Before Wednesday evening the name Marcus McGuane wasn’t a particularly well known one but the teenager has been thrust into the spotlight after making his debut for Barcelona’s first team as they beat rivals Espanyol on penalties in the Catalan Super Cup final.
It’s a hell of an achievement for the 19-year-old from Greenwich who took the plunge by leaving Arsenal after 12 years at the club this January, deciding first-team opportunities would be limited. Two months later he is lifting silverware as a Barcelona player and making headlines back home.
Sadly, many of those headlines were spectacularly wrong. The Daily Mail, Telegraph, Mirror and ESPNFC all dubbed McGuane ‘the first English player to feature for Barcelona since Gary Lineker’. The Match of the Day host spent three years at the Catalans in the late 80s, returning to England to play for Tottenham in 1989.
And the reason those headlines were wide of the mark is because there is already an English player at Barcelona and has been since July last year; Toni Duggan. The Lionesses star forward became the first female international from these isles to move to one of Europe’s big side in a transfer that was lauded as a landmark move for women’s football in England.
Like McGuane, the 26-year-old Duggan has swapped life in England for a new challenge, although with 104 domestic appearances and 55 caps for England she is infinitely more experienced and successful. She has won the Women’s Super League, the Women’s FA Cup and the WSL Cup and is one of the most recognised names in the female game, with a combined social media following of nearly 400,000.
She’s a superstar but for years English footballers – both female and male – have been reluctant to leave the comfort zone of playing at home and testing their skills abroad. It may mean being forced to learn a new language and style of football – with the Barcelona Women’s team mimicking the men’s team in tiki-taka style, which is less direct than the game in England – but it also means chances of winning the big one increases; the Champions League.
“I had a lot of options, in England and abroad in different countries. But when I weighed up the most important things, Barcelona was the right place to come,” she told ESPNFC in August. “Obviously the luxury things like the weather and the lifestyle and everything else, but for me, the most important thing was the football. If I look at all the teams that were interested in me, the style I thought suited me best was Barcelona.
She added to the Daily Mail in January: “The point of the attack changes so much. They delay the final pass here until it becomes absolutely clear. Whereas in England it would be ‘there she is, just give it to her’.”
Being a trailblazer is not a new feeling for Duggan; In August 2015, she became the first female player to receive Manchester City’s Goal of the Season award following an impressive strike against Chelsea. She was also be part of the first Manchester City Women’s team to play in the Champions League.
And it’s fair to say she is smashing it in Spain. Duggan is joint top scorer for Barcelona this season as they battle with Atletico Madrid for the title of the Primera Division Femenina. The Catalans are making a big push to recognise their Women’s side alongside the men. At a joint team photo in July Duggan sat alongside Luis Suarez and had a chat about Liverpool, where she grew up
“The vice-president comes to all our games. And the president was also alongside him at the last match. I think that’s a big statement,” she added to the Daily Mail. “These are the people standing next to Philippe Coutinho when he is signing. But they know your name, how you got on last week.”
And the support pays off. While Man City drew less than 4,000 to their home Champions League semi-final with Lyon last season, Barcelona were pulling in more than 10,000 to their tie with Paris St Germain.
The Women’s game is making massive strides worldwide but there are still strides to be made. Manchester United and Real Madrid still don’t have female sides (although the latter have expressed plans to change that) but Duggan is an example of how much English talent can have a say in taking the game forward.
Progress also starts at home. Those lazy headlines only fulfil perceptions that the Men’s game is more important than the Women’s, when a quick google search would have brought up Duggan and her achievements.
And if she continues to break barriers she and McGuane could both convince the next generation of both female and male footballers that there is more to life than just in England. Both female and male football could benefit massively from their intrepidness.