A three major international tournaments and two seasons at Barcelona, Toni Duggan can handle the big stage.

Here, she talks about life at Barcelona, meeting Messi and the growing support for women’s football from all corners of the game, as well as its side effects.

Words: Steve Jones

In 2017 Toni Duggan became the first English player to join Barcelona since Gary Lineker's transfer to the Nou Camp in 1986.

Her move has been transformative, with the Catalan giants’ way rubbing off on her, she says.

“It’s just improved everything in my life, on the pitch, off the pitch. I’ve learnt so much about myself as a person. Being abroad on your own, it’s difficult I’m not going to lie. But it’s an experience I’ve loved so far. Trying to learn a new language and a new culture has been difficult, but I’ve enjoyed it.

“Technically, tactically, I look at the game differently now. Barcelona have this philosophy and style that’s far different from any other club or manager I’ve ever worked with. It’s really opened my eyes in that respect. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and I’m told when you do that you take your game to a new level, so hopefully I can show that this summer.”

This season Duggan helped the Blaugranes to a fourth consecutive second-place finish in the Primera División and the Champions League Final.

In March, they broke a 99-year record for the highest attendance for a club game. She was on the scoresheet that day as more than 60,000 watched Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano, which hosted last weekend’s Champions League final.

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New Kit 💙❤️

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Duggan will also be a key player for England this summer in her fourth major tournament for the Lionesses senior team, aged just 27.

All of this is evidence of a player at the peak of her powers.

“I would like to say so [at her peak]. I feel ready, I have to be ready because it’s the World Cup and I want to be a big part of this team. It’s the world stage so you need to be firing on all cylinders” she says.

“I’m really excited for what the girls can achieve this summer.”

Barcelona’s men and women’s teams shared a pre-season tour last summer, which underlines the growing level of support for the female game from across the sport, notwithstanding the work still needed.

“I think now we definitely get the support and the recognition [from across the game]. It’s about time if I’m being honest,” Duggan says.

“Look at the clubs like Man City and Man United and how they have integrated the girls with the men’s teams, and also at Barcelona where I’m at. That’s a big step. That’s when you start to get the respect and the media that you deserve.”

So, what was it like to share a platform with Lionel Messi?

“He was lovely. His English isn’t so good, the girls had said to me in the past he just comes out for the photoshoot and usually goes back in. I can’t blame the man - he must get mobbed, even at his own training ground,” Duggan says.

“But he stayed out until last with all the girls getting pictures. I saw him a few weeks later as well when I was with my boyfriend and he was happy enough to take another picture with him. He spoke to our captain a lot as well; he’s been really supportive of the women’s team.”

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Seriously, How good is this man!! Wow!!! #TheGOAT 😅🐐👏🔥

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There are, however, side effects of progress in the women’s game, not least social media abuse. This season has seen both male and female figures in the sport targeted online on an almost constant basis.

And Duggan has joined Kick It Out in calling for tougher punishments for offenders.

“It’s disappointing that it happens. You’re going to expect some criticism but it’s up to the authorities like Twitter and Instagram to be banning these people or putting regulations in so it stops,” she tells us.

“I think Kaz [Karen] Carney was abused recently really, really badly online. It can affect players - not just performances, but lives.”

If you witness or suffer any discrimination at a football match, from grassroots to the professional game or online, find out how you can report it to Kick It Out here.