Spain midfielder Jenni Hermoso shone at the Women’s World Cup, steering her country to the trophy for the first time, but in the aftermath she has unexpectedly become the leader of a stand against sexism in Spanish football.
Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales forcibly kissed her on the mouth during the medal ceremony in Sydney, provoking a wave of criticism and drawing worldwide focus, overshadowing the team’s triumph.
Rubiales refused to resign and insisted the kiss was consensual, which Hermoso, 33, denied.
The world initially took the fight to Rubiales on Hermoso’s behalf while she was away on holiday with her team-mates, celebrating “the best feeling” she has ever had in football.
Eventually, after Rubiales produced a defiant speech in which he refused to resign from his post, the situation exploded and Hermoso issued a strongly worded statement in which she clarified she felt the “victim of an assault, a macho act”.
Hermoso and 81 other Spain players announced a strike from the national team, saying they will not return until the leadership has changed, while world football’s governing body FIFA suspended Rubiales.
Spain’s top criminal court opened a preliminary “sexual assault” probe into his kiss and invited Hermoso to file suit.
Regardless of all that followed it, the World Cup victory is the crowning glory of Hermoso’s sporting career.
The grand-daughter of former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Hernandez, Madrid-born Hermoso started at youth level with Atletico.
Hermoso played often in parks as a child and thinks it helped shape her style.
She enjoyed watching Fernando Redondo and Zinedine Zidane who were then at Real Madrid, but had no real idol of her own until she joined Atletico.
There she met women’s team player Ana Fernandez, known as ‘Nervy’, and immediately looked up to her.
With no budget for scouts, the senior women players fulfilled that role and Nervy selected Hermoso and one other player from a field of 50 youngsters to join the club.
“She is left-handed like me, she played in the same position as me and I loved the way she was, she had a lot of charisma,” Hermoso told newspaper El Pais in 2020.
In 2010 she joined Rayo Vallecano, where she won the Spanish title, before a brief stint in Sweden with Tyreso, where she played alongside Brazil legend Marta.
Hermoso moved to Barcelona in January 2014, where she went on to become the women’s team’s all-time top scorer with 181 goals in 224 matches, across two spells.
In the summer of 2017 she joined Paris Saint-Germain for a season, spending a season there before rejoining Atletico Madrid, and then coming back to Barcelona in 2019.
Hermoso was part of Barcelona women’s first ever Champions League victory in 2021, winning a penalty in the final as her side romped to a 4-0 win over Chelsea.
Off the pitch, Hermoso’s teammates look to her as the dressing room DJ.
The playmaker, often deployed up front as a false nine, signed for her current club, Mexican side Pachuca, in 2022 — which some suggested amounted to stepping away from the top level.
“I was retired and I won the World Cup,” Hermoso fired back at her detractors on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, after the team’s triumph.
However a far deeper controversy was already brewing around Hermoso, Spain’s leading women’s scorer of all time, with 51 goals, who missed a penalty in the final against England.
Hermoso was thrust into the spotlight by Rubiales’ kiss and the subsequent furore, even though her only immediate reaction was saying she didn’t like it amid laughter on an Instagram live stream.
The midfielder missed the chance to play at Euro 2022 because of a knee injury, and was not among the 15 players who quit the national team in the lead-up to the World Cup because of differences with the federation and controversial coach Jorge Vilda.
“Opportunities sometimes come around only once, honestly, I don’t care what people say,” Hermoso told Fox Mexico ahead of the tournament, explaining her determination to take her World Cup chance.
Three of the so-called “rebels” returned to the squad which lifted the World Cup, but now the entire squad and many other players have ruled themselves out until there is profound change within the Spanish federation.
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