London (AFP) – Chelsea striker Beth England believes beating Barcelona to win the women’s Champions League on Sunday could “open the door” for English clubs to regularly conquer Europe.
Only one English side, Arsenal in 2007, have ever been crowned European champions of the women’s game, but the grip once enjoyed by French and German clubs has been loosened by greater investment from the Premier League and La Liga giants.
For the first time since Arsenal’s success 14 years ago, the winner of the Champions League will not come from France or Germany.
England has helped the Blues see off German giants Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich to reach the final in Gothenburg for the first time.
Paris Saint-Germain ended Lyon’s run of five successive Champions League titles before running into a dominant Barca side in the semi-finals.
The Catalans have not dropped a single point in retaining La Liga, scoring 128 goals in 26 games.
However, England believes the greater depth in the Women’s Super League (WSL) has slowly but surely prepared English sides to now succeed in continental competition.
“It would be a massive achievement,” England told AFP. “Being the first English team would be amazing, it opens the door.
“We are seeing our league is getting stronger and stronger with the personnel that is coming to our league. It’s just showing how much we’ve grown and how we’re getting better in this competition.
“I think we are catching up to the French and German clubs in this competition, mainly because we’ve put so much work into making our league the best league first and then this has potentially come after it.
“There is plenty of room for more English teams to be at the forefront of this competition, but hopefully Chelsea, with everything we’ve done over the years, will be the first ones to do it.”
– ‘Remarkable’ Hayes –
Chelsea are on course for a historic quadruple of trophies.
Emma Hayes’s side held off Manchester City by two points to retain the WSL last weekend, having already lifted the League Cup.
In stark contrast to the revolving door of coaches in charge of the men’s team at Stamford Bridge, the charismatic Hayes has been the rock around which Chelsea’s women have developed into one of the Europe’s best teams.
Hayes took charge of what was still an amateur side in 2012, but has been heavily backed by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
In a rare interview with Forbes earlier this year, the Russian billionaire called Hayes’s work “remarkable”.
“She’s been building to this moment during the nine years she’s been at this club,” added England. “I can appreciate for her, this is her life’s work going into getting to this final, just as it is the players’.
“She’s very driven, she knows what she wants. She’s made no secret about the Champions League being the main aim of the season.”
England has seen both sides of Abramovich’s investment.
Crowned WSL player of the year last season, her playing time this season has been limited by the arrivals of star forwards Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder, who broke the world record transfer fee for a women’s player when she joined from Wolfsburg in September.
But the 26-year-old praised Hayes’s ability to foster a team spirit among such a talented crop of individuals.
“She’ll do anything she can to get what she wants,” added England. “One of the best things I can praise her for is the type of players she brings into the squad.
“She’s very good at bringing in the type of characters this team needs.
“We are a well-balanced group of individuals that collectively make a great team. I think it can be quite hard to manage that, especially with a lot of big names, but she does that very well.”
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