Paris (AFP) – European women’s football has been dominated by Lyon but as investment increases across the continent multiple threats have emerged to the French side going into the Champions League quarter-finals this week.
Lyon have been European champions in the last five seasons, creating a dynasty to match that of Real Madrid in the early years of the men’s European Cup, in the 1950s.
Jean-Michel Aulas, the Lyon president, has been rewarded for his investment but they no longer have a monopoly on the best players and a team that has won 14 successive domestic titles is, as things stand, no longer the best in France either.
They sit a point behind Paris Saint-Germain in the French league and on Wednesday the clubs take their rivalry into Europe as they meet in the first leg of their quarter-final.
PSG, having replaced Lyon as France’s leading men’s side over the last decade under Qatari ownership, could be poised to do the same in the women’s game.
Lyon beat PSG in the semi-finals last season on the way to winning the final against Wolfsburg, and Lyon also triumphed on penalties when the French rivals met in the 2017 final.
But PSG won 1-0 when the teams met in the league in November, ending Lyon’s 73-game unbeaten run.
The Parisians, with players like Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler and prolific striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto, need no longer fear Lyon.
“Paris have had good teams and good players before. But their current side has been together for several years. They haven’t changed much while we have lost players,” said Lyon skipper and defensive colossus Wendie Renard recently.
Since winning last season’s Champions League, Lyon have lost England right-back Lucy Bronze, the reigning FIFA player of the year, to Manchester City. Ada Hegerberg, the former Ballon d’Or winner, has been badly hit by injuries.
– Man City, Chelsea ‘had to play catch up’ –
Now, the biggest threat may be coming from across the Channel.
Clubs like German champions Wolfsburg, the two-time former Champions League winners, and Swedish champions Rosengard — once the club of Brazil great Marta — remain in this season’s competition, and both Barcelona and Bayern Munich are there too.
However, it is impossible to ignore the investment that has been made in English clubs.
“You have to realise teams like Lyon and Wolfsburg have been professional for so much longer. The English teams have had to build, we are investing, but in the past that investment has not been the same as Lyon, Wolfsburg or PSG,” said Chelsea manager Emma Hayes this week.
“We had to play catch up.”
Chelsea, the English champions, take on Wolfsburg this week in a tie that sees Danish star Pernille Harder face her old club.
She left Wolfsburg for Chelsea last summer for a fee understood to be a world record of over 250,000 pounds ($350,000), and in London has joined up with the likes of Australia’s Sam Kerr.
“I see no reason why clubs wouldn’t want to support women’s football and provide the best possible opportunity for them to succeed,” Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich said in a rare interview with Forbes.
Manchester City, who face Barcelona, look potentially stronger than ever having added Bronze as well as US World Cup winners Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Abby Dahlkemper.
“It’s taken time for there to be greater parity or opposition in the latter stages of the Champions League which is not just a French team versus a German team,” Hayes added.
“This is the first real year, even if there has been much closer steps in the last few years, where I think six teams can win this easily.”
English clubs are buoyant, following the announcement of a three-year broadcast deal for the country’s Women’s Super League reportedly worth around £7 million per year.
The growing investment from owners and broadcasters looks set to put English clubs in a strong position going into next year, when a 16-team Champions League group stage will be introduced.
With the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid emerging too, it is only going to get harder for Lyon.