Before I go on to answer this question, I’d just explain what a “Lyon” is. It’s not complicated at all, stay with me.
Olympique Lyonnais Féminine plays in the D1 Féminine, the highest tier of Women’s football in France. Unlike their famous male counterparts (who once won 7 straight french championships) they slogged through years of being amateurs before making the transition to being a fully professional team, offering their players the opportunity to be full-time footballers.
Lyon moved from having no bibs to train in and only earning victory bonuses to complete training set-ups and being on proper salaries. Lyon then went on to acquire great talent across various positions. From Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan of the US Women’s National Team to Swedish Internationals Caroline Seger and Lotta Schelin.
The squad got stacked with talent including French internationals Sarah Bouhaddi, Griedge Mbock-Bathy and Renard in defence, to the likes of Dzsenifer Marozsan and Ada Hegerberg in Midfield and up top. Now the ingredients for a successful team were coming together.
Next, the recruitment of elite coaching staff. Reynald Pedros guided them to consecutive Champions League titles and his successor, Jean-Luc Vasseur, seems to be well on track.
A lot of the ingredients were on the table now; a proper team setup with adequate facilities; a complete team with good players and experienced coaching staff. The last thing which actually played a major role in bringing all these together is a dedicated owner in Jean-Michel Aulas.
Looking at how they’ve progressed over the years it’s no wonder that they dominate both France and Europe. They’ve won the D1 féminine 14 consécutive times (you read that right) and have completed invincibles-style runs 10 times (Arsenal who). They are also looking to win the Champions League for the 5th consecutive time.
So to recap, top-class facilities and capable players, incredible coaching staff, and an owner who is as invested in the women’s team as in the club’s other teams. Sound familiar? Let’s cross the channel and check in on Chelsea.
So how is Chelsea doing it?
First of all, the Chelsea Women’s team have had days when we weren’t at the top of the pecking order. In fact, in 2013 we finished in the second to last spot. We’ve also had days where being a full-time professional footballer seemed mythical. When access to proper training facilities and training sessions were near impossible.
I didn’t join the party too early and so I’ve only known Emma Hayes as our Head Coach but throughout her time in charge, the progress we’ve made towards building a solid team is evident. Just as with Lyon, the team set up has massively improved, so much so a former player, Claire Rafferty, said as much in an interview with Liam Twomey.
In terms of player acquisition, we are similar to Lyon, pulling big guns like Sam Kerr and developing budding talent in Hannah Blundell and Drew Spence. We’ve scouted locally and internationally unearthing talents we’ve helped develop further like Beth England and Guro Reiten.
You look at our team and see that we have that team that’ll compete at all levels. The recent arrivals of Kerr, Jamie-Lee Napiers, Melanie Leupolz and Niamh Charles prove that Hayes’ understanding of the game and her team keeps improving. The departures of Adeline Engman and Ramona Bachmann and the rumours flying around about acquiring some more players shows that we aren’t done yet and it’s exciting.
If I were to attribute our access to decent facilities to the size and reputation of Chelsea as a whole alone, I’d be unfair. If it were just up to the size and reputation of the team, Liverpool Ladies wouldn’t be in the second tier of the women’s league while their men’s team snagged the Premier League trophy.
This deliberate effort didn’t just begin. Tony Farmer, the person who pushed for the restart of the women’s team in 1995, spoke to The Athletic about Chelsea’s support for the women’s team and said: “I couldn’t have done what I did without the club.”
Just like Lyon, we have replicated great processes across the board. Wins are not just occurring on the pitch, via securing the league or the Continental Tyre Cup, they’re evident in the cohesion of the team as a whole; players, backroom staff and even fans.
In the end, I don’t think we’re just building a Lyon per se, I think we’re building a Chelsea who’ll no doubt challenge Lyon for European dominance.
Chelsea’s modus operandi over the past decade has been evident; a winning attitude coupled with a hunger for success in both the men’s and women’s teams. The only thing that has eluded these great women is the Champions League, and it’s only a matter of time before we knick that.
With everything set and Emma Hayes on board, there’s only one way the team is going and that’s up.