With eight UEFA Women’s Champions League final appearances (and six titles) in the last ten seasons, it’s almost easy to forget the two consecutive seasons that Olympique Lyonnais were knocked out in the second round of the competition. Repeatedly clashing against German teams, having met three different sides from the Frauen-Bundesliga in their first four finals, there was no team they knew as well as Turbine Potsdam and when they met again in the 2013-14, the French champions were owed a defeat. They had each claimed a final against each other and when they had met last (in 2011-12 semi-finals), Lyon had been victorious, the defeat served up by Potsdam in November of 2013 one to re-establish balance. It was also the first time Ada Hegerberg was on the same pitch as the Lyon team, albeit as a Turbine player.
Fans and pundits with sharp memories may even recall a young Hegerberg rising behind Wendie Renard in the Lyon box. The tallest woman on the pitch powerless to stop Hegerberg as she rose higher and connected with the ball, knocking it diagonally across the box but only able to nod it against the upright. Ada had yet to become the player she is today but her potential was unparalleled.
Lyon reigned supreme in France, their team domestically dominant yet they had yet to really wrap their hands around the Champions League and squeeze the competition out, leaving only themselves and pretenders that could merely hope for a runners-up medal.
Hegerberg had struggled with injuries as well as Bernd Schröder’s unforgiving methods in Potsdam and despite not getting onto the scoresheet in the 135(ish) minutes she featured against Lyon, the teenage Norwegian impressed. So much so in fact, that Lyon snapped up her signature at the end of the season. And it’s with Hegerberg in the side that Lyon have ascended to the unforgiving all-conquering team they are today, the Norwegian the missing piece to a puzzle that was barely incomplete.
Whilst it is true that Lyon had been scoring a silly amount of goals before Hegerberg signed, no one has quite had her breathtaking goalscoring touch - with 144 league goals in 118 appearances. Of the five full seasons she’s been at the French club, she’s been top goalscorer four times (only in her first season was she not after scoring a paltry 26 goals). Little can match Hegerberg’s first domestic season at Lyon, the Norwegian finding an instant home on the pitch, the attacking trio of herself, Lotta Schelin (33 goals) and Eugénie Le Sommer (29 goals) simply formidable. Players have come and gone in the south of France, others – established – have had slower and less profitable seasons but Hegerberg has remained a constant, her 33 goal haul in her second season – the season Lyon returned to the Champions League final and bested Wolfsburg to lift their third European title – 19 goals clear of Schelin’s 14.
Not just a goalscorer but a relentless attacker who creates as well as scores, the team might not be built around Hegerberg but it’s one that ensures constant service to the 24-year-old.
So here it is. I ruptured my ACL this weekend. This is a setback for me, but I’m going to work through this with all my heart and my energy. The best is yet to come. YOU’LL SEE ME SOON! pic.twitter.com/4Mdd005bW2— Ada S Hegerberg (@AdaStolsmo) January 28, 2020
So this season, when Lyon are looking human [if not fragile] and marginally weakened, Hegerberg’s 14 goals (double her nearest goalscoring rival at Lyon, Dzsenifer Marozsán) have been all the more crucial. And is why the news that she’s ruptured her right ACL is even more troubling for Lyon. The jewel in Lyon’s adorned crown, there are undoubtedly players in the squad who can fill in for Hegerberg, who can shoulder some of the burden and provide what she can on the pitch in spells but there is no one, possibly in the world, who can be all to Lyon that Lyon needs Hegerberg to be for the rest of the season.
Paris Saint-Germain are nipping at the heels of the champions, the Champions League is calling and a Lyon team that has been showing its weaknesses has just lost its talisman.