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Olympique Lyonnais: Where French football stars are made

Tobias Schwarz, AFP | Olympique Lyonnais celebrate winning the Women’s Champions League on May 18, 2019

A number of standout players on the French women’s national team, including Wendie Renard and Amel Majri, share at least one thing in common: they all trained with Olympique Lyonnais.

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Olympique Lyonnais (OL) is the best women’s football club in Europe. In May, they won the 2019 UEFA Women’s Champions League for a fourth consecutive year.

For some players it all began on the fields of the club’s youth academy, where many believe women’s football had its genesis in France.

“President Jean-Michel Aulas has a strong vision to create one mixed academy and to have two elite [girl’s and boy’s] academies. We’ve been able to see it with the boys, a number of big names have come out of there, but also with the girls,” Camille Abily, a former player who is now president of the Olympique Lyonnais Foundation, told FRANCE 24.

“I’m thinking in particular of Wendie Renard and Amel Majri, who are among the players who came out of the OL Academy. It plays an important role, because all French youth dream about this academy,” she added.

During her professional career, Abily wore an Olympique Lyonnais jersey for 10 years and competed in two Women’s World Cups as a member of the French national team. After retiring in 2018, she decided to take an active role in training young players at the Olympique Lyonnais academy.

Technique, footwork, strategy… The academy excels at training some of football’s brightest stars by imbuing them with a winning mindset. The end goal is to feed as many players into professional clubs, according to Théo Rivrin, who has worked as a trainer with Olympique Lyonnais for 19 years.

“There is a collective goal to make it to the championships, and if possible win. And then there is an individual goal for each player, which is to take them as far as possible, and for the best to make it to the professional level,” he said.

Shifting attitudes towards women’s football

The academy has sought to create a family atmosphere among the players, who live, study and train together.

Outside in the real world, however, things aren’t always easy. Some of the players have experienced bullying because of their love of the sport. Yet social attitudes towards women’s football in France are gradually shifting.

“In high school, we get positive comments. You can see on TV that women now have a strong level, especially in Division I, where they’ve begun to make real strides. People are increasingly impressed,” Grace Kazadi, who plays on Olympique Lyonnais’s Under-19 team, said.

Olympique Lyonnais has one of the best training centres in France -- if not the world -- and grooms its players for success. Which may be why the semi and final matches of the Women’s World Cup will be held in the club’s home city of Lyon.

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