Striker Toni Duggan dreamed of playing in a Champions League final as a young girl growing up in Liverpool. On Saturday night that will become reality when she pulls on a Barça shirt to take on European giants Lyon in Budapest, in what is the club’s first ever appearance in a Women’s Champions League Final. Here’s what she had to say before the game.
What are your thoughts on Lyon and coming up against a couple of your England team-mates?
We know Lyon are going to be a tough team. It would be nice to come up against [England teammate] Lucy [Bronze]. Unfortunately, Isobel Christiansen is still injured. They’re a difficult team and they’ve been at the top of women’s football for countless years now. But after playing them last year, I believe we can push on. I think we’re in a better place now. We’re a lot closer to them and a lot better as a team, so I think it’s going to be a difficult game, but one we can’t wait for.
Does the fact that Barcelona are not favourites relieve the pressure on you?
I think Lyon are the favourites because of the number of times they have won the trophy and how successful they’ve been, but they know we’re a good team. They will have said last year that it was a difficult game when they came to the Mini Estadi and I think now, on the whole, we’re a better team, so it’s going to be an interesting game, an exciting one, and I think we’re ready.
What does it mean to be in a Champions League Final?
It means everything. A Champions League Final is something I’ve always dreamt of. I think it’s the pinnacle of any player’s career. Every player wants to play in a Champions League final. The campaign that this team has had this year has been great. We’ve put in some great performances, so I think we deserve to be there.
How important is it for the club that the Barcelona women’s team win the trophy?
It’s super important. We’re the underdogs because Lyon have been so successful but at a club like Barcelona, they want to win everything. Whether it be a friendly game, a cup game, the league, it’s so important to us. Playing for Barcelona, there’s always going to be pressure. I don’t want to add too much more pressure on myself but I believe our squad can do it.
What is your biggest strength that Lyon need to watch out for?
I think they need to look out for our style. No one plays football the way we do, the way we possess the ball, how patient we are, the technical ability of the players.
How much has the recent influx of foreign players in the team had an impact?
Yeah, I think it’s been important. It’s been a transition for us all. People ask me how I’ve helped and how I’ve transitioned into the team but it’s also about the Spanish girls welcoming the new girls and adapting to that because historically it’s been full of Spanish players.
How do you find the football culture in Barcelona having grown up in Liverpool, another passionate football city?
I think the two cities, Liverpool and Barcelona, are massive in terms of football. They all love their football, they’re so passionate about it and the fans always want what’s best for their club. They’re two great cities to play in because the support from the people is amazing, so I’m really proud and privileged to have been in both cities and felt what it’s like to be a footballer there.
What do you think English women’s football can learn from the Spanish league?
I think the presence of the media in Spain is so important for raising the profile. We’ve come a long way in the last five years but there’s still a lot further to go back home. I also think the games being televised each week in England is a big priority.
And vice-versa? What can the Spanish women’s game learn from England?
Interesting. There are a lot more teams in the Spanish league than there are in England. The biggest transition in England came when they cut the league down, initially to eight teams, and now have grown it each year with an extra team, so now they’re at 11 teams. In Spain, there are 16 teams and I think if they can make it a little bit smaller, the quality of the teams will be better.
In England, they also have criteria for getting into the top league. For example, you can’t get into it if you don’t have good enough facilities. That’s important. When we speak about equality, you want to be playing on the best pitches with the best facilities. You want the shower to be hot in the changing room. These are things that make you more professional on the pitch. It’s okay to have Barcelona and Atlético Madrid at the top, but what about Granadilla Tenerife, who play on such a bad pitch? These little things need to improve.
How was your second year playing with the squad and adapting to life in Barcelona?
I remember doing many interviews last year and saying, ‘Yeah, I feel settled’, but when I look back, I probably wasn’t. Now I feel right at home. I love the city, I love the girls, I love the team, I love the philosophy. I also love the pressure of playing for Barcelona, because it’s part of the parcel of it, and that’s why I joined.
Have you picked up a bit of Catalan as well as Spanish?
Mainly Spanish. It’s quite difficult to pick up one language and I think the majority of people I’m around speak Spanish. I’ve picked up little bits of Catalan and maybe if one day I’m fluent in Spanish, I can move on to Catalan because it’s important for the culture. I know how important Catalan is here in the city, so I can try, but it’s been quite difficult!