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Lyon’s Women Defend the Past in a Changing Champions League


They’ve gone, one after the other, not a lot swept aside as barged out of the best way. Umea, the Swedish team that first brought Marta to Europe, the superpower that appeared in the primary three finals of what would turn into the ladies’s Champions League, ran first into bankruptcy after which, as night follows day, sporting disrepair.

The identical thing happened to the subsequent Swedish team to achieve the ultimate, Djurgarden/Alvsjo — absent from Europe since 2006, relegated in 2012. A fate even worse befell Tyreso, which was declared bankrupt just just a few weeks after reaching the Champions League final in 2014.

The pattern holds outside Sweden. Those early years of the tournament were dominated by two German clubs: FFC Frankfurt and Turbine Potsdam. Together they earned 10 appearances in Champions League finals, half of them ending in victories. Potsdam has not competed in Europe in any respect since 2014. Frankfurt will return next season, after an eight-year hiatus.

It can accomplish that, though, with a rather modified identity: In 2020, it announced a merger with Eintracht Frankfurt, the boys’s Bundesliga team. Potsdam has done something similar; the identical 12 months, it entered right into a “cooperation agreement” with Hertha Berlin, its nearest major men’s team.

That, in spite of everything, appeared to be the one approach to survive in the brand new landscape into which women’s soccer has been transported within the last decade or so.

The sudden influx of investment from the most important players in the boys’s game — Bayern Munich and Chelsea and Juventus and Paris St.-Germain and Manchester City the remainder — has brought tremendous advantages to women’s soccer in Europe. It has raised salaries and lifted conditions. It has improved the spectacle and the usual.

It has, without query, helped to drive the rapid increase in each interest and exposure that has led, for instance, to the streaming service DAZN’s coverage of this season’s Champions League, which is able to conclude on Saturday with Barcelona’s showdown with Olympique Lyonnais. This 12 months’s games have attracted about 56 million views, and a string of record attendances has been set over the past couple of years.

But the associated fee of that latest money’s arrival has been, to some extent, to separate women’s soccer from its past, and to accomplish that at breakneck speed. Among the teams that carried the flag for the game for thus long were left behind seemingly overnight, unable to compete with rivals bankrolled by the not possible wealth of the boys’s game.

The idea, for a very long time, ran that the identical thing would occur to the team that represented the apex of the early modern period of ladies’s soccer. Olympique Lyonnais was, for a bit over a decade, untouchable within the Champions League. In 11 years, it contested nine finals. It won seven of them, including five in a row between 2015 and 2020.

Its dominance created a self-perpetuating winning culture, and made it a magnet for the world’s finest players, all drawn to a club where training was frequently considered more of a challenge than actual competitive games. It was when facing your teammates, in spite of everything, that you simply were pitting yourself against the most effective talent on the planet.

Lyon had the backing of a men’s team, after all, but a middle-of-the-road one — a regional power, somewhat than a continental one. Even Lyon, it seemed, would prove powerless once Barcelona, Real Madrid and the remainder made their presence felt.

Last season, that’s precisely what appeared to occur. For the primary time in 14 years, Lyon did not win the French title; that honor went, as a substitute, to P.S.G. The Champions League trophy ended up at Barcelona, a part of a treble achieved with the identical kind of dominance that had for thus long been Lyon’s calling card. Lyon looked as if it would have been dislodged from its perch within the blink of an eye fixed.

Ada Hegerberg, the team’s striker, watched it occur from afar; she missed the entire of last season’s campaign with injury. She noted, too, how quickly women’s soccer looked as if it would move, how briskly the world could change. Barcelona now was the team held up because the game’s standard-bearer. The Women’s Super League, England’s highest division, was now thought to be the strongest championship. Lyon’s achievements, its pre-eminence, looked as if it would Hegerberg to have been eclipsed and, on some level, forgotten.

That conclusion could have been, on reflection, premature. Lyon is heading in the right direction to regain its French title; it has not lost a game all season, and has only conceded eight goals. More vital, with Hegerberg restored to the side, it has returned to the Champions League final. Barcelona, the team it still regards because the pretender to its throne, is its opponent in Turin on Saturday.

Lyon will go into the sport as an outsider, roughly, though it’s harder to match the relative merits of teams in the ladies’s game than it’s in the boys’s. The indisputable fact that so many games — especially away from England — aren’t televised has a warping effect on how players, and teams, are regarded, as Caroline Graham Hansen, Hegerberg’s compatriot for Norway but rival this weekend, identified earlier this 12 months.

It might be of enormous profit to the ladies’s game, after all, for that situation to be amended, for its constituent clubs and their stars to be granted more airtime. It’s a minor solace, but a solace nonetheless, that it does lend these kinds of games a component of mystery that’s sorely lacking from the boys’s game. Lyon and Barcelona are each dominant of their domestic leagues, however it is difficult to know what that dominance means in relation to one another.

Barcelona’s status as defending champion, after all, is ample reason to imagine it possesses the sting. That Lyon can already be considered an outsider, regardless of how marginal, is proof enough of how much the landscape has shifted within the space of little greater than a 12 months.

Additionally it is, though, heartening. Lyon was accruing a number of the world’s best players when Barcelona’s women’s team was still training within the evening, after the club’s various men’s teams had gone home. Lyon was paying its stars handsome salaries while the members of Barcelona’s squad were still working second jobs.

It was an early adopter, a pioneer, and that foresight allowed it to occupy a specific place within the history of ladies’s soccer. Lyon was the game’s first superteam; it provided, in some ways, the model that a lot of those who have tried to strip it of its primacy have attempted to mimic.

It’s an emissary of a distinct era, a thread that roots this latest iteration of ladies’s soccer in a past that, though it seems distant, may be very recent still. Lyon’s first Champions League final was against Turbine Potsdam, a famous name reduced to a remnant of a previous age. And yet Lyon remains to be here, still standing, still refusing to be barged out of the best way.

Two things are equally, startlingly apparent concerning the seminal agreement between U.S. Soccer and the unions representing its men’s and ladies’s teams over equal pay. One is that it’s, without query, a commendable conclusion. The opposite is that it really shouldn’t have taken six years to sort out.

Actually, at the center of what was no doubt a posh negotiation is a quite simple premise: The quantity that men’s and ladies’s players are paid to represent their country in a person game ought to be the identical. They’re, in a really real and obvious way, doing the exact same job. Their match pay should reflect that.

(Additionally it is the case — and we have now to acknowledge a European perspective here — that U.S. Soccer pays far above market rate to everyone who represents its national teams; if there remains to be a powerful case for that being a minimum of an explicable policy for the ladies’s team, there is completely no reason to do it for the boys.)

More thorny, after all, was the problem of how you can overcome the imbalance within the prize money handed out for competing, and succeeding, within the World Cup. The lads’s tournament is much more lucrative to national federations: Its prize pool is an order of magnitude larger. The answer, there, is one as elegant because it is logical: Gather all the cash together and split it equally.

“No other country has ever done this,” said Cindy Parlow Cone, the U.S. Soccer president.

It’s, though, a model that may very well be adopted elsewhere to smooth out the vast imbalance within the prize pools for each tournaments. No person else goes to do it, in spite of everything. Gianni Infantino might need promised, in 2019, that he was going to double the prize pool for the ladies’s competition to $60 million. However the FIFA president has spent the previous couple of years focusing as a substitute on launching cup competitions that never occur and doing what he can to damage the boys’s World Cup.

U.S. Soccer can take great pride within the indisputable fact that it has carved a path for other nations to follow, with the honorable exceptions of the Netherlands, Australia and Norway, all of whom have already moved (or pledged to maneuver) to equalize rates of match pay. The pressure must now be placed on FIFA to make sure that that the shared pot is as large because it is perhaps. It doesn’t need “all of that cash sitting in Swiss bank accounts,” as Infantino himself once said. It’s time he lived as much as his word.

Stefano Pioli shouldn’t, really, have been at A.C. Milan long enough to see this occur. He was presupposed to be relieved of his duties within the spring of 2020; the club had hatched a plan at hand control of not only its first team, but in addition much of its structure to Ralf Rangnick — then still overseeing the Red Bull network of clubs — within the hope that he might drag Milan back to the sport’s leading edge.

After which, when soccer resumed after the primary wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Milan was transformed. The club broke the news to Rangnick that it didn’t feel it could part ways with Pioli. Inside a 12 months, the Italian had taken a young, inchoate Milan team back into the Champions League. Now, he’s one point from delivering its first Serie A title since 2011.

There’s only one final hurdle to clear. Milan is 2 points clear of its city rival, Internazionale, with a single weekend of games to play: Milan at Sassuolo, Inter at home to Sampdoria. A draw shall be enough for Milan to say a fairly unlikely championship, because of its higher record in games between the contenders.

That it has exceeded preseason hopes of no higher than a top-four finish is testament not only to the astute, effective team Pioli has built on a relative shoestring — Elliott Management, the hedge fund that owns the team, runs a decent ship — but to that call, two years ago, that a rest was pretty much as good as a change.

Appointing Rangnick would have been a daring, brave step for an Italian team. More revolutionary still, perhaps, was accepting that success takes time, and patience. The title, this weekend, could be fitting reward.

I hope you all enjoyed the unexpected treat of a cameo appearance from the recently converted Trabzonspor enthusiast Tariq Panja last week, filling in for me as I attempted to corral an overstimulated 4-year-old and a poorly-trained cocker spaniel — those adjectives should perhaps go the opposite way around — around a series of woodland walks.

That absence means there are two weeks of emails to deal with, largely on subjects that every one of you’ll have forgotten. So we are going to start easy, by acknowledging an error. I wrongly attributed a joke about Chelsea being owned by Karim Benzema to the daughter of 1 Bob Marx. There isn’t any Bob Marx. Well, there probably are a lot of Bob Marxes, but this was Brian Marx, and he deserves the credit. Or his daughter does, anyway.

Javier Cortés’s assessment of American fandom, meanwhile, has attracted no little feedback. “As a former fan of an N.F.L. team that up and moved from my city, I’d suggest that is strictly when allegiances should end,” wrote Michael James. “No loyalty to me and the fan base by the team means no love back.” Fred Dingledy was much more succinct: “Largely, it’s a matter of teams receiving the loyalty they offer.”

Dan Lebiednik identified that “abandoning your team once they leave a city isn’t unique” to the USA. “England has its own example: A.F.C. Wimbledon, which was recreated by fans after their very own team was moved to Milton Keynes.” That is true: Only a few fans followed the brand new team after it left south London.

The difference, I assume, is that a few many years on, the reformed side has been allowed to progress through the pyramid sufficiently that it has spent a substantial period of time in the identical division as its hated half brother.

Mitch Stein, then again, feels the lot of the fan is a bit more universal. “I do know some individuals who have moved to a latest city and brought that city’s teams as their very own; I can consider just one or two instances during which a loyal fan has dropped his or her team completely,” he wrote. “There are numerous people, like myself, who’ve the misfortune of getting picked perennially horrible teams of their youth, and follow them to the bitter end.”

And on a note so unrelated that I cannot consider a segue, Diego Paz is so enthralled by the top of the club season that he’s excited about the World Cup. “I feel there are three aspects that might make it higher than previous tournaments,” he wrote. “The timing means the players shall be less drained and vulnerable to injury. It can come after an unusually quiet summer. And, for all of the negatives about Qatar, there shall be no long distance travel or drastic weather changes.”

These are all true: From a purely sporting perspective, the World Cup could prove to be a vintage one. (We’ve got, after all, covered the cons, and the way we would reply to them, previously.) I do worry concerning the impact on the remainder of next season, though: It can start with players eager to avoid injury, and conclude when everyone seems to be running on fumes.

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