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Bayern’s Viviane Asseyi: ‘Women’s football is stronger across Europe’

Viviane Asseyi was four years old when France’s men won the 1998 World Cup, but it is no exaggeration to say that tournament has shaped her life. “When I saw Zinedine Zidane on television I told my mother: ‘Buy me a ball,’” says the Bayern Munich and France attacking midfielder from her home in Bavaria. “I was so young but, from then on, I was always playing football.”

Asseyi grew up in Normandy, honing her craft alongside boys in local mixed teams before progressing to Rouen. Moves to Montpellier, Marseille, Bordeaux and, most recently, Bayern transported her to the very top of the women’s game.

On Sunday Jens Scheuer’s side visit Chelsea for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final, protecting a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Germany. “We believe we can win, but Chelsea are strong and nothing is settled,” cautions Asseyi in her fluent English. “This semi-final’s not finished yet.”

Chelsea’s England defender Millie Bright has first-hand knowledge of how dangerous Asseyi can be after seeing her score against the Lionesses early last month when France won a friendly 3-1 in Caen.

“I love to dribble with the ball,” says Asseyi, who four years ago headed France’s winner in a 1-0 friendly victory against England in Valenciennes and can often be found practising this art while being marked by her dog, Nala, in Munich’s parks.

She and Nala, named after the character in The Lion King, have become almost inseparable during the pandemic. “Life in Munich is very, very good for the dog,” says Asseyi. “In France, there are a lot of places where you can’t take her but here you can shop with the dog. Nala can go almost anywhere with me.”

Back in France it had been widely assumed Asseyi, who has 31 caps, would leave Bordeaux for Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain but, instead, a player comfortable when deployed either in midfield or as an outright striker wrongfooted them last summer. “My dream was always to play for a big team in another country,” she says. “And I was talking to Bayern for a year before I made the move, every time they let me know they wanted me and now they are making me a better, stronger, player.

“Football is maybe a little bit more technical and tactical in France but here the league is extremely competitive and, although tactics and technique are still very important, the games are more physical. The German mentality is about all winning and there are no easy matches.”

As she works hard to master a third language, her mental resilience is being tested by the wave of coronavirus hitting Germany. “When I first came here it was fine as everything was open,” she says. “Munich’s a very nice city but now there’s a lockdown, everything’s closed and I can’t enjoy it. I’m sad – but I know I’m really lucky to have a very good life … and this is a very friendly club.

“When I first arrived Benjamin Pavard [the Bayern men’s France international right-back] was very kind, he wrote me a nice note saying to contact him if I had any questions or problems. Because of Covid we haven’t been able to have any contact with the men’s team but that should change next season.”

By then Scheuer’s players hope to be reigning league champions. With three games remaining and Bayern two points ahead of their sole remaining challengers, Wolfsburg, a Frauen-Bundesliga title is within touching distance.

Similarly only Chelsea and either Barcelona or PSG can prevent Bayern celebrating in Gothenburg on 16 May when, for the first time in six years, there will be a new name on the Champions League trophy.

With the serial winners Lyon knocked out by PSG there is a sense that this season anything can happen. “The level between the teams in the semi-finals is tight, all four teams are capable of winning the Champions League,” says Asseyi. “The standard of women’s football is a lot stronger across Europe now, sides are much closer to each other and the level is getting higher.”

She believes next summer’s delayed European Championship in England will be similarly hard to call but feels Corinne Diacre’s side are overdue a major tournament triumph. “France need to win something,” she says. “But if we get that first trophy, I think more will follow.”

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