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Is France the New Powerhouse of Women's Football?

The US has enjoyed a place in the sun for much of women's football's modern history, but its dominance may come under threat now that the rest of the world—Europe in particular—is catching up. The game in Spain is maturing, while England and its FA WSL is the place to be right now; however, the country sandwiched between those two, France, is developing at an even faster rate.

Supremacy through Equality

Even if you don’t follow the women’s game, you will be familiar with Olympique Lyonnais’s utter dominance. Boasting fourteen consecutive league titles and five consecutive Champions League triumphs, the French juggernaut has been the predominant force in European football for the past five years, and domestically, for well over a decade now.

The keys behind Lyon’s success are quite obvious: investment and equality. President Jean-Michel Aulas’s ambition has been peerless, but money can only take you so far. Arguably the more significant manifestation of his commitment has been his implementation of a concept of equality between the men and women. And while there is still a significant pay gap between the two sets of players, they share the same facilities and are being treated as equals. Hence, Lyon has been able to consistently attract the best players in the world.

Strengthening the Field

The French Division 1 Féminine is a dyarchy between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, but as up-and-comers begin sprouting up throughout the country, this could potentially change soon.

Bordeaux is the clearest and most recent example of what can be achieved with proper backing. The club’s women’s department was established only in 2015 and yet is already one of the most exciting projects in French football. Thanks to the resources provided by their ownership, Les Girondins have been able to attract stars like Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, and after a third-place finish, the sky seems to be the limit.

Losing Appeal

While European leagues are growing, the NWSL is losing its appeal, despite being stronger and more stable than ever. The inability demonstrated by the American government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic has made a return to normality unimaginable, resulting in a mass exodus of talent.

Although billed only as short-term deals, there is no guarantee that high-profile players like Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and the two latest departures, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, will actually return to the States. Because of the league’s unique roster mechanism, USWNT players aren’t owned by their respective clubs, but by the federation, and even though their former employers retained the players’ rights, why would they return if European teams can offer similar salaries, Champions League football, and a safer environment?

It is unlikely that the USWNT will be dethroned on the international stage, but the NWSL could perhaps stagnate if more of its stars head abroad; the likes of France and England are ready to challenge the USA’s hegemony.

 

Illustration by @inakivector.

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