Women’s football has gained popularity and significance in recent years after the successful Women’s World Cup held in France last year, attracting different players from all over the World.
Matilde Fidalgo’s passion for football began from a young age, “I don’t exactly know how it started, I must have been two or three.”
“I have two brothers and I was brought up with them, I always took part in boys’ activities and one of those was football. So I started playing football at home with my siblings.”
Born in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, a well-known place in the world of football where sports stars make their breakthrough at either Alcochete or Seixal - Sporting Club Portugal and Benfica Sport Lisbon respectively. After being part of the school’s team and playing in a team of only boys, she then joined Futebol Benfica where she spent the bulk of her youth career.
“Playing with the boys gave me the opportunity to be in a much more competitive environment. I don’t remember there being girls’ football teams when I was a kid.”
Transitioning to a women’s team at the age of 16, playing under Futebol Benfica contributed to the further understanding of the beautiful game as she insisted this to be an important step in her career.
“I believe that the development of a player is very important, not only the characteristics on the pitch but also in the way that shapes our hierarchical perception of a team and that was fundamental for me, it defined in my head the place of a player, the captain, the coach and the directors, it really helped me.”
Two years later she found herself put pen to paper in what was her first professional contract as she joined Sporting.
“It was my first professional step as a player, the first team I played for professionally.”
However, after a year she moved up North to link with Sporting Braga, where she claimed it took her “out of my comfort zone.”
“It allowed me to gain more experience and moving clubs also helped me to adapt to new squads and coaches and to have more flexibility towards that.”
Following a favourable season at Braga, winning the Super Cup and the League, she desired to broaden her path and attain experience abroad.
“I began to feel the necessity to compete even more, I wanted to take football more seriously.”
English giants, Manchester City made their interest about acquiring the defender’s services visible for the 2018/19 term.
“At the end of the season, there was an opportunity to join Manchester City. I had the interest of playing abroad but at the time I was at Sporting I didn’t know City were interested in me. I was inclined to sign another contract with Braga, we had won the League and the Super Cup and we were starting pre-season early due to having to play the Champions League play-off, therefore the club was trying to seal the squad.
“I contacted my agent and he said that we would give Braga a definite answer on Monday and because it was our day off on Tuesday, I asked if it would be possible to extend it to Wednesday, and if no proposals came up until then, I’d renew my contract with Braga.”
It came as an amazement for the Portuguese international as she received a call from her agent on a Tuesday afternoon, “Manchester City contacted me and they are interested,” her agent had revealed.
Given the 25-year-old was eager to perform in a more competitive league that is the WSL, her smile broadened as she revealed, “I was also obviously interested and it happened.”
“I wanted to come because I knew I would be working alongside teammates of excellent quality and competing at a higher level.
“My first request was to progress to a more competitive League and the second factor is the fact City is an excellent club with good working conditions and I believe I am inserted in the middle of the most difficulty that I have encountered so far and that will allow me to evolve.”
Fidalgo signed a two-year deal in May last year but with few appearances to her name, she remains hopeful to obtain a solid place in the squad and contribute to the club’s continuing success in the campaign after winning the League in 2016, claiming two Women’s FA Cups and two WSL Cups by the end of the decade.
“I haven’t been playing as much as I would have liked”.
“Upon my arrival, I thought I would have been able to gain some game time and sometimes there are some ups and downs and physiologically it isn’t always easy but I think that is also part of that learning curve.”
However, in contrast with the Portuguese league, the number 35 emphasised she quickly learned of the distinctive difference between both leagues.
“Here, those that aren’t competing for the title are closer to steal points from the top-flight teams. In that sense, it becomes a bit more difficult as there is less time to think and act. It is an adjustment I have to make.
“Whereas before, the games were more unilateral and I had much more time for everything, to think where I would play.”
Lastly, she left a special message for those interested in pursuing a career in sport.
“Just play. I don’t think there is any motive for people to think football isn’t for girls, various barriers have already been broken, enjoy it. I think sometimes people question the growth of women’s football, I am part of the generation that is experiencing the change, I am not from the generation that came through and everything was normal but it feels good to be part of that change and I hope that those girls want to start to take this opportunity.
“Practice it but look to be in a competitive environment because that will allow them to evolve more. Play with the boys, why not… Do not get caught up in the fear of playing.”
Read more from Bruna Reis by following her on Twitter @BrunaSportsJour