At the age of 26, Lucy Bronze has already enjoyed a hugely impressive career, both domestically and internationally.
She has played for the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City in England before moving abroad to join Lyon who are regarded as one of the best clubs in the women’s game.
It would have been tough to leave her home country, but opportunities such as this one doesn’t arrive often and the full-back grabbed it.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, she discussed the reasons behind that very move.
“To play in the best team in Europe, with the best players in the world, in the hope they could help me improve as a player. Of course, I wanted to win the Champions League too, but I really wanted to challenge myself to improve as a player.”
Although the women’s game in England is improving due to the performances of the national team and the implementation of the Women’s Super League, there are better opportunities to be taken abroad.
Toni Duggan has moved to Barcelona, Eni Aluko has joined Juventus while Jodie Taylor and Rachel Daly both play in the United States.
It is still rare for players from the national team to move abroad, but Bronze and the players listed above have set an exciting precedent.
Lyon have established themselves as one of the leading clubs in Women’s football and were very keen to sign Bronze from Manchester City.
In the statement that announced her signing, they described the 26-year-old as ‘without doubt, the best full-back in the world’. This is high praise and underlines how highly she is thought of across Europe.
“I think I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none. But my physicality and mentality are probably what give me an edge because I’d run through a brick wall to win.”
Bronze is humble when discussing that comment and her strengths as a full-back, but a player doesn’t get to the position that she is in without having natural talent.
Her winning mentality and reading of the game give her an advantage, but she is also effective in both halves of the pitch, as shown by her goal record.
She isn’t a clinical scorer, but she contributes in the final third and that provides an extra dimension to a team that she is playing in.
Throughout the interview, her modesty and humility shine through. Despite her success as a player, Bronze keeps her feet on the ground and acknowledges the role of others in her career.
During her time in England, she won the PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year on two occasions, while she has recently become the first English player to be named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year.
“Of course, it’s nice to get recognition, especially as a defender it’s always a lot harder. I’m just very fortunate to get to play with so many great players around me who make me look good.”
Her decision to leave England to join Lyon wasn’t a huge surprise as it wasn’t the first example of Bronze leaving the country for career development reasons.
The England international spent some time at the University of North Carolina and she became the first British player to win the NCAA Cup. It was a short period, but an important one for her career.
“Although my stay was short, I learnt a lot.
“I played with so many American players who went on to win World Cups and Olympics, and they all had a crazy mentality that I’d never seen before and I was at an age when I was like a sponge taking everything in.”
Over the course of her time as a professional, Bronze’s desire to learn and better herself is a clear trend. As mentioned above, there are some that consider her as the best full-back in the world and there is genuine reason to believe that is the case.
There have been a number of people that have played a role in the 26-year-old’s career and development as a player.
However, one person stands out above the rest as a key influence on the right-back and that is former Arsenal defender Alex Scott, Bronze’s predecessor in the England set-up.
“I think there are loads of people I could mention, my family especially. But when I think about my England career and getting in at right back, surprisingly enough it was actually Alex Scott, who at the time was my rival for the right back spot at England.
“She’s the one teammate that helped support me become the player and person I am today.
“She always pushed me to do more, always had my back, wanted the best for me and still does now, but I don’t know any of player who would support their direct competition the way Alex did for me.
“It’s something I will always be grateful for.”
It wouldn’t have been easy for Bronze to step up and replace Scott in the England team, but the advice and guidance from the player she was replacing will certainly have made the transition simpler.
As her career continues, she will be hoping to contribute as much to the national side as Scott who made 140 appearances for the Lionesses.
The team on the pitch have made huge strides recently as they attempt to challenge for major honours and emerge as one of the best sides in the world. They came so close to a World Cup final in 2015 and they will be wanting to go even further at the next tournament.
Bronze has played a key role in the growth of the team both on and off the pitch. She believes the Lionesses have a bright future ahead of them.
“I think we have developed such a good squad, we have so many great players.
“We don’t have any superstars who we have to rely on to win us a game, everyone plays their part.
“Every year we have improved as individuals and as a team, and have so many more good young players coming through all the time.”
Although the appointment of Phil Neville was not well received, the Lionesses performed well in the She Believes Cup and made it to the final before losing to the USA due to an own goal.
The team proved that they could challenge the very best teams in the world and Bronze believes that the gap is closing between the USA and England.
“I’d like to think so, I don’t think we are there yet, we aren’t quite ready to be the best in the world but it’s something we are working towards and something I think we all believe we can reach.”
They still have a year before the World Cup is due to take place. It is being held in France and the location could prove to be an advantage for England as they will be so close to home. For Bronze, she plays her football in the country and that should put her in a good position to excel.
England are yet to qualify for the tournament as they trail Wales by one point, albeit the Lionesses have a game in hand.
Bronze and her team-mates won’t be getting carried away, but they have looked a very good team in qualifying. They have scored 20 times in six matches, while they have only conceded once.
There is a real hope within the nation that England can triumph next summer and the 26-year-old believes that it is important that the current generation win an international trophy together.
“It’s so important, we have come so close now in the past two tournaments where making the final is a must.
“We have a lot of players who will be hitting their prime come the World Cup, a lot of players who know what it takes to win trophies.
“Hopefully it all comes together at the right time. But for now, the focus is still on qualifying.”
The last year has been an excellent one for Bronze personally. She has not only earned a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world, but she then helped Lyon retain the Champions League.
It would have been a difficult decision to leave Manchester City, but it was one that paid off.
The right-back came up against her former club in the semi-finals of the competition and scored the decisive goal in the tie. She admits that it was strange to go up against her former employers.
“The first game was a very strange game for me, playing in Manchester, surrounded by English people and the pressure I put on myself to say I wanted to win the Champions League with Lyon.
“But the second game at home in Lyon was just like any other game for me, where I enjoyed every minute of it and scoring to get us to the final was like the cherry on top.”
The very best players step up when they are required and they a rarely intimidated by difficult occasions.
Bronze showed that she could thrive despite playing against her former team and was the match-winner on the day.
She may not be an attacking player, but she is capable of producing those moments like and that is one of the reasons why Lyon wanted to sign her.
Bronze has already achieved a lot at the age of 26 and is now establishing herself as one of the best players in the world. She has a big future and will be one of the most important players in England’s search for an international tournament triumph.
There have been many good moments, but the England international states that winning the Champions League and scoring a World Cup goal are two of her favourite moments.
“Winning the Champions League was huge for me, but I was disappointed in how I played in the final. So that’s something I have to put right next year.
“Still, scoring the winning goal in the World Cup against Norway is something that’ll always bring back the best memories for me, simply because I just didn’t think I was capable of scoring a goal like that ever.
“Since then I’ve seemed to have made a habit of scoring one off goals in big games.”
Lyon labelled her as the best full-back in the world and there is a genuine case to be made that she is. She has had a great career to date and there will be more standout moments in her future.
The World Cup next year is already shaping up to be a great tournament and England will be contenders if they get there.
In Bronze, England have a great player with a winning mentality and that could be important for Neville’s Lionesses.
It won’t be easy, but this is the best generation of footballers that England have had in years and it would be incredible for them to mark it with a major trophy win.
There are other great players in the squad, but Bronze could be the pick of the bunch.