Lyon are the most successful women’s club side in European history. With seven Champions League trophies and 14 French domestic titles in a row, they have continually attracted the world’s biggest stars and been pronounced invincible for much of the last decade.
Recognised as a model for the development of women’s football, it was once hard to envisage this period of irrepressible dominance coming to an end, but finally, it seems there may be a changing of the guard.
As it stands, Lyon are set to win no trophies for the first time since 2005 and face losing their unprecedented domestic league win streak to Paris Saint-Germain.
Are we being too quick to judge the team? Or are signs of vulnerability finally beginning to set in?
On the one hand, it’s abundantly clear that Lyon have been the second-best team in France this year. Despite suffering just one league defeat to PSG all season, Olivier Echouafni’s side also knocked them out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals –– ending a run of five consecutive European trophies in succession.
The decision to sack Jean-Luc Vasseur before the end of this season adds further weight to the claim that the French giants are concerned. Tactically outsmarted by their Parisian rivals on more than one occasion this year, former player Sonia Bompastor was brought in to reinvigorate a side who were struggling to process the feeling of defeat.
It’s not just the manager to go. 30-year-old Saki Kumagai has joined Bayern Munich on a two-year contract, suggesting perhaps, a plan to invest more in youth for the future. Although Lyon have a conveyor of world-class talent, veteran legends like Eugénie Le Sommer have not hit the same heights as previous seasons.
It’s worth considering as well, that while Lyon may not necessarily have declined all that much, other teams around them have got significantly stronger. PSG are the obvious example, but Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern have also bridged the gap.
This could, however, just be a one-off ‘bad’ season. Former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg has been injured this campaign and Lyon have missed both her goals and link-up play far more than anyone could have anticipated. Her return will almost feel like a new signing and will no doubt improve the team dramatically.
Of course, it’s important to remember as well, that Lyon haven’t lost the league just yet. They remain just one point behind PSG with three games to go and will unquestionably push them all the way. If they do claim an unlikely 15th successive title then the appointment of Bompastor seems less of an impulse decision and more of a masterstroke.
Ultimately, Lyon are still a phenomenal football team. They’re still capable of beating anyone on their day and still capable of winning everything next season. But, the difference now is this is no longer a foregone conclusion.
Indeed, with so much talent across so many teams across Europe, perhaps we’ve moved beyond the era of Lyon and into a golden age of women’s football.