UEFA Women’s Champions League stars on what makes the competition special

UEFA Women’s Champions League stars on what makes the competition special

We asked a player from each of this season’s quarter-finalists to describe what the UEFA Women’s Champions League means to them. The answer? Pride, quality, emotion and something just a little bit special.

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What makes the Women’s Champions League special?

Leah Williamson (Arsenal):”It’s the pinnacle of club football, a step higher than anywhere else. These are the games that you aspire to be involved in.”

Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona): “The level of competition, getting to play champions from different countries. It’s an amazing competition. You want to know who the best team in Europe is.”

Lina Magull (Bayern): “It feels different, that’s what makes it special. The anthem with the trumpets is a spectacle. It’s nice that we have our own impressive anthem now too. It really does something to you. You realise immediately that the competition is very special, that it is international. Now that its structure has changed and we have a group stage, it’s even more special because it is similar to the men’s. It was an important step in the development of women’s football.”

Elisa Bartoli (Roma): “It’s one of the greatest competitions in world football, like the World Cup and the Women’s EURO. I believe every child dreams about this tournament. You face the strongest female players and the greatest teams in Europe. It’s a personal highlight; it means giving everything you’ve got.”

Alexandra Popp (Wolfsburg): “It feels like everything is special. Last year we played in big stadiums at nearly full capacity, in great atmospheres where there was acceptance and appreciation for women’s football.”

Kadidiatou Diani (Paris): “When you play in it, you know this is the highest level there is. You have no room for error. You get to play against big clubs such as Barça, Chelsea, Bayern; those are the matches you really want to play in.”

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Sam Kerr (Chelsea):” Every football fan wants to turn on the TV and see those big matches and rivalries. You know the group stage format from the men’s game, and now you’re seeing it in the women’s; teams like Barcelona play Bayern, or Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea. It doesn’t matter if it’s men’s or women’s football – it’s the same game and people are jumping on board and watching it.”

Melvine Malard (Lyon): “This competition is truly different for me. I am at a big club, Olympique Lyonnais, where the Champions League means a lot. We simply have to give our best when we play in it. We always have to be good and that’s that.”

What is your greatest Champions League moment? 

Williamson: “I made my senior debut for Arsenal in the Champions League. That’s probably the best memory, which points out that I hope the best is yet to come. “

Oshoala: “My goodness, when we won the Champions League [in 2021] of course! Winning the Champions League is amazing.”

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Magull: “The craziest moment for me was being subbed on for Wolfsburg in the 2013 final. I was new at the club and we reached the final. I played for ten minutes against Lyon and had a couple of good moments. We won the title, which felt amazing. This competition gave me my biggest high.”

Bartoli: “The first came when we won on penalties against Paris [to reach round 2 this season]. It was overwhelming. I don’t think I have ever felt that emotional. When Emilie [Haavi] scored the winning goal we embraced, people cried… a dream came true. The other fixture I recall with tears in my eyes is the 1-1 draw in the Latina against Wolfsburg [in the group stage]. It was an important test and proof of the step forward we have made in terms of self-confidence.”

Popp: “I have to think of the titles. The first time [Wolfsbuirg] won the Champions League [in 2013] – which completed a treble – was a really special moment. We were the absolute underdogs against Lyon; they were the gold standard of women’s football. In the second final against Tyresö in Lisbon [in 2014] we fell behind, but turned the match around. I love looking back at that moment.”

Diani: “The last group stage match against Real Madrid, because it was the first time that I scored at the Parc des Princes, at home, in my favourite stadium. We also qualified for the quarter-finals, so there you go. “

Kerr: “From a team perspective, you can’t really go past that Bayern game at home, at Kingsmeadow [in the 2020/21 semi-final second leg]. We were down, they scored early, we scored early; it was just an end-to-end game. But the feeling after coming back – we won that tie 5-3 or something crazy – was just unbeatable.”

Malard: “The [2022] Champions League final against Barcelona. The whole stadium was cheering for Barcelona and there was just a tiny stand for us, Olympique Lyonnais. We were able to show who we were, what it means to play against Olympique Lyonnais.”

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How inspiring is the Women’s Champions League?

Oshoala: “For younger girls growing up, trying to make their way into football professionally or looking to play in this competition, it’s amazing. They see maybe Barcelona play against Bayern or Arsenal and they admire these things.

Bartoli: “There’s something magic about the Champions League. You compete in historic, sold-out stadiums; Barcelona’s games attract up to 90,000 people. That’s what we dream of. Winning and performing is important, but we play to see people, the fans, supporting us. We want to see everybody participate, and maybe crying or laughing with you at the end of the game. The most wonderful thing about football is making fans feel what you are feeling. That’s what the Champions League is: it’s a type of magic which draws everybody in, all over Europe.”

Popp: “It’s a nice incentive to know that you belong among the best players in Europe. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than fulfilling your sporting goals and reaching a final with a club you love.”

Diani: The fact that you can watch for free [on DAZN] can inspire them. They can follow their idols during matches; they can project themselves by watching us play. It’s all positive.

Kerr: “Young girls growing up now can support the women’s team they want, whereas back in the day maybe there wasn’t a Liverpool or a Chelsea in the league. And not only in the domestic leagues but in the big European leagues, where they have probably always watched the men. It’s only the start, but it’s really nice that young girls can now pick the team that they want to support – and aspire to play for.”

Where does the Champions League go next?

Williamson: “You want matches to be packed out, audiences to keep rising, the standard to keep growing. The group stages are a fantastic addition; it will only help the competition grow more. We just need to keep filling the stadiums and letting people know that it is on and available to watch.”

Oshoala: “You can imagine how it’s going to be in five years’ time; it’s going to be so, so amazing. You’re going to have really amazing sponsorship, you’re going to have such big media outlets who want to invest in this competition. We have DAZN now, which we didn’t have a couple of years ago. And now a lot of people have access to watch the Women’s Champions League. Even my family can watch me play now. Up until now in Africa, we didn’t get to watch the matches, they just followed the live scores. And this is just the beginning – there’s so much more to come for women’s football.”

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Magull: “The way the competition runs at the moment is perfect. It would be nice if we could raise awareness so that all group stage games are played in the big stadiums. It would be great if we could get more fans in the stadiums and more fans watching on TV. It’s on the right path. All I can wish for is that we have more chance to shine, that we have more people coming so we can show off just how attractive women’s football can be.”

Bartoli: “The next step is to encourage more people to watch the game and support us, to involve more fans. It’s already a high-calibre, well-organised tournament, but advertising it a little bit more would be a great step forward. That way we could make it bigger and reach more people.”

Popp: “Things are changing: TV ratings are good and the number of fans in stadiums exploded last season. The clubs, as well as UEFA, need to expand marketing to keep pushing this upward trend. The first steps have been taken but we have to keep going. Over the past two seasons, DAZN has been a great partner. It streams the matches in very good quality and films with multiple cameras from different angles. We need to make more of an effort in showcasing the clubs and the players, giving them more reach and raising their profiles. We mustn’t rest on our laurels. We need to keep working hard.”

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The official final programme for the 2023 Women’s Champions League has arrived, and what better way to prepare than by immersing yourself in bespoke storytelling, stunning imagery, tactical analysis as well as player and coach interviews? The stage is set in Eindhoven as Barcelona and Wolfsburg prepare to light it up. Get your copy here!

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