The powerhouses in European men’s competitions are known for a few things, from spending blindly on players to racking up league and competition trophies. What some of them should also be known for is a great commitment to women’s football that is paying off in international prominence.
This week’s Women’s Champions League quarterfinals have some pretty familiar footballing faces: Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG, and Lyon. These clubs are some of the biggest names in men’s football and, with interest in the women’s game constantly on the rise, they are looking to carve similar success in the women’s game.
Lyon is one of the, if not the, best example of this thus far. They make the Division 1 Féminine so lopsided that the men’s Bundesliga looks fair in comparison; they’ve won 14 titles since the league’s founding in 1974 and have the second-most Women’s Champions League titles (3) behind Frankfurt (4). In fact, they are the current champions of both.
When Alex Morgan made her high-profile move to Lyon from Orlando City this winter, she heavily credited her decision to Lyon’s investment in getting the team to this level: “They are committed to growing women’s soccer and provide the women with first-class facilities and an unparalleled training environment on par with the men’s team.”
Similarly, Manchester City has gone through several iterations to continue improving their women’s side in recent years. In 2012, what was then known as the Manchester City Ladies and Manchester City entered into a formal partnership in order “to give [City’s] support to MCLFC as they look to build on their hard work and commitment of the past few years.” This partnership would give the women’s side access to the resources of the wider organization, from youth development to scouting to coaching to sports science. The women also would be able to play matches in City’s Academy Stadium.
A year later, they played their first season in the FA Women’s Super League; since then, the now-Manchester City Women’s Football Club won the FA WSL (2016) and reached at least the quarterfinals of the Champions League the past two years. Oh yeah, and they signed two-time Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd.
FC Barcelona’s women’s side was successful before they were officially incorporated into the club in 2001 — winning a few domestic Cups and ending as league runners-up a couple of times — but the formal partnership has helped them succeed as the women’s competition becomes more and more global and competitive. A prime example being Barcelona’s women’s side qualifying for the Champions League every year since 2012/13.
The respect for the women’s game is further reflected in the two teams posing for an all-encompassing FC Barcelona team photo and in the possibility of the club expanding further, to fielding a women’s team in the U.S.’ National Women’s Soccer League.
And when it comes to sharing resources, Bayern is one of the best. In 2014, Gina Lewandowski — whose only relation to Robert comes in just how fantastic a player she is — explained how Bayern’s women’s team benefits heavily from training alongside the men in winter as well as “sharing a stadium with Bayern’s reserve team and occasionally scrimmage some of the male youth teams.” Bayern won the Allianz Frauen-Bundesliga last year.
(Paris Saint-Germain Féminines, while having always been associated officially with PSG, have only recently begun to rise to prominence after spending most of their 26-year history in Division 2; but to be fair, the men’s side only recently came into an unending influx of cash that rose them to prominence as well. Since then, PSG has been league runners-up the past four seasons. Lyon remain untouchable — for now.)
Of course, men’s sides recklessly spending and constantly winning are not prerequisites for a successful women’s side.
The other teams in the Women’s Champions League quarterfinals are Denmark’s Fortuna Hjørring, Germany’s Wolfsburg, and Sweden’s FC Rosengård; sure, Wolfsburg’s men’s side has popped into the Champions League group stage twice (and the quarterfinals once), but for the most part those teams are much less globally renowned than a Barcelona or a Manchester City. Frankfurt’s four titles in the Women’s Champions League are the most of any team, while their men’s side has only made a single appearance in the competition; Swedish sides also regularly appear in the Women’s Champions League final, while their men’s sides are nowhere in sight.
While it is already predictable and mundane to see the same men’s teams show up again and again in every competition, it’s nice to see the teams that are building European empires include their women’s side in those efforts — to see those that have the means to invest in a women’s team do so convincingly. Hopefully, it is a trend that trickles down to others.