Lucy Bronze: The making of the Lionesses' World Cup star

By Sports Desk July 03, 2019

Lucy Bronze was just four when brother Jorge picked up a pair of scissors and hacked away at her hair, clump after clump.

A salvage job at the local hairdresser later, and a satisfied Bronze, whose mother's refusal to chop her locks made her turn to six-year-old Jorge, was left with a boyish cut.

It was just the job for sidling in unnoticed alongside the young lads booting a football around near the family home on the Northumberland island of Lindisfarne.

Yet little Lucia Roberta Tough Bronze was soon running rings around those boys, taking the first steps towards starring for England on the World Cup stage.

Today the 27-year-old is "the best player in the world" according to Lionesses manager Phil Neville, and amid England's dazzling run in France she became one of the faces of the British sporting summer.

Jorge wrote a heartfelt letter to his sister as she departed for France, complete with a teasing "Don't be s***" sign-off, and was roaring her on from the stands against the United States in Lyon.

For the Bronze family, it was another night to be proud. There have been many of those with more to come.

The World Cup dream is over for England after the heartbreaking semi-final defeat to the United States, but trophy success on home soil at Euro 2021 is a realistic goal. Bronze, devastated by Tuesday's loss, could land gold next summer too with Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics.

Parents Diane and Joaquim, unlike so many living within striking distance of Newcastle, had no interest in football until little Lucy began to demonstrate prodigious talent.

The family moved to the mainland and Bronze shone for Alnwick Town's mixed junior team. Sunderland's youth ranks beckoned, then the first team, then Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Lyon and the Lionesses.

Like many an ambitious youngster, Bronze had been wary about sharing her life's dreams with her careers adviser. Not least because mum Diane held that role at the Duchess' Community High School in Alnwick, as well as being a maths teacher - and she saw football as little more than a hobby.

But being up front about her desire had positive consequences. Bronze, aged 17, secured a scholarship to the University of North Carolina that became a key stepping stone in her life.

"I'm very independent and was quite mature for my age," she said of her move to Chapel Hill. "My parents were a bit scared.

"Moving out and living on my own was a big thing but to be in a different country with different coaches and a different mentality changed me as a person, as a player, the way I think about things and the way I see people."

Bronze was still in the womb when she first set tongues wagging.

The Bronzes had moved to Lindisfarne, home to fewer than 200 people, after a death in the family, and the pending arrival of Lucy in the autumn of 1991 put them in a quandary.

The mile-long causeway from the north-east coast to the island is impassable for around 12 hours every day, and local midwives were bursting with enthusiasm about the prospect of taking a helicopter across to help out Mrs Bronze - who was having none of it.

"So I was actually born in Berwick because my mum went there early," Bronze said. "She refused to give birth on this tiny island with no hospital and no doctors, and the potential of there not being a road there depending on tides."

Bronze became no stranger to doctors, needing four knee operations in the early years of her top-flight career.

She lost out on vital appearance money and paid herself through university in Leeds by taking jobs at the Domino's pizza shop in Headingley, and behind the bar at the nearby Goals five-a-side centre. She ate enough margherita to horrify any football club dietician.

Such indulgences are rare nowadays. Bronze has become not merely a goalscoring playmaker at right-back but a remarkable athlete, said to be bringing in a handsome six-figure salary at Lyon.

To watch her doing laps of the pitch at England's St George's Park headquarters, it is no stretch to imagine Bronze running a Sally Gunnell-like leg in a championship 4 x 400 metres relay.

She can afford a sharp haircut too, sparing Jorge any more blunt-scissored efforts. And the days of trying to merely keep up with the boys? Long gone.

Sport historians will record whether this has been a golden era for English women's football, or whether the prosperity will endure. They might well define these years as the second Bronze age.

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    Liverpool were set to emerge at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, either with the scent of triumph in their nostrils or the delicious addition of a guard of honour from Manchester City.

    The coronavirus pandemic has placed elite sport across the globe on hold, meaning the latest episode of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's captivating rivalry must wait.

    Nevertheless, given their former employers Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were also due to meet in Der Klassiker, it feels like a good time to run the rule over two men whose tactical approaches and high levels of achievement have – and it does not feel too grandiose to suggest this – changed football in the 21st century, as well as one another.

    THE BUNDESLIGA YEARS

    Guardiola's arrival to take the reins of a treble-winning Bayern for 2013-14 came shortly after their rivalry with Klopp's Dortmund reached its peak.

    Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner saw Bayern down BVB 2-1 in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley – a game played out against a backdrop of Dortmund's star playmaker Mario Gotze agreeing terms to move to Bavaria.

    In hindsight, Klopp's gegenpressing machine – winners of back-to-back Bundesliga crowns in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – were coming off the top of their curve, having finished 25 points behind a relentless Bayern domestically that season.

    The decline continued over the next two seasons. Dortmund were remarkably in relegation trouble halfway through 2014-15, before a post-Christmas recovery preceded Klopp's emotional farewell.

    Nevertheless, there was still time for telling blows to be landed. Guardiola's first competitive game in charge saw Bayern beaten 4-2 in the 2013 DFL-Supercup at a delirious Signal Iduna Park.

    Stung by that loss, Guardiola sprung a notable surprise in the first league encounter between the sides that November, where he broke Dortmund's rabid press by playing Javi Martinez as an attacking midfielder and repeatedly targeting the rangy Spain international with long balls.

    The high priest of tiki-taka (a label Guardiola famously loathes) had presided over "more long balls than in the last three years combined" from a Bayern team, according to Klopp, who bristled after Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller added to Gotze's inevitable second-half opener in a 3-0 win.

    A depleted Munich were similarly reactive when they won the DFB-Pokal final 2-0 in extra-time, even if flooding midfield numbers was a more recognisably Guardiola tactic.

    Diverting from his dizzying 4-3-3 of swirling triangles has remained something the Catalan tactician has frequently done across his meetings with Klopp, and not always with the success he enjoyed in Germany.

    HOLLOW VICTORIES AND THE PHONEY WAR

    Klopp ended his homeland head-to-head against Guardiola with three victories, making it back-to-back Supercup triumphs in 2014, having claimed a 3-0 Bundesliga result at Allianz Arena earlier that year – the authority of which was dimmed by the fact Bayern had already cantered to the title.

    Guardiola had four victories to his name, with one draw ultimately falling in Dortmund's favour as Bayern failed with all four of their penalty attempts in a 2015 DFB-Pokal semi-final shoot-out.

    However, Klopp was denied a glorious farewell as his team lost in the final to Wolfsburg and the fact Robert Lewandowski had followed Gotze to Munich by this point underlined a deck stacked against him.

    Liverpool came calling for Klopp in October 2015 and he helmed helter-skelter runs to the EFL Cup and Europa League finals. Manchester City and Sevilla prevailed respectively.

    That was Manuel Pellegrini's final honour as City boss as he made way for Guardiola, who collected a third successive Bundesliga title in 2015-16. Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund finished closer in terms of position and points (second, 10 behind) than Klopp's version had managed when in direct competition.

    With the stage presumably set for renewed hostilities between Guardiola and incoming Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, the similarly newly installed Antonio Conte did not read the script as Chelsea romped to 2016-17 Premier League glory.

    Klopp got the better of his head-to-heads with City as a Georginio Wijnaldum goal sealed a 1-0 New Year's Eve win at Anfield before Sergio Aguero rescued a point for the hosts in the return game.

    Guardiola laid it on thick after that 1-1 draw, declaring it to be "one of the most special days of my life".

    "He is Spanish. They are a little bit more emotional than the Germans," Klopp chuckled in response.

    TON-UP BUT NOT INVINCIBLE AND THE ROAD TO KIEV

    Liverpool beat City three times in 2017-18, when most other teams could barely lay a glove on Guardiola's record-breaking side.

    But the game where City prevailed, an unusual 5-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium where Liverpool subsided meekly after Sadio Mane's red card for clattering Ederson with a high boot, arguably had the biggest influence on the campaign.

    When that game was 11 v 11, Guardiola's back three was horribly exposed. Aguero's opener arrived against the run of play, with an unusually wasteful Mohamed Salah having tormented Nicolas Otamendi.

    City never used 3-5-2 in the league again that season, reverting to a swashbuckling 4-3-3 that churned out 19 consecutive wins and made the second half of the schedule a virtual procession.

    Liverpool halted their designs on invincibility however, claiming a raucous 4-3 Anfield win in January. Klopp hailed "pressing from another planet" by his front three as Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah were all on target in a euphoric nine-minute spell after half-time.

    Guardiola had again seen a swift avalanche of goals bring the roof in during a big match and his tweak to a 4-4-2 diamond, eyeing avenues around those Liverpool pressing lanes, backfired in that season's Champions League quarter-final.

    A 3-0 first-leg loss at Anfield, with all the goals arriving during the first half, left City with a mountain to climb and a death-or-glory approach in the return fixture – deploying a formation probably best described as 3-CHARGE!!! – eventually ran out of steam in a 2-1 loss.

    But it was Liverpool who came up short in the Kiev final on Loris Karius' nightmare outing against Real Madrid, while City sauntered to a 100-point haul as dominant Premier League champions. Sitting 25 points back in fourth, the Reds had a considerable gap to bridge.

    CHASING PERFECTION

    Despite that deficit, their efforts in going blow-for-blow with City over 90-minute periods left the impression Liverpool were the best placed of the pretenders to overthrow the champions.

    Both teams reconvened on Merseyside undefeated in October 2018 and remained that way as the free-flowing nature of recent meetings gave way to a cagey 0-0 draw.

    Reprising the theme of those early Klassiker meetings, Guardiola took his foot off the throttle as City played at a controlled tempo – an approach that would have ended the club's Anfield hoodoo but for Riyad Mahrez's ballooned late penalty.

    Fire and brimstone returned the following January, though, with a wobbling City recovering their poise and avoiding a 10-point deficit at the top. Aguero and Leroy Sane were on target either side of Firmino in a bravura display, where Aymeric Laporte took on the unfamiliar role of left-back to stifle Salah.

    That was Liverpool's only loss of the season as they finished on 97 points, agonisingly one shy of City. However, their subsequent Champions League final win over Tottenham improbably propelled them further along.

    Just as Guardiola has tempered some of his more cavalier tendencies when faced with Klopp, the challenge of an unrelenting City also forced the Liverpool boss into subtle and decisive tweaks.

    In bringing in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, he spent big for what many see as the finest goalkeeper and centre-back on the planet. Their very presence means risk can be reduced.

    Heavy metal football has given way to a steady pulsing beat that never wavers. In the city of Merseybeat, Klopp has gone electro.

    Amid their steamrollering of the opposition this season, Liverpool have 19 wins by a solitary goal in all competitions. They are frighteningly and ruthlessly clinical. A profligate City trail in their wake, although Guardiola has used this relative freedom from pressure to thumb intriguingly through his tactical playbook in 2020.

    Both men have inspired the other to reach beyond their comfort zones and the result is the two best teams in world football. With Klopp contracted to Liverpool until 2024 and Guardiola talking up an extended stay, the thought occurs that they are each other's motivation for sticking around. There is nowhere better to measure their greatness than against one another.

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    Lionel Messi scored two penalties when Barcelona beat Milan to reach the Champions League semi-finals on this day back in 2012.

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    2016 - 'Remember the name' - Brathwaite goes berserk

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    2012 - Milestone for Messi as Milan crash out

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  • Coronavirus: PFA defends response to COVID-19 crisis as government criticises Premier League stars Coronavirus: PFA defends response to COVID-19 crisis as government criticises Premier League stars

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    On Wednesday, the PFA reported that talks with the Premier League, the English Football League and the League Manager's Association over the appropriate financial response to the crisis were on-going.

    However, public opinion had already started to turn against Premier League clubs and their players, after Newcastle United, Tottenham, Norwich City and Bournemouth all took advantage of the government scheme allowing businesses to furlough employees at the state's expense as COVID-19 lockdown conditions remain.

    Health secretary Matt Hancock, who himself tested positive for coronavirus last week, called on Premier League footballers to "take a pay cut and play their part" in remarks where he invoked the deaths of National Health Service workers.

    That followed Julian Knight MP, the department for culture, media and sport committee chair, writing to the chancellor Rishi Sunak to propose a windfall tax on Premier League clubs to recover money received from the furlough scheme.

    In its response to an increasingly hostile climate, the PFA said it did not support widespread use of such government provision.

    "Each club's financial standing will vary. We are aware of the public sentiment that the players should pay non-playing staff's salaries," it read. "However, our current position is that – as businesses - if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should. 

    "The players we have spoken [to] recognise that the non-playing staff are a vital part of their club and they do not want to see club staff furloughed unfairly. Any use of the government's support schemes without genuine financial need is detrimental to the wider society.

    "In instances where clubs have the resources to pay all staff, the benefit of players paying non-playing staff salaries will only serve the business of the club's shareholders."

    Addressing the matter of players taking temporary pay cuts – such as the 70 per cent reductions LaLiga giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have enacted – the players' union highlighted how its initial work to meet the challenges of COVID-19 sought to protect players in the bottom two tiers of England's professional structure.

    It explained its position that players should be willing help their clubs and the wider game by sharing the financial burden at this time and that "advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation".

    "At this point, our attention was mainly focused on EFL players - particularly League One and League Two - as their need was most urgent. Here, a significant number of players are employed on a relatively short-term basis, with 12-month contracts and salaries closer to the national average," the PFA said.

    "As such, many of these players will have contracts ending in June. These are often people with young families, for whom their immediate financial position is uncertain."

    The statement continued: "Contrary to some press reports the PFA has never stated that it will block all wage deferrals. What we have sought to put in place is a structured and unified approach to ensure a fair response across the leagues.

    "To address this, we called for an urgent meeting with the Premier League and EFL - which took place on Friday, March 27. The PFA's primary aim was to ensure that wages for EFL players were protected for that month, this was agreed.

    "In addition, a timetable was established to collectively use early April, to reach considered decisions and solutions, with a view for any potential changes and reductions to salaries coming into effect on April's payroll. Talks on this basis are ongoing."

    The PFA also highlighted charity work undertaken by members to help the NHS and the wider community, and their stance appeared to win swift support from former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who took umbrage at perceived political points scoring from Hancock.

    "I wish I was a player for 10 more mins. The PL players are more than likely working on a proposal to help clubs, communities and The NHS," Neville tweeted.

    "It takes longer than 2 weeks to put together. Matt Hancock calling them out when he can't get tests in place for NHS staff is a f@@@@@g cheek!"

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