England defender on being welcomed to Barça by the Ballon d’Or winner, why leaving the WSL was easy and ‘crazy’ Ada Hegerberg
“Alexia texted me saying she’s so excited to play with me on the team,” Bronze says. “Things like that give you huge confidence when players want to play with you and teams want you. Who doesn’t like being told they’re good? It gives you confidence and confidence plays a huge role in how you perform.”
Bronze’s return to Manchester City after a trophy-laden spell with Lyon had not been quite the fairytale the right-back had perhaps hoped. In two years back in Manchester, some of which was blighted by injury, she won the FA Cup shortly after her return and the Continental League Cup last season.
The dream of winning the Champions League with City looks as far off as it did when she left for Lyon: City crashed out of qualifying to Real Madrid last season and lost in the quarter-finals to Barcelona the season before.
Last month, after City scraped past Manchester United into the third Champions League place after a terrible start put them out of the title race before it had properly begun, Bronze’s agent’s phone was ringing.
“I had offers from Lyon and Barça, the two best teams in the world,” she says. “It wasn’t bad to be able to pick from that. It gives me loads of confidence knowing that these big teams who are so successful want to sign me, want me to play, know that I can make a difference to their team.”
It was not a wrench to leave the Women’s Super League again. “I didn’t really think about it, to be honest,” says Bronze. “I knew I wanted to play abroad again. My experience at Lyon was the best time in my career, the best moments of my career.
“Going out and pushing myself into a different culture, a different experience, playing with the world’s best players – to have the chance to do that again was a no-brainer.
“Maybe I can’t hype doing the same experience again with Barça but I would love to because that was the greatest experience of my life. I’ve not had an experience in England quite the same.”
Having the deal in place before the home Euros was important. “It was pretty much done the week after the end of the season; I just had to find the time to sort it all out. It was hard keeping my mouth shut because it was so exciting.
“The one thing I said to Barça and my agent was that I wanted it done before the tournament – get it done, get it out the way. I want to be able to focus on England; I don’t want questions about what club you’re going to next and all the talk and the gossip around that.”
Success with England matters. It is the blank space on Bronze’s career hitlist. She is a winner and now, with the former Netherlands manager Sarina Wiegman at the helm, England have an experienced winning manager. “Having an experience of winning is second to none,” says Bronze.
“You go back to club football, the Champions League final between Lyon and Barça – everyone picked Barça but it was Lyon with [Amandine] Henry that has got that mentality to just pick up the game and go for it. have that in heaps.”
Henry’s Lyon teammate and fellow serial winner Ada Hegerberg makes England’s Group A rivals Norway potentially contenders, Bronze says.
“Ada is just a winner, the girl is crazy in that respect. I can remember games where she’d come up to me beforehand and say: ‘You just get the ball in the box and I’ll score.’ She’s just obsessed with scoring, she’s obsessed with wanting to win the ball.
“There’s not many No 9s who can score goals and then will get back and make tackles and put their body on the line. She’s so tall and she’s got pace and strength, fitness.
“The thing that separates her for me is that crazy mentality she’s got; it’s something you can’t really affect. You can’t really get in her head – I might try.”
England are contenders, too, and expectations are rising as we edge towards the opening game against Austria at Old Trafford on 6 July. For Bronze, an unused sub in the 2013 Euros as England failed to escape their group, time has moved quickly.
“It’s so different. Me and Jordan [Nobbs] were the two babies of the team – we didn’t really speak,” she says. “We got sent some Nike boots. Hardly any of the players were sponsored so no one had any boots, which is funny because I’ve just been outside with all the kids from the grassroots clubs [who were watching training at St George’s Park] and they were asking for boots. I just gave them to them because I can get boots whenever I want. But back then we got sent these boots from Nike. All we did was give our size. We didn’t get to pick anything else, no names on them.
“They came up a little bit too small on us. Me and Jordan didn’t dare ask for a different pair so we wore boots the whole time that were too small for us. We’d get in trouble if we even thought about doing that now. It makes me laugh because nowadays we have the guy from Nike come in and he measures your feet and makes sure they fit like a glove.
“That first Euros it was like: ‘You get what you’re given girls and you crack on,’ and we did.”