Lucy Bronze was named UEFA Women’s Player of the Year for 2018/19, the first defender to claim the award, and has now returned to Manchester City after winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League in all three of her Lyon seasons. We explain how the England right-back, nominated for the UEFA award again, failed to live up to her name by taking gold.
Versatile enough to have started her senior England career in central defence and also be used as a midfielder at various times for club and country, she is considered by many as the best female right-back in the world (and by others without needing the qualification of a single position). Having racked up domestic honours in her time at Liverpool and Manchester City, she added European baubles at Lyon between 2017 and 2020.
What they say
“Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world, without a shadow of a doubt – with her athleticism and quality. There’s no player like her in the world.”
Phil Neville, England manager
“To take my place, she had to become stronger, she had to become fitter, as well as all the other attributes – and that’s what she did. She went away and built herself into a machine, basically.”
Alex Scott, England’s previous starting right-back
“When she gets the ball and she’s driving with it, there’s not many that can stop her.”
Fran Kirby, England team-mate
“She is an unrivalled talent and her endless individual and team awards only scratch the surface of what a superb player she is, not only at club level, but also internationally with England.”
Gareth Taylor, the manager who re-signed her at City
Current tally (to 23 September 2020)
International: 81 appearances, 8 goals
UEFA club competition: 39 appearances, 6 goals
Domestic competition: 177 appearances, 16 goals
Claims to fame
Blyth, Sunderland, North Carolina Tar Heels, Everton
• Having played with boys until no longer permitted at 12, and finding the travelling to Sunderland’s academy too much, Bronze joined local female team Blyth Town before going back to the Black Cats in 2007 aged 16.
• Quickly established in the Sunderland team, initially as a midfielder, in 2008/09 alongside fellow future England players like Jordan Nobbs and Demi Stokes, Bronze helped them win the second-tier Northern Division and reach the FA Women’s Cup final for the first time – at 17 being named player of the match in the narrow 2-1 loss to top-tier champions Arsenal, watched by more than 23,000 fans and televised nationally.
• In summer 2009, Bronze moved to study for a semester at the University of North Carolina (having previously attended soccer camps there), following the likes of Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly in playing for the Tar Heels.
• Alongside Tobin Heath and Ashlyn Harris, Bronze became the first British footballer to win an NCAA Cup by beating a Stanford side including Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara.
• Also earning All-American honours, Bronze then returned to Sunderland, although a succession of knee injuries kept her on crutches for a year and delayed her progress – problems overcome by a strict private training regime.
• Bronze switched to regular title challengers Everton in 2010 and made her UEFA Women’s Champions League debut, helping them reach the quarter-finals.
• When Liverpool became England’s first full-time women’s team for the 2013 season, Bronze was among the internationals signed by the club.
• Liverpool won the FA Women’s Super League in 2013 and 2014, ending Arsenal’s long stranglehold on the crown, but after being named English PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year in the second of those seasons, she switched to Manchester City.
Manchester City (first spell)
• A late surge in 2015 lifted City to second place and a UEFA Women’s Champions League debut – and the following year they won the FA WSL and FA WSL Cup double.
• In 2016/17, Bronze was again the English PFA player of the year as she helped City scoop the FA Women’s Cup at Wembley as well as reaching the semi-finals in Europe, losing to Lyon – who promptly signed her.
• Swiftly getting up to speed at all-conquering Lyon, Bronze aided them to what was a third straight UEFA Women’s Champions League victory, scoring a spectacular semi-final winner against old club City that earned a nomination as UEFA.com Goal of the Season across all UEFA competitions. Bronze was also named the 2018 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, the first defender to win any major global female award.
• The 2018/19 campaign was just as successful with a treble for Lyon, Bronze ending the UEFA Women’s Champions League final against Barcelona consoling international team-mate (and ex-Everton and City colleague) Toni Duggan. In August, she set up the winning goal in the International Champions Cup final against hosts and holders North Carolina Courage, and Bronze was the first defender to be named UEFA Women’s Footballer of the Year, pipping club-mates Ada Hegerberg and Amandine Henry. She was also second behind Megan Rapinoe in the voting for the Ballon d’Or.
• After winning another double at Lyon her last act for the club was the 2020 UEFA Women’s Champions League final, having signed a short-term contract extension specifically for the eight-team event in Spain and had an excellent tournament as they triumphed again. She then made her return to City in September 2020.
• Was a 15-year-old playing for Blyth Town when called into the England U17 squad in March 2007. The next year, she helped England to the semi-finals of the inaugural UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship in Nyon and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.
• Twelve months on, Bronze won the Women’s U19 EURO with England in Belarus and she contested the final again a year later in North Macedonia and went to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
• Bronze’s senior England debut came on 26 June 2013 against Japan, and she had a goal disallowed against the world champions in a 1-1 draw. She was then an unused squad member at UEFA Women’s EURO 2013.
• In 2015 World Cup qualifying, Bronze became a starter alongside Steph Houghton at centre-back and assisted England to the finals in Canada. After an initial loss to France, Bronze replaced long-serving Alex Scott at right-back and starred with goals against the hosts and Norway as England finished third. Bronze was selected in the team of the tournament and named England player of the year.
• Bronze made the semi-finals and team of the tournament again at both UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 and the 2019 World Cup. In France this summer, she again produced a memorable quarter-final goal against Norway and took the Silver Ball as second best player behind Megan Rapinoe. She was named England player of the year in 2019, just as after the previous World Cup.
What you might not know
• Bronze was brought up on the remote ‘Holy Island’ Lindisfarne off England’s north-east coast until she was seven.
• Her father is Portuguese (hence her given first name Lucia) while her middle name Tough is her mother’s maiden name.
• A sporting all-rounder, at school Bronze was a national finalist in the pentathlon and cross country and a county-standard tennis player.
• Bronze studied sport science at Leeds Metropolitan University while playing for Sunderland and took part-time jobs including in a pizza parlour, which during the 2019 World Cup changed the colour of its shopfront to bronze in her honour.
• In 2015, Bronze became the first women’s footballer to be nominated for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year prize in the UK.
What she says
[First football memory] “Playing with the boys, and one of the boys on the other teams laughing at playing against a girl; needless to say, he came off the pitch crying by the end.”
“I didn’t dream of joining Man. City as a professional one day, or representing England, because I didn’t know that was even possible.”
[On the 2015 World Cup] “We were successful and I scored a couple of goals and I think my football life changed overnight. People knew my name and who I was, and I had a target on my back when I was playing, but it was something I enjoyed and always wanted.”
[On joining Lyon] “At the start it was hard, and for the first month I couldn’t get near the ball in training. Then I got up to speed.”
“It was hard to leave England and hard to settle in. But by the end of the season I had a Champions League medal; I had improved as a player and as a person. It didn’t turn out to be that big a risk.”
“I enjoy stopping goals more than any of the goals I’ve scored. I get real pleasure out of somebody saying, ‘Oh, so-and-so striker had a quiet game today,’ and I’ll feel good because it means I played well.”
“Finishing second is never an option. The way I like to play, I’m really competitive. I want to win everything. I want to win the game, but I want to win against the player I’m playing against. You know, I don’t want them to touch the ball,”
I want them to play their best game, but I get to stop them, because I play better. So, I think that’s just the mentality I’ve always had and it’s nice to be in a team where we’re so competitive and we just want to win everything.
[On turning professional] “I was like, ‘What do I do with my free time?’ I taught myself how to garden. I have broccoli, parsnips, chillies, lettuce, tomatoes – you name it. Whether or not they actually grow is another question.”
[On going back to Manchester City] “I feel like I’m returning as a better leader and person, who is capable of bringing similar success to the table here in England – both domestically with City and internationally too.”
What she might achieve yet
• The most obvious unrealised ambition is to go one step further and reach, and win, a major final for her country. England’s World Cup exploits have earned Great Britain a 2021 Olympic chance in Japan. Having already tasted FA Cup glory at Wembley, Bronze could also do so again for the hosts as the famous stadium stages the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 final.
• England’s sole UEFA women’s club title was back in 2007 with Arsenal and, back at City, Bronze might be just the person to inspire the end of that wait.
• On her post-playing future, she told The Gentlewoman magazine: “What I’d like to do is what they do in the FA and UEFA. I really like the idea of changing the game, like Baroness Sue Campbell, the [FA] head of women’s football. I want to help. I’ve played it, I know everything about it, and so many things could be done to change it – things that aren’t that hard. Or I might just retire, then buy a bar in Spain and run that.”