Are Lyon Women the best women’s football team ever assembled, and is it good for the game?
Olympique Lyonnais is a French club that has been existence since 1970. They play in the highest division in France, Ligue 1. Lyon are known for being able to attract and groom the best talent in the world. Even more prominently, they are remembered for accolades that includes winning the league ten times, the Coupe de France seven times, and the Champions League four times. In this article, we want to not just analyse their greatness, but critically ask ourselves if the team’s greatness is beneficial to the game as a whole. Does it help to always have an almost unbeatable opponent?
With a record crowd of 22,911 people behind Chelsea, Lyon showed that sometimes all that matters is what happens on the pitch. The French Ligue 1 side humbled Chelsea to a 2-1 defeat, making it to the final of the 2019 UEFA Women’s Champions League which will be held on the 18th of May in Budapest. The team will not just be tasting a European final for the first time but will be lining up for the title for the 4th time in a row. This shall be Lyon’s eighth final appearance since 2010 and have won the title on 5 of such occasions. Surely greatness maybe accompanied by some form of luck. Lyon got one of their desperately needed goals as an own goal from Chelsea. Unlike most games where the French champions just almost breeze through the 90 minutes, they were really pushed in against the North London club, with some of the players kneeling on the ground after the game. This goes on to show that the team could be getting the right competition to either topple down their reign or push them to the fullest potential. The road to this stage has however been fairly easy compared to what most teams go through seeing that they have never lost a single game. They had 2 draws and an impressive 9-0 score against Ajax Women in October last year. When a team hits such a clean record, is it then not fair to ask if they are not the best team ever assembled? We will also take a deep look into the components that make up this explosion.
Recently, The Guardian released a list of top 100 players in the world and 5 of the players in the Top 10 were from Lyon. In other words, 50% of the ladies that are most celebrated in the world, play for the French Champions. Below are brief bios of Ada Hegerberg, Lucy Bronze and Eugénie Le Sommer that came 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. The first two players also made it to FIFA’s Top 10 women.
She is known as the first woman to have won the prestigious Ballon d'Or in 2018. This was not the first as she has been showered with awards all her career. At 16 years of age, she played for Kolbotn in Norway and became the youngest player to score a hat trick. In that league, she emerged as the Youngest Player of the Year. Ada was also the first woman to be awarded the Norwegian Gold Ball Award and voted UEFA’s Best Woman Player in Europe. The 23-year-old Norwegian was instrumental in Lyon’s win against Wolfsburg to snatch their most recent Champions League crown and in their 2017/18 French title triumph. The Ballon d’Or award was in recognition for outstanding scoring record, 53 goals in 33 appearances for her club. Good news is that Lyon does not have to worry about losing her to any other club as she has signed a contract to stay with the club until 2021.
After qualifying for the Champions League finals, Lucy Bronze expressed disappointment that her team simply won the game. According to her, they are a team that should not just win, but excel at what they do. To anyone else, this should have been something to celebrate. That perhaps speaks to the players’ insatiable ambition for doing the very best on the field of play. This even explains why the England Women’s team head coach, Phil Neville, hails Lucy as the best player in the world. The former Manchester United player commends Lucy for her ability to get the ball and pass with great athletic skill. To him, she has reached world class status. The English international has also won the PFA Women's Players' Player of the Year twice in 2014 and 2017.
Eugénie Le Sommer
The 29-year-old who is also part of the French national team scored 10 goals in 13 games in the ongoing UEFA Women’s Champions League. The player who is known for her fantastic forward passes is currently the highest goal scorer at Lyon, approaching the 250 goal mark. She has also been complemented greatly for her incredible teamwork both off and on the field. One thing that she is passionate about is never ceasing to dream. In an interview with Foot Mercato, Le Sommer expressed that for her “the Ballon d'Or is not an ultimate goal”. She does acknowledge its significance to anyone who knows what soccer is about, but what she strives for, is to be efficient and at be her best. She was quoted saying, “After all, it's not an ultimate goal for me. The most important thing is to be efficient. If I am good and I am at my level, I can hope to be in the list and why not win one day. But I'm not focused on it.”
How Good Are They Really?
There is a tendency to exaggerate success when it is not put into context. We might think that Lyon is great until we see what other teams are doing. Starting off with Chelsea whom they kicked out of the UCL semi-finals. Chelsea has never won the Champions League but still boasts of the 2015 famous double, where they won both the FA Women’s Super League and the FA Women’s Cup. That was a while ago and really, the comparison between Lyon and Chelsea at this point, tips the scale towards to French Champions’ prowess and recent accomplishments. They will be facing Barcelona in the final, who will be stepping on the UCL finals turf for the first time. They have, however, done well in domestic cups like the Primera Division where they have won the top flight league title, four times and also won the Copa de Lareina, six times. One club that has also made strides in the game has been Vfl Wolfsburg from Germany. At the time of the writing of this article, VfL Ladies were one win away from a third successive Bundesliga title after cruising to a 7-0 win against SC Sand on Sunday. They have won the Champions League twice and even beat Lyon in 2012/2013 season. It’s fair to conclude that Lyon have also had their few humbling experiences but none of the other prominent clubs has been able to achieve what they currently have under their belt. Lyon’s dominance can also be credited to their diamond formation (4-3-1-2) which enables them to engage all the players. They usually employ a more defensive technique that enable them to hit opponents on the counter, when they least expect it. Really, is such dominance worth celebrating?
Is it Beneficial for the game?
Some may say it helps to have a team that is the best at what they do. Their actions and tactics become a benchmark for other teams and give them something that they can work towards. Other teams in the league can say, “We want to play like Lyon in future: because they have seen what greatness looks and feels like.” In a world where women football is still on the rise, but not yet where it should be, it is quite beneficial to have such legendary teams. They serve as inspiration for other teams not just in Europe, but in other parts of the world where women football might not even be taken seriously. Even though Lyon has a men’s section, the women section seems to be the more successful one, which is not usually the case with many teams that have both wings. Secondly, Lyon has become home to players who want to grow their career because they know that they can meet like-minded people who are willing to grow with them. A great team that becomes a magnet for great players and provides a grooming space for national teams and the international community is definitely a must keep. Teams like Lyon have done well for Europe and has even attracted great players from other parts of the world.
On the other hand, though, does it really help to compete in a place where your opponent is almost unbeatable? Sports become enjoyable when the field is level and anybody can come up as a victor on any day. Lyon might be an inspiration at times but it can also be the reason why some teams are demotivated especially when they do not have the financial capacity to attract great talent the way that they do. Teams should never feel like they have lost a game even before they get to the field. Fortunately, Lyon is not unbeatable as there are other teams like Frankfurt, Vfl Wolfsburg and Arsenal that know how to feed the humble pies, once in a while.
The term G.O.A.T. is not one that you just toss around like a coin, as it usually reflects unquestionable hard work and commitment. Based on the accolades and calibre of players that Lyon has been able to attract, it seems fair to give them this title. A G.O.A.T team. They are not unbeatable but have been able to do more than many other clubs. Such excellence is what everybody should be aiming for but when it is only saturated in one team, it might then work in others’ advantage in the grand scheme of things.