and the easier it is to reach that point. Making 23 players happy is not easy, especially when some are playing more than others.
ARE YOU ABLE TO SEPARATE YOURSELF AS THE PLAYER ON THE PITCH FROM THE PERSON AWAY FROM IT?
I believe that you are in life as you are in sport. The way in which you train, you compete, how you organise yourself to achieve your goals – if you are organised, if you are competitive, if you are very rigorous with your workouts, how you take care of yourself – that will translate to life away from football. I’ve been fortunate that my parents have taught me to remain constant, to keep a good work ethic and not to relax. That sense of sacrifice and humbleness is what has made me get to where I am. I have a very positive mentality. I’ve never wanted to give up what has been a fundamental part of my attitude on the pitch. In complicated moments this translates into looking at one another and saying: “come on, we can do it.”
YOU’VE BEEN DESCRIBED AS A ‘LEADER’, ‘CREATOR’, AND ‘SERIAL WINNER’, BUT HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
As a player I really like the ball, I’m always going to look for it, I love the last pass. But I like it even more if I can give the goal to another teammate. I don’t have that innate obsession to score the goal. If there is a player there and I can pass the ball to her, giving her confidence, I will always try. I like helping people. Sometimes I care too much about people and they even tell me that I care too much. But for me it is normal, if someone in your environment is not comfortable, it is natural to me to want to help that person. For me, sacrifice and humbleness come before everything else. Things have happened to me so quickly. At 20 I became captain. Being able to process things quickly has greatly influenced the way I face challenges and the role I’ve taken as leader. I want to motivate those around me.
PASEO DE LEYENDAS (LEGENDS’ WALKWAY)?
For me! Imagine. I used to go to the Vicente Calderón when I was little to see Fernando Torres, to see Gabi, with my father telling me stories about Paulo Futre, Kiko Narváez. And then suddenly they make a plaque with my name, next to the idols that I’ve followed my whole life, from my own club. It’s incredible.
YOU ALREADY HAVE SO MANY CAREER HIGHLIGHTS. WHICH ONES STAND OUT IN YOUR MEMORY?
The first title we won was special. The Queen’s Cup and the first league title we won was very important. But on an emotional level, playing in the Calderón, going out to the field and looking at the seats where I sat with my family watching the players, was amazing. Never did I think I’d see those seats from that point of view.
YOU’VE STUDIED PHYSIOTHERAPY, NUTRITION, SPORTS MANAGEMENT AND, AT ONE POINT, SPORTS JOURNALISM – ALL WHILE PLAYING PROFESSIONALLY. WHAT DROVE YOU TO PURSUE EDUCATION?
I didn’t want to stop studying because of playing, I wanted to follow my curiosities and motivations to have a broader vision of the sport and the world of football.
IS THERE TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON PLAYERS TO DEDICATE TIME ONLY TO FOOTBALL?
It depends on how you are and how you deal with it [pressure]. In general, I haven’t felt that pressure. I’ve had opportunities to grow on and off the field. The club have given me opportunities to further my academic education and to
be able to do things beyond sport. There are players who don’t have that luck or the ease of being able to pursue education in the first place. I think that studying serves as an escape route out of the pressure generated by football. To interact with other people and get out of that routine of constant sacrifice, seeing other types of life and the world. It’s been only positive for me.
IS THERE MORE PRESSURE IN THE WORLD OF MEN’S FOOTBALL?
When I see harsh criticism towards players, I think we, the fans, can forget that first and foremost they are people. Comments hurt. There is huge pressure when you represent a country or a team that means a lot to fans. There are people who barely make ends meet but still spend their hard-earned money to see their team. To them, winning is what fills them with joy. That can isolate players because they lead such different lives to most people – which isn’t the
case with women’s football. While growth is great, I hope it doesn’t create a bubble, isolating us and losing the game’s current values of humbleness, sacrifice and dedication forged by players of previous generations.
OVER YOUR CAREER HOW HAVE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL EVOLVED?
Professionalisation brings upcoming generations more opportunities to play football and study, without worrying about working. Women’s football is now on the lips of many people. We have to make sure this isn’t a trend but here to stay.
ARE WE ARE LIVING THROUGH A CRUCIAL MOMENT IN THE WOMEN’S GAME?
We are in a historic moment because of the impact that women’s football is having worldwide and how it’s growing in Spain. The signing of the collective agreement now means all the first and second division players are eligible [for a minimum annual salary]. It’s a positive sign that women’s football is here to stay and that must be encouraged: to give people the option to see it, to follow it. That gives us, as players, a much bigger responsibility. It is up to us to set an example for children to follow; we have to show that we respect the rules, that we respect those around us, that we are humble, close, and real. This is what can differentiate us from other athletes who promote another, more negative image of football.
HOW DO YOU IMAGINE FOOTBALL TEN YEARS FROM NOW IN 2030?
I imagine women’s football to be part of the mainstream. The sport has a great educational value and I would like the values of fair play, sportsmanship and equality to be promoted through the sport more and moved on towards society.
Through football we have the ability to mobilise countries, to mobilise people. There is no event like a World Cup that can reach so many people in one day, in 90 minutes. We have to take advantage of that power to improve society.
HOW DO YOU IMAGINE THE 2030 WORLD CUP?
A joint women’s and men’s World Cup together would be amazing. For example, the men’s team playing at the Bernabéu one day and the female team at the Wanda Metropolitano the next; both events having the same passion and intensity.
WHY DID YOU JOIN COMMON GOAL?
From the beginning I loved the initiative. I think it’s so valuable. Seeing players continually joining, and especially my teammates from Atleti and the national team, I have been wanting to join for some time. I spoke with Olga [García] and reached out. As soon as I understood the vision of the movement and its objectives, I didn’t hesitate for a second to get involved.
WHICH CAUSES ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I love the idea of opening paths to others through football. Helping women in certain countries, where they may not have the same opportunities and, through football, offer a new path to a better life. I lived through having to follow male references and looking for women, because there were no visible female role models in football. I think the project I’m supporting [Goal 5 Accelerator] is a way of allowing girls to see that it doesn’t matter if you are male or female, that there is a way and if you fight and train hard you can make it, regardless of your gender.
Born: 26th June 1993 in Madrid, Spain
Current Club: Atlético Madrid Femenino, Spain
Women’s National Team (Midfielder)