Even though the prevalence of Britons moving abroad may be a lot lower than those moving to these shores, the physical act of upping sticks and leaving your home country is still enough of a mental undertaking for anyone, even someone as strong-willed as Manchester United’s Ona Batlle.
That would be true of any time. In Covid Britain, with shops closed and socialising hard enough with friends and neighbours you already knew, let alone those you did not, it is another story altogether. Especially for a 20-year-old.
Batlle left her native Spain for the slightly greyer climes of Manchester in 2020, but, nearly two years on, she is only now finally able to fully appreciate one of England’s most cultural cities, through no fault of her own.
On the pitch, you could barely tell during her early days of the stress of adapting to a new country during a national lockdown, as she continued to blossom into one of Europe’s most promising full-backs and showed why Barcelona had trusted her with a place in their youth set-up in younger days.
Maybe that should owe a fair amount to Batlle herself, who, bar the Manchester United brand, knew little about where she was headed when she signed on for their fledgling season in the WSL, but had a steely-eyed determination to make it work.
“When I made the decision to leave Spain, it was something I had always wanted to do,” she told Sky Sports. “I’m a really independent person, I’ve always wanted to improve and grow up as a person as well. When you leave your country, that’s when you must grow up. It was the perfect moment to leave, and I wanted to improve my English too.
Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Leicester City
“I didn’t know much about Manchester before I came. I knew it was England, but I thought it would always be raining – when I came here, I thought it wasn’t like all the people say. It could be better, but it is grey quite a lot.
“Now I’m enjoying living in Manchester a little bit more, with Covid it was hard to live here – we were in lockdown for so much of the first year I was here. Sometimes I do miss the sun a little bit, when it shines here I am so happy. But I’m enjoying exploring all the different places, I’m a really active person.”
That resolve looks to have served her well. A little over 18 months on, United are six games away from qualifying for their first Champions League campaign, if they can hold off the chasing pack in the final weeks of the season.
A fourth-placed finish last season was a solid return from the club’s debut WSL season, but, 12 months on, reaching the pinnacle of European competition would be something else entirely.
Katie Zelem remarkably scored direct from a corner on two occasions as Manchester United cruised to a 4-0 win over Leicester in the Women’s Super League
“I have never played in the Champions League, so it would be a dream to reach it,” Batlle said. “It’s something I really want to achieve in my career.
“We have the message more that we want to win every game. If we do that, we’re going to get into the Champions League. Of course, that is one of the special goals. For me, it’s a dream to play in the Champions League, but we are thinking more game-by-game.
“Mentally this season, we have that mentality, and now want to think about every game and every day to be better, and also we try to stay on the ball more and give ourselves more chances as a result. As a Spanish player, that suits me very well!”
As United have improved this season so has Batlle, who is relishing a reunion with Reading this Saturday, live on Sky Sports Football, after scoring her first – and to this date only – WSL goal against the Royals earlier this season.
It is no great surprise for someone eager to push themselves, the 22-year-old has more goals in her sights when United visit the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Saturday.
On International Women’s Day, we take a look back at some of the best goals from the Women’s Super League so far this season
She said: “My goal against Reading was really special, I always try to help the team and I’m going to try to do the same thing this weekend. I’m just enjoying being with the team, attacking a lot, and that was a nice goal to get off the mark – hopefully there will be more to follow.”
Watch Reading Women vs Man Utd Women live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11am on Saturday; Kick-off at 11.30am.