- Venezuela’s very first professional women’s league kicked off on 6 May
- 41-year-old Karla Guevara skippers Caracas FC, one of the title favourites
- When she is not playing the game, Guevara coaches youngsters
‘Being a part of this league is so exciting. So many years fighting and going through hard times…’ Karla Guevara knows what she is talking about, having spent over two decades pushing herself to the limit, paying for her own kit, spending four hours a day on the bus travelling from La Guaira to Caracas and back again, and training tirelessly. And she did it all without any reward because neither the fans nor the media had any interest in women’s football at the time.
Which is why, a year after she retired and on hearing news of the birth of La Superliga – the first professional women’s league in Venezuela’s history – she rushed to put her boots back on. ‘I said to myself: “I’ve got to be there, no matter what, because I started from nothing. I just have to be there”,’ she told FIFA.com.
It is hard to believe that anyone was more excited than Guevara ahead of the championship season when it got under way on 6 May. After all, it is not without good reason that she is affectionately known as ‘La Señora del Fútbol’ (‘The Lady of Football’) by her team-mates at Caracas FC, the club where she has spent virtually her entire career.
During the course of her long career, Guevara has represented her country, finished a runner-up in the Copa Libertadores and won the national amateur league with her club. And in that time, she has played in virtually every position. “I’m a very versatile player,” she said with a laugh. So versatile is she, in fact, that she began her career in goal, where she showcased reflexes honed on the volleyball court. “I remember one game when I was flying all over the place saving shots, just like in volleyball. I saved a fair few goals too.”
Venezuela’s Superliga Femenina: facts and figures
The competition is the country’s new top flight, replacing what was previously known as the Liga Nacional. An amateur league founded in 2004, the Liga Nacional has now been renamed the Liga de Desarrollo.
The new league comprises 14 clubs with 25 players per squad, no more than four of whom can be foreigners.
In the first phase of the competition, teams are split into two geographical groups (Central-Eastern and Western) and play each other home and away in a league format.
The top two in each group go through to the semi-finals, with the winners advancing to the final, also played over two legs.
Estudiantes de Guarico, Flor de Patria FC, Deportivo La Guaira and Caracas FC are the leading contenders for the title.
“It’s so important that this league has been set up. Women’s football has grown a lot since the U-17 girls made their breakthrough,” added Guevara, referring to the exploits of the new generation spearheaded by Deyna Castellanos, who led Venezuela to fourth-place finishes at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup competitions in 2014 and 2016. “There’s a lot of support now from the media, sponsors, clubs, etc.”
That support is essential to a future that the Caracas FC captain sees as very bright: “There are some girls with a huge amount of skill, the kind of skill I’ve rarely seen in boys. These are girls with a huge amount of talent.” Such is the talent around her that the beaming Guevara was moved to make the following prediction: “We’re closer than ever to seeing Venezuela at the senior Women’s World Cup. If we carry on like this, the women’s team are going to make history before the men’s.”
For the time being, however, Guevara – the only player in the country’s history to play a part in the opening season of the two national league championships Venezuela has staged to date – is happy to enjoy the present. Her day-to-day routine involves training with her team-mates, teaching coaches and doing a little coaching herself, with her club’s U-12 boys team: “I teach them about tactics, technique and the physical side of things. When I go out with them on to the pitch, it takes me back to when I was their age.”
Asked if she is thinking about retiring for good, she laughed and said: “I find it hard to contemplate. I don’t see myself there yet because my feet and head tell me I can still play.” Venezuelan football’s grand old lady has one challenge left to fulfil while her body holds out, and that is to end the season lifting a trophy that she has fought to make a reality for so many years.
(FIFA.com) 25 May 2017