INTERVIEW: EUGÉNIE LE SOMMER
'WE ALWAYS WANT MORE'
Eugénie Le Sommer’s arrival at Lyon in 2010 coincided with their rise to the top. Reaching the summit is one thing; here she tells Ian Holyman how they have stayed there
Eugénie Le Sommer looks perplexed. “Pre-match superstitions?” she says, scouring her brain to find an answer. “No, I just put on my pink hairband.” Why would she need additional help to bolster her self-belief before stepping out onto the pitch? She has every reason to have unflinching faith in her own ability.
When she lines up against Barcelona in Budapest, it will be a special day for Le Sommer, whose 30th birthday falls on 18 May. That personal milestone will be just a footnote, though, if she helps Lyon win a fourth successive continental crown, and takes her own tally to six winners’ medals in the competition.
It is a collection most players could not accumulate in multiple careers, and if Le Sommer were the sort to rest on her laurels – her trophy haul also including nine French titles – she would be sitting rather comfortably. But she most definitely isn’t that sort.
“Each win is special, so I don’t prefer one over the other. I think that will still be the case if we win. It will still be a special medal and a special feeling. There’s nothing better than winning,” she explains, uttering a phrase that could be Lyon’s motto. “They’re all great. It would be great to win the Champions League again. It would be my sixth. It would be just extraordinary.”
"There's nothing better than winning. It would be great to win the Champions League again"
‘Extraordinary’ is an apt adjective for Lyon – or OL as they are known in France – a name that has become synonymous with serial success in women’s football. That was also true of the men’s team in the first decade of the millennium as they rattled off seven successive Ligue 1 titles. European recognition always evaded them, however, with the step up to dominating the big boys’ playground just a little too large. The same cannot be said of their female counterparts: no one has come close to bullying them for quite some time. Overall, Lyon have clinched a record five European titles, finished runners- up twice and are destined to add to one of those tallies again this term. It is an outrageous glut of achievement that is set in still more glorious relief by the fact that only one other club, Wolfsburg, has picked up more than one title since the competition became the UEFA Women’s Champions League ten years ago.
“I think it’s ingrained in the club’s DNA to always want to win,” explains Le Sommer, outlining the ethos that
has fuelled the creation of a dynasty. “Every player who plays for this team understands that and takes it on board to continue writing history for this club.
“And we always want to relive our successes and the emotions that come from them. We are all extremely competitive and we always want more. Now we want to break records and I hope we can do it.” That DNA, she says, “is also passed on by the more experienced players”, and the French international, who is likely to
be one of the stars of this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil, is firmly in that bracket.
Along with team-mates Sarah Bouhaddi, Amel Majri and captain Wendie Renard, Le Sommer has been through every European campaign with OL since she joined in 2010. That common thread running through each Lyon squad for nearly a decade has played a fundamental role in keeping standards stratospherically high.
Others, such as iconic French midfielders Camille Abily and Sonia Bompastor, and Swedish star Lotta Schelin, were also once part of that dressing-room elite of high priestesses of the OL way, letting newcomers in on the secret and ensuring they kept it.
The fact that success has continued after their departures – the impact of which might have floored lesser clubs – says much about Lyon’s flawlessly executed squad management and careful selection of coaches.
“I think it’s important to have a core of players who have already gone through a lot and can help the younger players coming through,” adds Le Sommer, who is just one
"It's important to have a core of players who have come through a lot"
goal shy of Abily’s club-record 43 strikes in Europe. “It’s good for the team’s stability and it helps us to be better prepared for those must-win or difficult matches.
“You need to be able to lean on that core group of players who have gone through all this. I think the club has done things well and, even if sometimes big players leave, we manage to keep a competitive team. That’s one of our strengths and it bodes well for the future.”
Another constant in Lyon’s success – and arguably the most significant – is the man whose vision made it possible. Such was the scale of his ambition and Lyon’s lack of resources to fuel it, a lot of eyebrows were raised when software magnate Jean-Michel Aulas made the bold move of becoming club president in 1987. Nobody is questioning his decision now.
“He’s done everything,” explains Le Sommer. “I think he’s the most important part of our success. He’s the one who believed in our team at the start and he’s given resources to the team to get where it is. He’s given us the best conditions for training, matches, travelling and he’s helped financially too.
“He’s there with us and he’s supported us. He comes to a lot of our matches. He’s someone who has done a lot for us and the club. He built the club. Now you can see everything he’s done for us. All these trophies belong to him as well.”
Le Sommer, too, remains central to the club’s desire to remain at the summit, though she knows all too well that for both her and OL to maintain their positions, they will have to stay true to their mantra: Must do better.
“I’ve made pretty steady progress each year,” says the Breton-raised forward, who is fast closing in on Marinette Pichon’s all-time goalscoring record for France. “But I’m still capable of making further progress and I’ve still got things to learn. I hope to get even better in the years to come.”
Pinning down the strongest suit from the many this Lyon side can play is tough, but the potent partnership Eugénie Le Sommer forms with Ada Hegerberg is definitely one of their trump cards.
The pair have struck ten times between them during their run to the final, with Le Sommer netting six, including the crucial away goal at Chelsea that eventually proved the difference in a gripping semi-final contest.
That strike was set up by Hegerberg. There is more thana hint of telepathy in the way that the first Women’s Ballon d’Or winner takes a touch with her back to goal before pivoting and laying the ball off, seemingly without even looking. Her pass teed up Le Sommer perfectly.
“It’s a pleasure to play with her every day,” says Le Sommer of her Norwegian team-mate, who joined Lyon in 2014. “I get on with her very well off the pitch too; we’re part of each other’s lives. We’re really happy every time we play together. I think our different styles complement one another. It works quite well between us and I’m happy to play with her at OL.”
The rangy Hegerberg provides Lyon with a focal point up front while the diminutive Le Sommer effervesces across the line, usually on the left but also popping up on the right or even alongside her team-mate in a classic ‘little-and-large’ pairing.
Publicly, Le Sommer is more reserved than her strike partner, but you get the feeling she shares a lot more with Hegerberg, some six years her junior, in private.
“It was Ada,” says Le Sommer with a smile when asked which team-mate she last called on her phone ... before the grin gets broader and more mischievous. “But I can’t say why!”