Jennifer Hermoso missed a penalty in the World Cup final but she did not dwell on her mistake. On the contrary, she continued to play at a high level, controlling the tempo of the game as the clock wound down in stoppage time. But the 33-year-old has not always demonstrated the strength on display in Australia and New Zealand. “In the past, if she missed a penalty, she would have collapsed,” says Xavi Llorens, her former coach at FC Barcelona. Jenni is sensitive, affectionate, and very funny, say all those who know her. She is a down-to-earth player with a perennial smile and easy tears, as she has often shown during her international career. A talented and different attacking midfielder, she has won everything: a Champions League, seven Liga championships and five Spanish cups. Now, she is a World Cup winner.
But, above all, Jenni likes to be close to home. Between successful spells at Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, she decided to try her hand in other European leagues in her quest to understand the game at another level, but she never settled in Sweden and France.
“I went to dinner with Jenni before she left for PSG. She was very hesitant, but she wanted to take that second chance to go overseas. A month later, she called me saying she wanted to return to Barça,” recalls Llorens. Neither the allure of the French capital, nor playing alongside Brazilian great Marta Vieira, were enough to keep her in Paris, or at Tyresö, where she moved at the age of 23 on her first adventure outside Spain. “Jenni is very much of her people, and being away physically separated her from everything,” explains Lluís Cortés, her coach during her second stint at Barça. That’s why she returned home to become the top scorer in the history of FC Barcelona and the Spain national team, where her experience alongside that of Alexia Putellas and Irene Paredes was key to La Roja’s World Cup success.
Long before that, she was a neighborhood kid, who grew up playing in the street and was encouraged by her grandfather to play for Atlético. She was only 12 years old when she joined the youth set-up and she was swiftly spotted by Ana Belén Fernández, “Nervy,” a former Atlético player, standing out among 50 girls. Nervy was taken aback by her desire, the way she “danced” between cones in training, and her smile. Nervy was the first female soccer player she idolized. Jenni would wait for her at the end of training, and one day Ana gave her one of her shirts. From 2006 onwards, they shared a locker room. Years later, it was Jenni herself who handed Nervy a national team jersey bearing her name.
It has all been a long process, a “slow but sure evolution,” says Llorens. Now a reference point for many girls, Jenni did not always have the same self-assurance she has today. “She needs everything around her, her support base, to be herself, because when there is a movement at the family or sporting level, it affects her. But she lets herself be advised,” continues Llorens. Her mother, Marisol Fuentes, would always call when her daughter was going through a tough time. Always by her side, Marisol has also spoken out to relieve some of the pressure after the president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed Jenni on the mouth after the World Cup final. “You have to look at the fact that they are world champions; the rest is not important,” she told state broadcaster TVE after a video that has gone viral of Jenni, laughing and confused, struggling to respond to her teammates about what had just happened.
“She takes the rough and the smooth intensely. When she didn’t score goals, or she thought she was playing badly, she would sometimes be down. We would talk to her to try to relativize those situations,” Cortés recalls. “With a greeting or a smile, I knew if she was in a good mood or not,” says Llorens, who noticed her at Atlético and, when Rayo were struggling, tried to sign her. But Jenni decided to leave for Swedish side Tyresö in 2013. They soon found out from the staff that all was not going well, and when they were able, they brought her back to Barça in 2014.
“We had been after her for a while. She is different. As a player she is unpredictable, she sees things that others don’t see, and she gave us a lot of things that didn’t exist in Spanish soccer at that time. She lives everything intensely and has incredible passion,” says Llorens. But she was never a leader, nor did she pretend to be one. On the contrary, she did not feel comfortable with that label, despite the fact that in the locker room she was the DJ, always making jokes and creating a good atmosphere.
When Lluís Cortés brought Jenni back to Barça in 2019, she had recently returned to Atlético after a year at PSG. Her role was key to Barça’s success over the next few seasons: “Jenni had a goal and a very high technical level. She contributed a lot in terms of position, whether she was playing as a nine dropping back to receive the ball, or as an attacking midfielder. I always told Mapi and Pereira, the central defenders, that if they didn’t know what to do with the ball, they should pass it to Jenni, because she wasn’t going to lose it,” says Cortés
During the World Cup she has played a different role, more subdued but a fundamental one for the team. “She is the best playmaker in the world,” said Spain coach Jorge Vilda. “Jenni has exceeded everyone’s expectations. When she left Barça and went to Mexico [to play for Pachuca], many thought she had retired, but she has proven she hasn’t,” said Cortés. As Jenni herself said: “I was retired and I won the World Cup.” For Llorens, her experience has taken her to where she is: “When almost everything is pure talent, it is very difficult to lose it.”
“When she missed the penalty in the final, I was afraid she would disappear for the rest of the game. But she has matured and worked hard,” Cortés emphasizes. After winning the World Cup, Nervy sent her a message, asking how she had worked on the mental aspect of the sport. At Pachuca, she seems to have found stability between being away from her family and continuing to play at a high level. The smile of that little girl Nervy remembers is still the same. “She shines with her own light. Jennifer is magic.”
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