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3 Jun 2023

FC Barcelona v VfL Wolfsburg - UEFA Women's Champions League Final

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - JUNE 03: Lucy Bronze of FC Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Women's ... [+] Champions League final match between FC Barcelona and VfL Wolfsburg at PSV Stadion on June 3, 2023 in Eindhoven, Netherlands. (Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Today in Eindhoven, Lucy Bronze of FC Barcelona won the UEFA Women's Champions League for the fourth time in six seasons making her the most decorated English player of all time in the European Cup alongside another right-back, Phil Neal of Liverpool.

After joining Olympique Lyonnais in 2017, Bronze started in all three finals between 2018 and 2020 as the French side won the last three of a record five Women's Champions League titles in succession. She has now added a fourth winners medal with the Spanish champions in spite of making an early mistake which resulted in a goal for opponents Wolfsburg, her team recovered from 0-2 down to win a second Champions League in three seasons.

Neal won four men's European Cup titles between 1977 and 1984, scoring in two of those finals for Liverpool. However uniquely, all of Bronze's triumphs have come while playing abroad.

Englishmen Jimmy Rimmer (Manchester United and Aston Villa), Owen Hargreaves (FC Bayern and Manchester United) and Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea and Liverpool) had all previously won two European Cup winners medals with two different teams. Bronze was already the only English woman to win more than one Champions League title but now she has also become the first English footballer in history to win the European Cup with two different foreign clubs.

Already the winner of six medals with England, a league champion with four different clubs during her career and a winner of the UEFA (2019) and FIFA (2020) Best Player awards, the case could be made that Bronze is her country's most decorated footballer of all time.

In England's football history, only two other players have started for a team in a major international final victory with their club and country. Sir Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles were the midfield lynchpins around which England won the 1966 World Cup and subsequently the 1968 European Cup for Manchester United. The Ballon D'Or winner in 1966, Charlton, also the all-time leading goalscorer for his club and country until surpassed by Wayne Rooney, is widely considered to be his nation's greatest player of all time. A player of supreme quality, Charlton won the medals to ensure his legacy as a global icon of the game.

In the women's game, the start of Bronze's international career overlapped with that of the incomparable Kelly Smith, also a winner of the UEFA Women's Champions League - then the UEFA Women's Cup - in 2007. No female player in this generation of European champions comes close to Smith in terms of individual quality and she will always be seen by many as the best player England has produced.

Manchester City Women v Arsenal Ladies FC - Continental Cup Semi-Final

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Lucy Bronze (L) of Manchester City Women and Kelly Smith of ... [+] Arsenal Ladies battle for the ball during the Continental Cup Semi-Final at The Academy Stadium on September 4, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

The FA via Getty Images

Speaking to Jill Scott on her Coffee Club podcast this week, Bronze admitted that lacking the natural ability of some of her peers when she was younger, her first priority was to become the fittest player she could be as a teenager, reasoning it would be easier for a robust player to work on her technical skills when she was older rather than the other way around. "Once you've got that base, all I did from the age of 20, was work on my technical ability because running was that easy for me."

When Phil Neville became England manager in 2018, he made no secret of the fact that he thought Bronze was the best player in the world, at outlandish claim at the time for a full-back who had never won an international title but five years on, those words are looking prophetic. "To be fair, Bronze admits now, "when Phil said that, that was probably the best I'd ever played. I think deep down, it did give me a bit more confidence."

That year, Bronze's game went to another level, winning the first of her Champions League titles with Lyon and the BBC Women's Footballer of the Year Award, the first of a string of individual accolades for a right back, a position not associated with greatness or match-winning potential.

Bronze has turned that concept on its head with her ability to shape matches at both ends of the field. She has scored in an FA Cup final for Manchester City, the winning goals in the Round of 16 and quarter-final matches at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, the winner in the 2018 UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final, once more in the World Cup quarter-final in 2019 and the decisive second goal in the UEFA Women's Euro semi-final last summer.

Norway v England: Round of 16 - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 22: Lucy Bronze of England celebrates after scoring her teams second goal during ... [+] the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Round of 16 match between Norway and England at Lansdowne Stadium on June 22, 2015 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

FIFA via Getty Images

Now playing in a much-more attack-minded team in FC Barcelona, Bronze has adapted her swashbuckling style once more to become a more reliable defender, always available on the cover. Another match-winning quality she illustrated with a decisive goal-line clearance to prevent a certain goal by Chelsea's Guro Reiten in the first leg of this year's Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

In that match, the indefatigable Bronze, limped off injured putting her participation in today's final, and this summer's World Cup, under serious doubt. Following keyhole surgery, she has returned to full fitness in just over a month and after winning yet another Champions League, only the FIFA Women's World Cup eludes this serial winner. After two semi-finals defeats, should she add Gold to her Bronze from 2015, it would seem hard to imagine that Lucy will not be remembered as the greatest English footballer of all time.

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