For a decade, Olympique Lyon dominated Europe's women's football. In the Champions League final against FC Barcelona, however, the signs are pointing to the changing of the guard. The Catalans rely on regional players.
Can FC Barcelona defend the Champions League title?
It will be more than just a game for the biggest title in European women's football: The final of the women's Champions League, which was redesigned this season, between Olympique Lyon and FC Barcelona could also seal a changing of the guard. For the past decade, the French have dominated the Champions League almost at will, being the undisputed number one in Europe. But “Barça Femení” has been winning title after title since 2020, most recently the Spanish championship again. And: the Catalans are the reigning Champions League winners.
Performance explosion after 2019
One of the decisive turning points was the last meeting between the two teams, the Champions League final in 2019. At that time, Lyon clearly won 4-1. “The French shot across the field like airplanes,” says historian Manuel Tomás Belenguer, who works for FC Barcelona. “After the game, Barça players and coaches got together on the pitch and vowed that they wanted to excel at this level. And what followed was a real explosion.”
What Belenguer means: The team is now unrivaled in Spain. In the 2021/22 season there were 30 games in the Spanish league – and 30 times the winner was Barcelona. And: The team has literally walked through the Champions League – it was only against VfL Wolfsburg in the second leg of the semifinals that they suffered an away defeat without any sporting consequences.
There has been a real hype about the women of FC Barcelona. In the quarter-finals of the premier class against archrival Real Madrid, 91,553 spectators came to the stadium. World record in women's soccer. A few weeks later, this number was even raised slightly to 91,648 against Wolfsburg.
Record crowd in the Clasico against Real Madrid
The women's department wasn't even an official part of the club until 2002, and for a long time eked out an amateur existence. Historian Belenguer says: “Society wasn't ready. It was based on the misogynist assumption that football was only for men.” training conditions. The players played on football pitches alongside rugby teams from Barcelona's suburbs. Only at the beginning of the last decade did a rethinking of the club management begin. Women's football was taken more seriously and structures improved. In 2012, the club won the first women's national championship.
Lyon's golden years
At this point, however, Olympique Lyon was already the French series champion. The women's department has existed in France's third-largest city since 2004. In Lyon, it was determined from the outset to make this a success through appropriate investments. At a time when Lyon's men were also experiencing their “golden years” and winning seven French championship titles in a row.
In the 2020 final, Lyon defeated VfL Wolfsburg 3-1 – the French team's last Champions League triumph
At FC Barcelona, women's football was still more or less a shadowy existence. He was only professionalized in 2015, under the impression of successful work – just like in Lyon. But you wanted to stand out and not just invest money. “We didn't want to buy the best players in the world, but rather strengthen the regional identity of the team through continuous youth work,” says Barcelona sporting director Markel Zubizarreta. With a team composed mainly of Catalan players, the assault on the European top began.
In 2016/17, FC Barcelona reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time. A notable success. But Olympique Lyon won the title. The French won the competition with a team that sounded like a world selection: Alex Morgan, Ada Hegerberg, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Eugénie Le Sommer – the best of the best. In Barcelona, on the other hand, the squad continued to have strong regional roots. And failed in the 2019 Champions League final against the international star ensemble from Lyon.
The 2022 final could now usher in a new era, which will be dominated by the ” Women of Barcelona”. Defending the title against the French giants could make the Catalans the new Lyon.
The team has worked well together for years. Important pillars have been in the association for many years. First and foremost, Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas. The player from the outskirts of Barcelona is the integration figure par excellence. She is a great role model for young girls who want to start playing football. Putellas embodies the concept that Barcelona stands for.
World footballer Alexia Putellas is one of FC Barcelona's top performers
However, the club's approach has changed a bit now to be able to compete at the top of Europe. Since 2017, sports director Zubizarreta has also signed one or two experienced players from abroad – such as Sweden's Fridolina Rolfö. The 28-year-old feels that her team plays a big role for people. “They are interested in us, you can tell by the atmosphere in the city. And our game is attractive to watch,” said Rolfö.
More than 10,000 Catalan fans will accompany the team to the final in Turin. This is also unique in European women's football. The Lyon daily newspaper “Le Progrès” wrote after qualifying for the final that Olympique Lyon would now like to get “their trophy” back. It is quite possible that exactly the opposite is taking place. And the dominance of the French is definitely ending.