Matilde Fidalgo: “I felt I had to compete more, I wanted to take football more seriously.”
Photo by Adam Millington/VAVEL UK

VAVEL UK caught up with the Portuguese international defender as she spoke about how everything started, what it means to play in a competitive campaign like the Women’s Super League, the transitions between the Portuguese and English league and her future ambitions at Manchester City.

Matilde was born in Lisbon, where she lived for most of her life before moving to Brazil. Capital of Portugal, Lisbon is a well-known place in the world of football, either Alcochete or Seixal are where sports stars make their breakthrough at Sporting Clube Portugal and Sport Lisbon Benfica respectively. At 15, Matilde began her senior career at Clube Futebol Benfica, where she competed for seven years, then found herself at Sporting in a short stint before embarking on a season long deal with Braga.

Early life in Portugal

The Portuguese star recalls her passion for football starting from a very young age“I don’t exactly know how it started, I must have been two or three – I don’t quite remember.”

“I have two brothers and I was bought 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.”

Ambitious to continue playing the sport, she decided to sign up for the school team, to “see where it’d take me,” as she revealed with a broadened smile of joy.

“At five or six, I decided to join a boys’ football team. It went well and by ten, eleven, we had a solid team,” said the Manchester City defender.

“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.”

Despite being the only girl playing the sport in a team of boys at the time, she now understands how important it was to perform at an intense level of competitivity that she gained from playing with her teammates, “they respected me a lot. Even today they’re friendships I carry for life.”

Undoubtedly, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the centre-back to play a sport where the chances of finding a girl in a football team were a rarity at the time, she endured some of the odd comments during her first year playing.

“From the other teams there were comments like ‘they’ve got a girl in their team’ but then eventually they got to know me because I was in fact the only girl and it was easy to remember me, so they got used to it and there wasn’t that strangeness.”

However, there was a halt in play for a short spell after she moved to Brazil with her family.

“When I came back, I joined Futebol Benfica and from then on, I have always played football.

“I didn’t even know women’s football existed in Portugal until I spoke to the first coach I had at school, professor Quim, and he said I should be playing with women and not competing with boys.”

Heading into a new direction that was the women’s team helped her gain further understanding of the beautiful game as she determined this to be of great significance.

“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.”

The move to City

The 25-year-old joined giants Manchester City Women in May last year on a two-year deal, as she felt “the necessity to compete more, I wanted to take football more seriously.” 

“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, 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.

But it came as an initial amazement for the Portuguese international as she received a call from her agent on Tuesday afternoon, “Manchester City contacted me and they were interested,” her agent had said.

“I was also obviously interested and it happened,” her eyes sparkled as she recalled the moment.

With women’s football on the rise, the Women’s Super League attracts players from all over the world with the likes of Australian players Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Chloe Logarzo amongst others. 

However, Fidalgo does not pay much attention to the names on the back of shirts, having previously shared the pitch with some recognisable names at an international level“it is nice to admire people without putting them in a high level,” she stated.

“My colleagues are equally as good, I train and share the dressing room with them and they are athletes in an equivalent level”

Transitioning to a more distinctive league like the WSL seemed to be what was missing for the defender, she also revealed that her cousin, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, did not have an influence on her decision.

“I didn’t know he was my cousin until a few years ago and because of that we have never been that close. Actually, I spoke to his mum at the time (City contacted) and she put me at ease telling me that the club takes the correct policy in what they do when approaching a player.”

Although she spent successful years in her home country, making over 70 appearances in total, it felt like the right time to be around a new challenging environment and step out of her comfort zone.

“I read the other day that England is the country with more women and girls playing football and in Portugal, it is difficult to compete with that when we only had 2,000 players two years ago, when here we have 30,000. 

“The game here is much more dynamic.

“The fact the Women’s Super League is a highly competitive league, that for me, was obviously the first thing to consider, to go to a better league than the Portuguese league in terms of how competitive it is.

“Another factor was the fact of it being an excellent club with good working conditions and I believe I am in the middle of where the difficulty is bigger than what I have encountered thus far which will help me to evolve. I knew that coming here would be a place where I would be tested and that I would be working with colleagues with excellent quality to compete in a high level and that would allow me to develop further.”

In comparison to the Portuguese league, the number 35 emphasised that she had more time for everything when she was on the pitch, she had the time to think about where she would play, whereas “here is a bit more complicated because there is less time to think, less to act and it is an adaptation I have to make.”

This season

With few appearances to her name this season, Fidalgo maintains a positive mindset and is hopeful to obtain a more solid space in the squad to contribute to the ongoing club’s success in the campaign after winning the League in 2016, claiming two Women’s FA Cup 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 up and downs and psychologically it isn’t always easy but I think that is also part of that learning curve.”

Although City have been eliminated of the Champions League and the Continental Cup, there is still the FA Cup and the race to the title to duplicate the feat of four years ago, and currently sitting top of the league, she reiterated that it is “obvious that the team want to win those two competitions.”

When asked about whether she liked to take part in any special routine or superstition before a game, the response to simply pray.

“I always pray in the changing room when I’m concentrating and when I’m included in the starting team. On the pitch I also like to pray. Sometimes when I think, I’m going to go step on the pitch with my right foot, those are superstitions I like to break sometimes so I don’t feel I am independent of them.”

A message for those interested in playing

The 25-year-old expressed a clear message for those who have the ambition to pursue 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 take this opportunity. 

“If you like playing football, then play football, if you like practising ballet then do it – it’s the same thing, it is an activity people like to do then 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.”