Lucy Bronze – the Lioness is coming home
Lucy Bronze just became a three-time winner of the UEFA Women's Champions League which is in itself an incredible achievement hadn't it been her third successive European trophy making her the first English player to win three Champions League medals in a row. The European glory crowned a perfect season for Lyon and Bronze completed a continental treble by adding the UWCL to their D1 title and Coupe de France. Although her contract with Lyon expired at the end of 2019-2020, she signed a short-term deal to be able to play the UWCL finals in Spain thus penning a perfect ending to her connection with the French club. Now, at 28 and three years later, she's going back to England and to the club, she left in 2017, Manchester City in a bid to help the citizens overthrow both her former club, Lyon, in the European stage, as well as current FA WSL Champions, Chelsea.
Lucia Roberta Tough Bronze, also known as Lucy Bronze in the football world, was born on October 28th, 1991 in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town in the northernmost county of England, Northumberland in the North East. Lucy started playing football at a young age for Alnwick Town but by the time she turned 12 regulations didn’t allow her to play on the boys' team so she had to move to Blyth where she played for Blyth Town’s girls' team. The beginning of her journey involved an extra effort to balance playing and training, studying, and even working. In the end, it all paid off since she went out to become one of the best players in the world, with spells in teams like Liverpool, Manchester City and Lyon and one of the most influential players of the Lionesses.
The dawn of the “Bronze Age”
Lucy Bronze was the only girl in a boys team and just before she turned 12 her coach told her mother that she couldn’t play with them anymore. This could have been the end of her dream, instead she, with the support of her mother and her aunt, found herself a new team in Blyth before joining Sunderland. Having to find a new team meant that she had to drive almost an hour and a half to go to training, after school, three times a week.
After spending a semester in North Carolina, Lucy enrolled at Leeds University where she studied Sports Science and although she was playing for Everton and for the U23 England Squad she also had to work to earn her money and with 19 years old she began to question if she would ever make it to the senior squad and become a full-time professional footballer. Everything got worse when an old knee injury almost turned into a career-ending setback. She didn’t have all the resources available to almost every single footballer nowadays so she relied on her knowledge to recover and devised her own rehab plan. In the end, she recovered from four knee operations, got her degree, and became one of the first footballers to be paid to play professionally.
“The fact that we [as women footballers] are treated differently sometimes, the negatives of that are quite obvious – in terms of money, facilities, and how we’re treated in general – it’s a hindrance. But on the flip-side, it just makes you more driven. I think my career has been pushed so much because I want people to watch me and think, ‘She’s good,’ and not about whether I’m a male or a female footballer.” Lucy Bronze in her interview with Vogue UK
Looking back it was a tough journey but one that reveals the pathway women had to go through to be able to play the sport they love and be taken seriously as footballers. Lack of opportunities and investment, injuries, and disregard for a whole class of athletes, those were all the setbacks a player had to overcome in a not so distant past, yet to be fairly honest there’s still a long way to go in some of these aspects. Nonetheless, Lucy is now proud to be part of a generation that has gone fully professional and all her glory comes from the resilience she has shown throughout the years, always chasing her dream.
Lucy Bronze was named PFA Women’s Player's Player of the Year in 2014 and 2017 due to pivotal performances in Liverpool and Manchester City's successful WSL campaigns in the 2013-2014 and 2016-2017 seasons, respectively. Later, in 2018 and 2020 she was voted BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, by fans all across the world, and she also became the first English footballer to be crowned the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year. In 2017 and 2019 she made the FIFA FIFPro Women’s World XI and the All-Star Squad in the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Lucy's Journey began in Sunderland's academy where she played for the under-12's, paving her way through the Youth levels having captained the under-16's, after which she joined the senior team at the age of 16 back in 2007. During her time there, in the 2008-2009 season, she helped the Lady Black Cats get promoted to the former FA's Premier League National Division (currently the FA Women’s Championship) and reach the final of the FA Cup, in which she was considered Player of the Match despite Sunderland’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal.
In spite of her good performances at a senior level, Bronze decided to go abroad to the U.S after she won a scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina and play for the North Carolina Tar Heels Women’s Soccer Team. Playing in 24 games (3 goals) in one season, mostly as a midfielder, she won the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship in 2009 before returning to Sunderland.
In September of 2010, she signed for Everton only to be a part of their UWCL squad and kept playing for Sunderland as Everton was due to start competing in the newly established FA WSL later in March 2011. For Everton, she made 6 appearances in the 2011 WSL season where the Toffees finished third and 11 in the 2012 season that ended without Everton’s qualification for the Champions League after they finished in 3rd place for the second season in a row behind runners-up Birmingham and champions Arsenal. In 2012, Lucy crossed the Merseyside river to join Liverpool and make history with The Reds winning two FA WSL titles in a row. In two seasons with the Reds she made 28 appearances in the WSL and scored three goals.
Manchester City was her fourth club in England having signed for the citizens in 2015. She made 11 appearances in the WSL, scoring 2 goals, and 4 in the league cup in her first year and Manchester City finished 2nd in the league, qualifying for the Champions League. In the following year, she was part of a strong and cohesive defensive side that conceded only four goals a record in a season where City was unbeaten and achieved domestic success, as they won their first WSL, where she made 16 appearances, and the FA WSL Cup (now the FA Women’s League Cup), in a final that went to overtime and where Lucy scored the winning goal, helping City complete an historical double. Again, she saw her name get into the history books as she played in Manchester City’s first-ever UWCL games against Russian side Zvezda Perm having scored two goals and contributed with an assist in a crushing 6-0 victory on aggregate. In 2017, she made 7 appearances (1 goal) in the WSL Spring Series, a tournament played between the 2016 season (which was held as a summer tournament) and the 2017-2018 season and won the FA Cup, scoring a goal in the final against Birmingham City in a 4-1 win. During the UWCL 2016-2017 season, she started in 8 games, having played as a CB in one of them, in a campaign that ended in the semi-finals with a 3-2 loss to her soon to be new team, Olympique Lyonnais.
Lucy Bronze signed a three-year contract with the French side, the most successful club in the history of DIvision 1 Fèmenine. It's no surprise that Lucy’s stay in Lyon would completely change her career. The team is, arguably, the most ambitious and well-structured project in Women’s football with its development sky-rocketing since the club F.C.Lyon merged with Olympique Lyonnais. The investment in the women’s team is overwhelming and clearly paid off as they have since become Queens of France and of Europe. In 7 years, Lyon has won 10 consecutive Division 1 titles, 8 Coupe de France and 7 UWCL. In her first season, Lucy Bronze started in 19 games in the French league and 8 in the UWCL, scoring 4 goals (2 in the D1 and 2 in the UWCL) and contributing with a total of 5 assists, the first of her three years of glory in Les Lyonnaises' uniform as she got her first Champions League medal and Division 1 title, the twelfth in a row for Lyon. In her sophomore season, she was more involved having played 29 games in all competitions (16 in Division 1, 9 in the Champions League, and 4 in the French Cup) and her influence on Lyon's attacking efforts continued to be evident with her 4 assists (2 in Division 1 and 2 in two in the UWCL) and two goals (1 in D1, the other in the UWCL). She won her second Division 1 title, her second Uefa Champions League, and her first Coupe de France trophy. Her last year in Lyon was also an unforgettable one, even though it turned out to be shorter than expected. Collectively, Lyon made history, once again, by winning the first-ever Trophée des Championnes, their 7th UWCL trophy, establishing a record of 5 in a row, the Division 1 for the 13th time and the Coupe de France. Lucy participated in 15 league games, 6 in the Champions League,Portuguese and 2 in the french cup, in a season where she didn’t score any goal but contributed with 5 assists and delivered solid, top-quality performances especially in the Champions League finals.
Given the fact that Lucy’s father is portuguese, she could have played for the Portuguese national team instead of the Lionesses. Unfortunately for me and for the Portuguese squad, she got a call-up to represent the Lionesses. She said once that she told her mother if she didn’t get that call before she turned 22 then she would be playing for Portugal and that arrived four days before her birthday.
Lucy’s international career began when she was just 15 years old when she joined the U-17 squad in 2007 and in the following year she played in the first ever UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship held in Nyon, Switzerland, where England got to the semi-finals, and was part of the English team that participated in Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. In 2009, she was also part of the squad that won the Women’s U19 EURO in Belarus, a victory the English tried to replicate in the following year’s final of the tournament held in North Macedonia. Also in 2010, she participated in the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Germany where she played all three of England’s games. She also played for the U23 squad before getting her senior debut on June 26th, 2013 as a substitute in a friendly against Japan. Later that summer, she was part of the English squad at the EURO but she didn’t play any minute. She scored her first goal in a World Cup Qualifier against Belarus in June 2014 and later in November she started for the Lionesses in their first game at Wembley.
Lucy Bronze paired up with Steph Houghton as a CB on the road to the 2015 World Cup in Canada. In the tournament, Lucy started as a LW in a 1-0 defeat against France after which she replaced Alex Scot as a RB. In the round of 16, she scored the winning goal against Norway, as well as the winner in the quarter-final match against Canada. She impressed the world with her solid defensive performances and effectiveness in the last third of the field which led to a Golden-Ball nomination.
In 2016 she played two games in the She Believes Cup plus five in England’s EURO Qualifying campaign. One year later, she was part of the England squad for the EURO held in the Netherlands. The Lionesses made it to the semi-finals where they were knocked out by the soon to be winners, the Netherlands. For her performances during the EURO, she was chosen to be included in the Team of the Tournament. In her third participation in the She Believes Cup, she captained the England squad for the first time in the match against France and a year later the Lionesses won the tournament.
Once again, she delivered solid and balanced performances in the 2019 World Cup in France where she made 8 appearances for the Lionesses, scoring again against Norway, now in the quarter-finals. At the end of the tournament, England finished 4th and she took home the Silver-Ball, being considered the second-best and most valuable player of the World Cup. Although Lucy excels as RB, England’s manager Phill Neville has, obnoxiously, played Lucy several times as a midfielder, which clearly doesn’t suit her qualities and reveals an England squad weakened, collectively, due to the fact important players are out of position - bear in mind that striker Rachel Daly often plays as a RB. A change in the lead will see Sarina Wiegman taking over from Neville as the new England’s head coach but not until September 2021. Until then, we may see more of Lucy’s dull midfield performances.
Her international career is set to have its next big chapter in the EURO 2022 that will be held in England.
The return to Manchester City and to the WSL
Lucy’s role in Manchester City’s squad
Three years later, Lucy Bronze is back in England to play for her former club Manchester City.
After finishing second in the WSL last season and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City wants to fight for titles this season and to be able to do so, the Citizens have strengthened their squad with the signings of England International, Chloe Kelly, and two World Cup winners, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, all of them young talents that will most definitely contribute with goals and assists. With the addition of Lucy to their ranks, City will be stronger not only defensively but also in their attacking efforts. Even though City has another two good options for the RB position, Esme Morgan and Aoife Mannion, Lucy will without a doubt take that role from the get-go since that has been City’s soft spot. Last season, Janine Beckie was the one in charge of that position, playing out of position. That doesn’t mean that Morgan and Mannion won’t have their minutes, since CIty will be playing in 4 competitions, the WSL, the UWCL, the FA Cup, and Conti Cup so we can expect them to play in cup games. City’s midfield is packed with creative and skilled players who can work through the center of the field creating chances by playing directly to their strikers or dropping the ball to their wingers. Playing with a formation that suits the characteristics of players that are capable of maintaining a defensive balance while conducting the team's attacking efforts, such as Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir, and now Sam Mewis will allow City’s full-backs to go forward more often and support the team in the attack something that Bronze, on the right, and Stokes, on the left, do effortlessly.
Lucy’s attributes make her one of the most complete right-backs in the world. Not only, she has the ability to move through the flank herself by making underlapping movements without the ball, as she is able to exploit the space on the wings by driving plays forward on the overlap. Also crucial is the way she can support the team from the flanks, by adding width to the attack and cross, feeding a center-forward. In Lyon (and in the NT) we would often see her move to the infield carrying the ball through the midfield taking advantage of the gaps in the opponent's line, dribbling through the central space and reaching the final third where she’s capable of once again providing chances.
We can also see her taking advantage of her close control by engaging in diagonal dribbles, as she starts from her usual RB position, progresses throughout the field until she finds herself in the 10 position, often drawing some opponents to her creating space between the defenders enough to leave the forward in a good position to score if she manages to create a successful chance. She might as well be a powerful weapon in offensive 1v1’s since her dribbling capacity is crucial to face her opponents in a 1v1 in the flanks and overcome them effectively.
When it comes to finishing touch, Lucy provides some more options. She can score from range, as a result of a free-kick or a corner. When out of possession herself, if the ball is on the opposite wing, we can see her running to get it at the back post, whereas if she has a teammate covering the right flank,she might be getting to the penalty area where she becomes another crossing option.
Lucy’s attributes, style, and favorite movements will suit perfectly in Manchester City’s game. Although she won't share the flank with a RW as her former teammate in Lyon, and Manchester City alumni, Nikita Parris, we can expect her to pair up in the right-wing counter-press three-years upon with either fellow Lioness, Jill Scott, Janine Beckie, or new arrival Rose Lavelle, depending on the tactical formation picked by Gareth Taylor something that has gotten quite hard to predict. Her involvement in City’s attacking efforts will therefore be crucial for the team's success whether be through the wing or the central areas of the field.
Lucy relies on timing and anticipation even though she is capable of counterpress after a turnover and cover large spaces. We can expect her to perform well under pressure, positioning herself so as to force her opponent to hold on to the ball, keeping the nearest passing options blocked until she’s ready to make the tackle herself or she’s sure the rest of the defensive line is keeping tabs on all the spaces. She will also be an asset in providing support to the central areas and CB Steph Houghton.
All in All, Manchester City did a great job by securing the signing of Lucy Bronze. Not only that will be adding more star power to a WSL that has arguably become the number one league in the world as it will also be a very important addition to City’s squad that lacked an experienced and versatile player for the RB position. Furthermore, and after the two first games of the 2020-2021 season, City’s defensive line seems to be the squad’s weakest link and Bronze's inclusion might solve some of those defensive issues. For Lucy, this new chapter will allow her to be home after her three year adventure in France, build up on her performances, fighting for titles with City, and trying to get a spot in Team GB that will compete in next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
*Picture Credits to the rightful owners