Estefanía Banini is a staple for the Argentina women’s national team. Banini has been a fixture for La Albiceleste for over a decade, scoring the third-ever point for Argentina in a Women’s World Cup in 2019, and their only goal in that year’s tournament.
Spotlight has been on Argentina for a long time, due to the widely public success of Lionel Messi, and how Argentina won the men’s World Cup last year. However, Banini and company are looking to bring that attention to the women’s side, qualifying for their second FIFA Women’s World Cup this year. And, contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t like being called the ‘Female Messi.’
“She says that people should get to know her and her last name, and all her teammates names before comparing her to Messi,” Isabella Echeverii, former Colombian women’s national team player and interviewer, said.
The Argentinian striker spoke on the ‘My Favorite Futbolista’ Podcast about growing up in Argentina, gender equality within the federation and standing up for what is right.
Banini said that players in Argentina make about $40 US dollars per week playing professionally. That number was below the Argentina poverty line in 2022. For female players in the country, their salary is 12% of what male professional players make.
“It’s obvious, that like everything else, we’re going to call it business,” Banini said. “Because at a professional level, you manage money, and that’s the way it is. But, you have to invest in a business. You have to invest.”
Banini was one of the first Argentinian players to feature abroad. She joined the Washington Spirit for two separate stints, from 2015-16 and then 2017-19. She also played in Spain for Valencia and Levante, before signing with Atlético Madrid in 2021, where she still remains. ‘My Favorite Futbolista’ co-host Meghan Klingenberg, defender for the Portland Thorns, said that Banini exemplifies the South American art of soccer of pure skill and freedom.
“When you play against her, you are terrified of being made to look stupid,” Klingenberg explained. “She used to play for Washington Spirit, and I was in the league and she would do things on the ball where you would be going one way, and she’d be five yards down the field in the other direction. That would happen frequently during games. I used to always hope she was on the other side.”
In 2019, Argentina qualified for their first World Cup appearance in eight years. Banini was integral to the process and helped Argentina beat Panama, in two legs, to punch their ticket to France. However, after the tournament, Banini spoke out against the federation, and unfair treatment, with a post on Instagram.
Banini said instant retaliation ensued.
“Unfortunately, the first thing they did was remove us from the national team. There were several of us who commented on the things that can be improved,” she explained, via a translator. “We were punished by not being allowed to play with the national team. It was a hard time, a very sad time. All we wanted was to improve this branch, and have what we needed to grow. There were all kinds of reactions from the previous coaching staff. They left us out of tournament calls, and there were many reactions from people.”
Banini said that some people commenting did not understand the fullness of the situation.
“I think that someone behind the social network can say anything. There were a lot of comments out there,” Banini said. “Some were hurtful, and some showed a lot of support. They knew a little of what we were talking about, that we wanted to keep growing. I always try to bring out the positive things, and I think it worked. It worked so that Argentina could have a change, and grow today under a new coaching staff.”
Eventually, in 2021, a new coach was named to lead the Argentina women’s national team: Germán Portanova. The hire led to Banini being brought back into the national team. She continues to speak out for equality both internationally and at the club level in Argentina, saying she’d love to play domestically, but it’s not feasible at this time.
“I would love to be able to experience it, because it’s my country and I want to live that reality. But I think there is still a long way to go before generating that opportunity for athletes, to dedicate themselves 100 percent to soccer, so the world can really see Argentina’s full potential,” Banini explained. “Having players who have to do several things obviously risks their performance.”
Banini and the Argentinian women’s national team are Group G and will be facing off against powerhouse sides like Sweden, Italy and South Africa. Argentina will kick off the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup against Italy on July 24, at 2 AM EST.