LYON, France (Reuters) - She is England’s most influential player at this World Cup, has scored a contender for goal of the tournament and her coach believes she is the best player in the world but Lucy Bronze is far from overwhelmed by the sudden surge of attention.
Relaxed and confident in front of a packed news conference, the day before her team’s World Cup semi-final against the United States, the 27-year-old is in many ways the product of the opportunities the game has given her.
She may have had constant praise from pundits but she still has the down-to-earth, modest character that is typical of many players in the England squad, drawn largely from small towns in England’s provinces.
But Bronze, a Northumberland native who spent a year in the States on a soccer scholarship in North Carolina and who has for the past two years has been playing in the host city to this week’s final four, for European champions Olympique Lyonnais, has clearly been influenced by those experiences.
Two years ago she moved from Manchester City to Lyon, joining a team packed with some of the world’s finest players.
The club have shown unprecedented commitment to the women’s game, making sure their players receive top level coaching and facilities and Bronze says she has benefited hugely.
“A lot. I think the player I was two, even four years ago, I’ve always had that desire to win – that competitiveness – the physical edge by going to Lyon changed my game for the better,” she said.
“All those technical superstars in the world now...I studied them. I wanted to stop giving the ball away, I wanted to make my technique better. Definitely, the player I feel I am owes a lot to the last two years at Lyon,” added Bronze, who later answered a question in hesitant but passable French.
Her style of play is direct and as an overlapping full back with pace and power she gives England the ability to swiftly attack down the flanks.
After her performance against Norway in the 3-0 quarter-final, England coach Phil Neville hailed her as the best player in the world, but Bronze isn’t buying that idea.
“It is a huge compliment for me. He said it to me a couple of weeks after taking charge. He said: ‘You’re the best player in the world’ and I replied: ‘No, Phil, I’m really not’.
“It’s lovely that he has so much belief in me but for me personally, I don’t feel like I’m there yet. I’m still striving to be better. Every day,” she said, suggesting her Lyon team mate, Germany’s Dzsenifer Marozsan, is the game’s premier talent.
Bronze only spent one season in North Carolina, finishing her studies in England, but as well as giving her connections with the current U.S. team, it was also a spell that changed her mentality.
“I played with a lot of the girls, like Tobin Heath, Ashlyn Harris, a few of the girls that I’ll be facing on Tuesday. That American dream and the way that they are as people and players and how driven they are is definitely something I took from them,” she said.
But much as she admires the three-times world champions, Bronze says England won’t show them too much respect.
“I think they’re a great team, they’re the world number one, the holders of the World Cup, they’ll always have a great team, but I think teams have started knocking on the door, getting closer and closer and it spur others on to go ‘oh, maybe we can do that as well. Why can’t we challenge them as well?’.
“Anyone could be lifting this trophy. People ask me if I’m surprised about Sweden being in the semi-finals – no. Am I surprised at Holland? No. Any team is good enough and has the belief now where they can beat the top teams like America.”
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond