This won’t be the first time (nor the last) that you will hear about how Olympique Lyonnais Féminin convinced a player to either sign with them or stay even longer with the club. When it comes to women’s football, not many can match the sheer financial power that the French club has and that they use whenever and however they can.
During the lockdown, there were heavy rumours that stalwarts Sarah Bouhaddi and Dzsenifer Marozsán were leaving the club and headed towards the National Women’s Soccer League. The club featured as their next stopping point? Utah Royals FC. Many were convinced that the two players were only one step away from signing with the Royals, but over a week ago, all the speculation ended as they both decided to stay with Olympique Lyonnais.
No one will ever know what exactly convinced them to stay. Was it the pandemic and how it’s being handled in the United States? Was it a simple change of heart? Or was it a higher salary? It could be all of these factors but a key thing to note is the ability of OL to offer their players more financially than almost anyone else in the world. The NWSL has a salary cap which prevents us from truly seeing the financial might of the MLS-backed teams (or the OL Reign, who are now under the Olympique Lyonnais brand) so for now, OL remains the only club in the world that can offer the highest salaries a woman can earn in football.
This is where a moral question comes into play. Should we, as fans, be fine with the champions of France being able to throw money at any player without any checks or balances? Or should we be concerned with how easily they can take the best players away from lesser clubs on a whim? I fall in the first category but only because in a sport that is still pushing to give women what they deserve in monetary compensation (and facilities), OL have done so and have been doing it for close to a decade now.
Look at my favourite team, Liverpool FC. The men have just won the Premier League for the first time in 30 years (yes, Liverpool fans won’t let any of you forget it) and that’s a fantastic achievement, but when you take a quick look at their women’s side, you’ll see where all the focus is for the club as a whole. It’s something that needles at me whenever I think about it because the club does have enough money to do more than they have with their women’s side but for whatever reason, choose not to. In fact, that lack of care now sees the women’s team in England’s second division, with players leaving the club on a seemingly sour note. Then you look at one of the richest clubs in the world, Paris Saint-Germain, who have a women’s side as well. They put just enough money into the women’s side to compete with OL but they always fall short, at every turn. If the women’s side received as much support as the men’s side, PSG might be the main club in France and not OL.
Olympique Lyonnais, on the other hand, have taken a different approach. Jean-Michel Aulas made a commitment to treat his women’s team the same as the men’s team and it’s paid off handsomely for him. OL are now the most decorated women’s team in the world and a large reason for that is how invested Aulas has been in making the team the best in the world. His men’s side has the same ideals but they are battling against teams with even more financial pull than they do. However, that hasn’t stopped him from trying to make the OL brand (OL Groupe) one of the premier brands in the world, on both the men’s and women’s sides. His push to bring the brand to the US led to the takeover of Reign FC and now the club is the American arm of the OL brand in almost every sense of the word.
Honestly, many clubs with a women’s side should be looking to equal or even better what Aulas had done with Olympique Lyonnais Féminin. Many of the women’s teams are backed by their Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga or La Liga male counterparts who can all afford to do more than what they have done so far with their women’s side. Even with the salary cap in place, some NWSL owners could stand do more than they have done so far with their teams as well. This season may have been curtailed by the pandemic but it also should give these owners more time to evaluate how they treat their players and where they can improve in the future.
Every league has its pros and cons but what many should be striving to do is to fully invest in their women’s team if they decide they want to have one. It shouldn’t be just a good PR exercise, every owner/ownership group should be ready to be 100% committed to the team and be prepared to lose money initially, just as they would if they owned a men’s team. We hear of stories all over the world where federations and owners do the bare minimum for their women’s sides, if they do that at all, and that shouldn’t be enough. Fans everywhere should be looking to what OL, and Manchester City W.F.C., have done and push for the same with their team. If a team cannot match the financial support that OL has put into their women’s team, then fair enough, but those that can but won’t? Have no excuses and honestly should be held accountable.
If they don’t, they will have to contend with OL’s pull and how easily that pull can change a player’s mind. Just like it did with Bouhaddi and Marozsán.