Gregor Robertson speaks to Olympic Lyonnais and England right-back Lucy Bronze…
By any measure, Lucy Bronze has enjoyed a remarkable 2018. Her debut season for European giants Lyon yielded French League and Champions League titles. She became the first England player to win the BBC women’s footballer of the year award; the first Englishwoman to be named in the annual FIFPro World XI; and was one of six Lyon players named on the 10-woman shortlist for the FIFA world player of the year.
Could the move to France have gone any better? “We missed out on the French Cup final,” she swiftly counters. “We lost 1-0 to PSG. We lost one game all season, which was that cup final. I think for a club like Lyon the goal is to win every single game – that’s the goal this year.”
That drive for supremacy and the glittering array of talent in Lyon’s ranks are why she opted to leave Manchester City for France in 2017. “To play with players that I thought could help me get better,” she says. “When I signed I knew it was going to be a change. But when you actually come and play here you realise it’s a completely different level. When you play against the [Lyon] players you think ‘Yeah, they’re good,’ but training every day with them is just another level.
“I think I’ve touched the ball twice as much as I did when I played in England. In England, we’re very forward thinking in terms of sport science, all those things off the pitch. In France, it’s so simple: get the ball and let’s play.
“At the beginning of last year is was hard not knowing the language, not knowing the people, the culture is a lot different to England but I really love it now. I spend loads of time with the girls, I’m picking up the language more and more every day, and the weather’s not bad either!
Celebrating with teammates after winning the UEFA Women's Champions League.
“I think it’s good to see something different too. I think a lot of players have done the same thing, at the same club, maybe lived with their families their whole lives. In the English league there are so many foreigners who come and tell you about the experiences they’ve had, and you think, ‘I want to try that, play with different players, see if I can improve different areas of my game.’”
Bronze’s skills were honed playing with her older brother, Jorge, as a child, and crafted further with Blyth Town and Sunderland in her native North East. She combined studies at Leeds Metropolitan University with playing for Everton and then Liverpool, with whom she won two WSL titles and the 2013/14 PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year. Upon turning professional with City in 2016, another league title and an FA Cup were added to her haul, and for a second time she was voted PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year, for 2016/17, by her peers.
PFA Women's Players' Player of the Year winner in 2017.
Bronze, who is represented by the PFA’s Player Management Agency, is now widely regarded as the best right-back in the world. But even just a few years ago, the journey football has taken her on would have seemed almost unimaginable. “When I was at Everton and Liverpool doing my degree, I worked in Dominos,” the 26-year-old says. “I worked in Goals, the five-asides, just pulling pints for the men after they’d had a kick about. I coached. I think that’s why so many people love women’s football – it’s so relatable.
“You can’t really plan that far ahead, because the growth and the change in the game has been so immense. When I was at Liverpool I was thinking, ‘Yeah, this is the pinnacle, it’s not going to get much better than this’. And then things just keep changing: teams improve, crowds improve, our players are getting better and everything’s pushing on more and more.”
The advent of a fully professional WSL this season, Bronze believes, will soon see the English league become the strongest in the world. “Maybe not now, but I think within the next couple of years,” she says. “I think the way the FA want to back it, the players who are getting attracted to the league, the players that are playing there now, even the competition that’s in the league already, and the fact that two English teams made the semi-final of the Champions League – it’s a big deal. That’s only going to help the England team improve, and our players in England improve.”
England manager Phil Neville will hope so too. The Lionesses host Brazil and Australia in October as preparations for the World Cup in France next summer get underway. Bronze feels the former Manchester United player’s old-school values and fresh perspective is just what England needed.
“He doesn’t have any preconceptions about any player,” Bronze says. “Whether that’s an English player, or one who plays for America or Germany or anyone, he literally judges them on their ability. He doesn’t know about their reputation in the media, or how many awards they’ve won.
“If you train hard he goes, ‘Yeah, this girl’s going to get a chance’. I watched Phil as a player, and he was no nonsense, worked hard, did the right things. I think that’s how he is as a coach. He likes to keep things really simple, really precise, if you don’t work hard, he’ll let you know. I think it’s working for the girls.
“After every game he texts us all asking how it was. After camp – he loves Ronaldo, because obviously he played with him – he sent everyone a screenshot of Ronaldo’s Instagram, a picture of him training, and it just said ‘Hard Work’. He’s obsessed with hard work.
“He likes to send us little pictures like that, or just check in with everyone. During the World Cup [in Russia], when the Japanese team left the dressing room clean and tidy, he sent us all that picture, saying ‘Girls this is what you need to be like: humble, work hard for everything that you get, respect everything that you get.’”
Bronze says England will go to France with the final in their sights. First, though, there are more titles to win in with Lyon.