Interview with Estefanía Banini – “I dream to return to the NWSL”

The ex-Washington Spirit midfielder got in a conversation about different topics, from the status of the pro-league in Spain, her dreams, her move to the Spirit and her wish to return someday to the NWSL.

In her house in Valencia, Estefanía Banini, just returned from a training session, found some time to have a nice and friendly convo with me, in spanish (hence the written part, it’s been a while). Now, at Levante, she’s helping her team reach the long wanted goal to qualify to the Champions League, with a solid second position behind almighty Barcelona. But we talked about a bit more than just Levante, so please, enjoy.

So, first, how was training today?

Today it was relaxed, mostly to recover from the game and the travelling from the weekend, we have a nice game on the next one, enjoying every day to be honest.

Season has been good so far, despite maybe a slow start. How’s the rest of the season and the project going with the goal to qualify for the Champions League?

Yeah, I got a call to come here 3 years ago with this goal, this project to qualify for the Champions League. We ended up third the last 2 seasons, and we are doing well on this one. Esther is doing amazing things and it helps us a lot with her goalscoring record. We are doing so well as a team, it’s a difficult year, all the teams are competitive, it’s a huge effort from everyone and we are trying to keep ourselves up there despite COVID cases and everything else.

Many people remember you fondly in the United States from your time in the NWSL. I have Mark’s (Parsons) version of you coming to the NWSL, but let me know your version of the story!

At that time, the fact that an argentinian player could leave and play in the States was complicated and I got the help from so many people. He was the one that make the decision and took a gamble, a huge one, so he has a special place in my heart, he’s not only a great coach but an amazing person and I’m also very fond of the Spirit, the club treated me so well. And it was not only him, but every coach at the Spirit, my teammates… I was so lucky because I learned a lot and those were the best years of my career and I enjoyed them.
It was difficult at first, leaving everyone even further away since I was living in Chile, and to make what I wished to come true.

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As the argentinian popular phrase says: “Give the ball to the number 10 and another miracle will happen” Photo: Stefi León

I bet it was surreal for you, because it is quite a different world, in the footballing sense.

It is. It’s another reality, even another kind or brand of football. It was a tough adaptation but I think I did alright. Those were my best years in a very competitive year, and I was able to put the best me on the pitch thanks to everyone there in the club.

Not only because of your achievements outside Argentina, but because of how loved you are everywhere, do you think you are the one that opened doors to help other players move abroad?

I think argentine football made a switch, many media outlets have helped, the World Cup also helped. Now Larro (Mariana Larroquette) will play in the NWSL and I hope she does well. It’s our generation, this generation, the ones that are opening doors, but always because of the hard work everyone is doing.

What do you think was missing from your experience abroad to make the transition of moving from a country like ours and our enviroment to a more professional one outside of the playing things?

Well, it’s not like in the male football where you can move with your whole family, but perhaps a visit from a loved one at some point of the year, helps a lot. Anything that a club or an organization can do to feel like a family, to support you, it’s very important. Nothing can replace family and friends but it’s good when the structure does the best they can.

How’s the situation in Spain with the organization of the league?

The league is growing, they are still missing some points. COVID protocols are not very clear which doesn’t make it very professional. We understand the situation these days and the difficulties that comes with it when you make decisions. But it’s growing every year.

I wanna take you a bit on the Argentina NT subject, but I won’t ask you about what everyone else already has (laughs). Did you catch any games of the She Believes Cup?

Not live, sadly. But I watched them, I think we need to keep growing, the first half against Brazil was surely the best. Against what we didn’t know we had difficulties. Against Canada we did alright, we need to keep growing and move forward.

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Banini in a friendly against Australia. Photo: Stefi León

What do you feel when you see the support you have on social media, with accounts dedicated to you? There are accounts dedicated to you, and 5 years ago was basically impossible…

Everything that comes from love, and in times where all the negative things are overwhelming, it’s so nice. Friends and family are important, but people that don’t know you but they do, because they know everything from you. And I’m so thankful.

There is a documentary film on Argentinian TV about you, how that happened? Was it difficult to film?

For me it was new, I had a group of people, very nice people, here at my home, and to be honest I enjoyed it! I’m not sure if it’s a good one or not (laughs) but I loved it. They are so good at what they do, they make you feel super comfortable. I love to talk so I felt comfortable, but I also had to show a bit of my day to day things and well… poor them, they had to edit a lot surely with how much I talk (laughs).

And probably the main question…would you come back to the NWSL?

Oh man, it’s probably the best league in the world, the world champions play there. And the fond memories I have there and yeah, I’m very open to return, I would love it. I wanna finish what I’ve started in Levante, take it to Champions League, but with all the good memories, yes, I would absolutely love to play again in the NWSL, I dream of it.

But I guess Champions League is also tempting…

Oh yeah, I wanna take that from the bucketlist, but I always wanna choose the best from the available options on the table.

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