Lyon defender Ellie Carpenter: ‘I do not think many people understand how cut-throat it is’ | Women’s Champions League

Advertisements

When Ellie Carpenter was 16 she was sledged by an opposition manager. Western Sydney Wanderers were playing away, she was at right-back and the coach was going hell for leather from his technical area. “Who is Ellie Carpenter? She’s not fast, ”he boomed as his own player ran at her with ball at feet. “She’s nothing.”

“He was just giving it to me,” says Carpenter, now 22 and playing for Olympique Lyonnais. “Just going at me the entire first half, because I was on his side [of the pitch]. I was just like ‘who is this guy, what is he doing? I’m literally like 16 years old, what are you trying to get at? ‘”

Chances are he was calling her nothing because he knew she was something. Something very good indeed. And she was fast, with an overlap worthy of water-cooler chat and a purposeful physicality both on and off the ball.

“It kind of just made me play better, to be honest,” she says. “It motivated me more – I just wanted to shut him up. Like ‘OK, you want to bad mouth me, try to get in my head?’ It worked, but not in the way he had obviously hoped. ”

In one way or another, Carpenter has been targeted on the football field since she can remember. By the local boys in her small New South Wales home town of Cowra. By Marta and Megan Rapinoe and Lieke Martens. This Saturday it could be Alexia Putellas, when her Lyon side face Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League final.

If Carpenter was a teenaged world-class full-back in the making, she has realized that status as a young adult. These days she is starting for Lyon, the global point of reference for women’s club football. To her left is captain Wendie Renard, the first woman to make 100 Women’s Champions League appearances. Behind her is Chile’s veteran goalkeeper Christiane Endler. In front is the tournament’s record goalscorer, Ada Hegerberg, and the United States’ brightest young talent in Catarina Macario.

Their lists of individual and team decorations are intimidating. Carpenter herself has a string of them. One of her collection is a Women’s Champions League winner’s medal – though only through pure circumstance. The 2019-20 final should have already been run and won when she signed with Lyon in June 2020 to replace Lucy Bronze. Except that Covid-19 had forced its postponement, meaning Carpenter watched her new team see off VfL Wolfsburg from the bench.

“I was not really meant to be there,” she says. “But I was, which was a great bonus. It was an amazing experience… but I obviously did not play, so I did not feel like I had won it.

“But it’s so great to be part of the team and to know what it takes to get there. And now, doing the whole season and starting from the first games in the group stage and the qualification rounds and everything, it feels a lot different because you’ve worked the whole way from the beginning. “

Ellie Carpenter in action during Women's Champions League semi-final second-leg against Paris Saint-Germain.
Ellie Carpenter in action during Women’s Champions League semi-final second-leg against Paris Saint-Germain. Photograph: JE E / SIPA / REX / Shutterstock

Lyon are almost always around at the business end in Europe. They won five years running until 2020-21, when they went out in the quarter-finals to domestic rivals Paris Saint-Germain. Barcelona dismantled Chelsea in the final to claim their first trophy and complete a treble. Now the defending champions, led by Ballon d’Or winner Putellas and spurred on by record crowds at the Camp Nou, stand in the way of Lyon’s quest for a record-extending eighth title in Turin.

Advertisements

“Those crowds just show how far women’s football has come,” says Carpenter. “It’s great to see women’s clubs doing so well. Barcelona are a great team, a world-class team. Three years ago, Lyon played them in the final and won 4-1, but [this is] obviously going to be a lot tighter match. I think that’s really cool… the level is a lot higher and more competitive, and that’s what you want. “

For Carpenter, these past two years in France have been a natural career progression, a moving with the times when the times are moving to Europe. It has also been a stiff challenge, a step up from NWSL side Portland Thorns and A-League Women club Melbourne City. Lyon are undefeated this season in Division 1 Féminine and are closing in on the title, a season after PSG halted their streak of successive titles at 14.

“Being in this environment every day, I do not think many people understand how high-pressure and cut-throat it is with so many world-class players,” she says. “Anyone can start on any given day and you’re fighting for your position every training session. That’s been so good for me, that you have to be at your top every day.

“And that’s also hard obviously, because some days you just can not be at your top, but you have to be. I have to try to be. That’s really pushed me to my limits… I’ve definitely improved and this is the best environment for myself to be in to do that. “

Catarina Macario and Ada Hegerberg celebrate a goal against PSG.
Catarina Macario and Ada Hegerberg celebrate a goal against PSG. Photograph: Catherine Steenkeste / Getty Images

That environment is fostered by former France international Sonia Bompastor, the club’s first female head coach appointed last year following the departure of Jean-Luc Vasseur (who has since been sacked by Everton after 10 games).

“I really like her tactics and her ambitions,” Carpenter says. “Being an ex-player with the club, she knows all the values ​​and what it takes to win these titles… and has played with some of the girls who are still in the team today. The feel within the group is a lot different to under our last coach – we’re just gelling a lot more, off and on the pitch. That’s important to have good chemistry.

“She works a lot with me on my positioning and decision-making. She was an outside back, so she tells me what she used to do and how that helped her, and does some extra one-on-one sessions with me after training which helps me a lot. She gives me a very free role, up and down, which is very nice. She loves attacking full-backs, which is kind of my game. ”

Carpenter’s inventive forward runs have been her bread and butter in Australia’s national team alongside Chelsea’s Sam Kerr, Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord, Manchester City’s Hayley Raso and a string of others playing in the Women’s Super League. But her hardiness, she says, comes from the rough and tumble of her childhood.

“Playing with the boys definitely helped me physically,” she says. “If I did not start with the boys I do not think I would be the player I am today. I had to be stronger and faster, otherwise you could not keep up. I played with them until I was 12 or so and I say to young girls these days to try and stay with the boys as long as you can.

“Football is also a sacrifice. I realized nothing really comes easy. I did not really have much of a social life, or friends you would say. I left school quite early, at the end of the year nine and went straight into a team environment with people who were so much older than me. I never really got to be a teenager, but I do not regret it at all. Because now I’m sitting here, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “

Advertisements

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*