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Unstoppable Olympique Lyonnais Féminin: Formule Secrète

A lot of eyebrows were raised when Olympique Lyonnais, who had finished a poor campaign in the Ligue 1, racked up a fantastic run in the UEFA Champions League. They held out perseveringly against probable favorites Juventus and capped it off with a brilliant performance against Guardiola’s Manchester City. They eventually lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich, who went on to be crowned as the Champions of Europe.

On the other hand, it was hardly a bolt from the blue when Olympique Lyonnais Féminin defeated their French contenders Paris Saint-Germain to book their place in the Finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. They already had been declared winners of the domestic league for a record fourteenth time and were expected to win the UEFA Champions League title consecutively for the fifth time in a row (which they did, matching the fabled Real Madrid men’s side of the late 1950s).

Club chairman Aulas admitted that following the semi-final win against PSG, he provided them the same bonus as the men’s team for their victory against Juventus. And that is, to say, just the tip of the iceberg. The OL Groupe has made massive strides where some others have just scratched the surface. OL Féminin share identical facilities with the men, starting from the fields, to the academies, the gyms to the “mental cell” designed to condition the players’ psychological requirements throughout the season. The women also play all their important games at the Groupama Stadium, which boasts a capacity of nearly 60,000.

In the words of the first Ballon d’Or Féminin winner, Ada Hegerberg, Lyon have “put the women in the spot we deserve.”

It all comes down to their visionary chairman, Jean-Michel Aulas. Launching OL Fémininin 2004, he wanted the women’s team to be on an equal footing with the men’s team from the very outset. Over the years, Aulas has invested heavily in the team. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, OL Féminin were handed a budget of around €10M prior to sales, a figure which is much more comparable to several of the men’s side competing in the Ligue 1. Europe’s big names such as Chelsea, VfL Wolfsburg, Arsenal, Barcelona can barely muster half the amount.

With their financial standing and stature in women’s football, OL Féminin have the privilege of cherry-picking the world’s best talents.

“The best club called me and wanted to know if I wanted to go there and play and I was like: ‘Yeah, I’m totally doing this,’” Hegerberg revealed in an interview with the Guardian. “The best players were there, I thought it was a dream.”

Apart from Hegerberg, the current roster boasts the likes of Germany captain Dzsenifer Marozsán, Japan captain and the World Cup winner Saki Kumagai, France veterans Eugénie Le Sommer, Wendie Renard and Sarah Bouhaddi. Interestingly, French captain, Renard has been with the club for 14 years, racking up fourteen league titles during her stay. Moreover, their star-studded alumnae include Camille Abily, Louisa Nécib, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and more recently Lucy Bronze.

The players don’t just move to the team to win trophies. It’s a chance to share the same dressing room with some of the world’s elite and experience individual development at the highest level. Playing for Lyon is rather a recognition of one’s talent and most players collect a Champions League medal in the process.

Megan Rapinoe, the current Ballon d’Or Feminin holder, who also turned out for the club in 2013-14, has remarked, “There’s a reason why all the good players want to go there. The best players will go there and sit on the bench because the money is there, the training is great, and they continually invest in the team.”

And the team’s success on the pitch is a testament to the effort that is dedicated to the setup of it. OL Féminin is the most dominant force in the entire realm of sports, and not just limited to women’s sports. Ever since 2006, they have finished as the champions of Division 1 Féminine every single season, won the UEFA Women’s Champions League seven times, and the Coupe de France Féminine nine times. No other club has won either of the titles as many times till date.

Lyon is the reference in terms of the women’s game. Every year they challenge themselves, and every year they accomplish their goals as well. They have set the bar very high in women’s football and are a crucial figure in its development. Sports reporter Antoine Osanna recollects that in their early days, the Lyon players would “get changed in some sort of locker room. They only had one set of jerseys, which had to be cleaned every time.” Professionalism was only percolating slowly in to the game.

Now they are recognized as the first club to charter private jets for their women’s team for away fixtures on European Nights. Clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Arsenal are only recently affirming corresponding facilities to their women’s team, when in fact, such commitment to gender equality has been the norm at Lyon for quite some time now.

Their journey of sixteen years is nothing short of astonishing and has defined the level at which women’s football ought to be. While only in its nascent stage, the gap is slowly closing between Lyon and its competitors, both domestically and internationally, and the female sport is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Leading from the forefront, Olympique Lyonnais Féminin continue to assert their dominance and are scripting a legacy that is unlikely to be matched, ever.


Author: Soumya Joy Hembrom

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