Lyon won its fifth straight Women’s Champions League title (seventh overall) on Sunday. How on earth do you break OL’s hegemony when they’ve so thoroughly dominated Europe?
Buy all the other best players in the world not on Lyon. At least, that appears to be Chelsea’s plan.
The Chelsea Women signed Pernille Harder to a three-year contract, bringing the 2018 UEFA Player of the Year to London from Wolfsburg, two days after Harder lost the Champions League final to Lyon. The signing is the second massive signing for the Blues this year, following the transfer of Sam Kerr from the NWSL in January.
It's official! @PernilleMHarder is a Blue! #PlayHarder pic.twitter.com/0biV8REP1t— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) September 1, 2020
Harder links up with her partner and former Linköpings FC teammate Magdalena Eriksson. The Swedish international has been at Chelsea since 2017, a year after Harder signed with Wolfsburg. In Germany, Harder won four Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal championships while finishing runner-up to Lyon in the Champions League twice. The Denmark international has scored 61 goals in 118 appearances for her international side and brings yet another offensive weapon to coach Emma Hayes’ already stacked roster.
Even before 2020, Chelsea was one of the top clubs in England, winning Women’s Super League titles in 2015 and 2018. Players like Fran Kirby, Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-yun already provided offensive spark few teams could contain, while Eriksson, Maria Thorisdottir, Millie Bright, Sophie Ingle and keeper Carly Telford provided a strong defensive backbone.
But like the men’s team about a decade ago, it’s been hard to get over the hump in the Champions League, falling short in the semifinals in 2018 and 2019. (They failed to qualify for the 2019-20 WCL.)
So, again like the men’s team, Chelsea is throwing money at the problem.
In January, Chelsea snagged perhaps the best pure goal scorer in women’s football, Sam Kerr. (Kerr signed in November but joined the team in January.) The Australian dominated the NWSL and Australian W-League before moving to Europe, leading both leagues in scoring. Though she’s had a slow start in London with just one goal so far, she’s already been a part of three trophies — the League Cup, WSL and, on Sunday, the Community Shield.
Chelsea isn’t the only club spending big on women’s football in England. Manchester City has brought in USWNT stars Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis, starting an arms race of sorts. Chelsea beat out Man City to the WSL title by virtue of goals-per-match (the league shut down play amid the Covid-19 pandemic as England decided to only let the men finish their seasons) and then edged City in the Community Shield on Saturday. Arsenal — the only English club to win a Women’s Champions League title and the last team to win a completed WSL season — risks being left behind on spending, just like the men’s club. (Unfortunately, league rules prevent NWSL clubs from spending big on foreign players.)
Chelsea’s been the busier team in 2020. The Blues added Melanie Leupolz, who won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, snagged 21-year-old forward Niamh Charles after Liverpool was relegated and bought rising Canadian star Jessie Fleming before she could join the NWSL out of UCLA.
Now they’ve added Pernille Harder, one of the top 10 players in the world.
Very excited to join @Chelseafcw. Can’t wait to step onto the pitch wearing this shirt pic.twitter.com/iMUl5ZaPY6— Pernille Harder (@PernilleMHarder) September 1, 2020
It’s obvious the Blues have one goal in mind: Winning the Women’s Champions League.
The competition will be stiff. Lyon is still a powerhouse, almost an all-star team in terms of talent at every position. In some respects, Lyon struggled in this year’s competition, only advancing in the quarterfinals and semifinals by a single goal and winning the final by a mere 3-1. Last year the only round Lyon didn’t win by at least three goals was a 3-2 two-legged semifinal against Chelsea. But keep in mind, Lyon still won the competition this year without arguably the team’s best player, Ada Hegerberg, who was out injured.
With Harder on the squad, Chelsea now becomes perhaps the favorite to end the Lyon dynasty. Harder has been one of the Champions League’s best goal scorers in recent years, leading the competition in goals in 2019 while finishing second in 2018 and 2020. She scored four in a quarterfinal win over Glasgow City in August. She’s also versatile, able to play deeper in midfield if necessary, which will allow the other attacking talent (Kerr, Kirby, Cuthbert) to flourish.
The Chelsea women are building a super team in London. By showing a willingness to spend money (albeit far less than what the men’s team spends), the Blues are in position to dominate England and perhaps finally obtain that coveted Women’s Champions League title.
And with America still unable to control the coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty more superstars who might want to move to London.