Lucy Bronze is dismissive of reports in Spain about whether she will actually be able to play for Barcelona after signing for the club before England’s victorious Euros campaign.
There had been concerns that, in the absence of a new agreement between the Spanish football federation, the league and Fifpro, leaving the rules on the registration of non-EU players in the air, Bronze would not be able to be registered.
Besides the fact that under existing rules Barcelona can register two non-EU players, the assumption that Bronze was becoming a Brexit casualty was wrong regardless, given she is half Portuguese.
“I have a Portuguese ID card,” the right-back says, clearly bemused by the fuss. “I am half English, half Portuguese. I’m not playing anyone, my dad’s literally Portuguese and my mum’s literally English. So I can get my Portuguese passport whenever I want.”
She is fiercely proud of her Portuguese heritage and has spoken about it many times. In April she posted a video of herself to TikTok which made light of her only being referred to as English despite her dual heritage.
Bronze speaks Portuguese, having been brought up bilingual, and is fluent in French after three years with Lyon. Now she is learning Spanish.
“They were all really surprised that I’d already taken some Spanish lessons off my own back,” says Bronze, who is back at England’s St George’s Park training base for their final World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Luxembourg. “Having already played abroad, I know it’s so important to be able to communicate. I want to speak to everyone, I want to be friends with everyone, so it’s important that I learn.”
At Barcelona, Catalan is also in the mix. “I’m not learning Catalan – that’s too difficult; sorry to the Barcelona girls,” she says with a grin. “The Spanish, I pick up a lot of words, but my pronunciation is terrible because I keep putting a French accent on. But there’s a lot of words that are similar to Portuguese and French. So, in the meetings I don’t have a translator, I just kind of pick up words and look at the actions on the videos.”
Spain had been the bookies’ favourites going into the Euros but were knocked out by the hosts in the quarter-finals, the Lionesses coming from behind to win in extra time.
Bronze says “I kept my head down” when meeting her new teammates for the first time. “They had all seen the video of Georgia [Stanway, who has joined Bayern Munich] singing Sweet Caroline as her initiation. They made me do the same but didn’t video it. My toes were curling a little bit because I sat next to a Swedish girl [who England beat in the semi-final], a Norwegian girl [who England beat 8-0 in their second group game] and a Spanish girl and I’m thinking: ‘I don’t want to do this.’ I got on the mic, sang it and they were all great.”
In training, being immersed in Barça’s passing and possession-heavy play is “another level of intensity”, says Bronze. “We have a few injuries at the minute and in pre-season we’ve got a lot of kids playing, but even they’ve just got Barcelona in the blood, which is phenomenal. It’s phenomenal to me to see all these 16- or 17-year-olds that are up to the pace of Barcelona’s playing style. Trying to understand the rules in Spanish and then play this intense Spanish, Barcelona football is pretty intense in the first week or so, and then there’s the heat. I’m not giving myself too many excuses, but it was hard. Once the games came around though, it was a little bit more natural and free flowing.”
Settling into life in Spain has been paused for the first international break since the Euros. “I’ll probably look back in 10 years and be like: ‘Yeah, that was amazing,’” she says of the success with the Lionesses. “But as soon as the last whistle went it’s like: ‘What next?’ Enjoy the moment while you have it, but you have to keep focused otherwise you’ll get left behind.
“That feeling of winning is so addictive. And the feeling of not winning is super horrible as well – I’m not a great loser. We had finally done something and then, for me, it was: ‘OK, this is what it feels like, but how many more times can we do this?’”
Bronze shut herself away after the Euros. She is used to the limelight and knew what she wanted to do once the confetti had settled. “It’s funny, because me and Less [Alessia Russo] were speaking yesterday about it. We’re obviously at different ends of the spectrum in terms of experience. She was like: ‘What did you do after the Euros?’ I said: ‘Less. I did two interviews and I stayed at home.’ She was like: ‘Yeah, I did interviews for three days, I went on holiday and paparazzi followed me. I’m guessing you already knew that?’
“I’ve had that experience of trying to do everything; when you’re so excited and you want to be everywhere. Some of the players have had a little lesson on doing too much. It’s something that we spoke about a lot before the tournament but, at the same time, I don’t think any of us could have prepared for how big the Euros would be because we’ve never been part of anything like that before.”
Bronze is a member of EE’s Hope United team of players who are promoting a campaign that targets online hate speech. Success at the Euros affected the level of abuse England’s players received. According to research by the campaign during the tournament, for every negative social media post directed at the players there were 125 positive posts.
“I do think the tournament was a huge turning point in that sense,” says Bronze, the fourth-most targeted player for abusive posts behind Beth Mead, Ellen White and Ella Toone, with Mead and Toone also one and two for the most positive posts received. “Obviously, there’s always going to be small things, but we have felt a shift. Campaigns like Hope United help and being successful is always going to help as well. There’s a lot of contributing factors, but we definitely feel as a team that we’ve changed a few things, not only in England but I think in other countries, in women’s football and for women in general.”
The campaign has helped Bronze know what to do when abuse is directed at her. “I can’t say I really read much of it. It’s sad, because I want to be able to interact with fans, and obviously social media is a great way to do that because you can’t get around 90,000 people in the stadium. I’ve tried my best to keep on interacting with fans, but I don’t want to see hate speech, it’s just pointless.”
EE Hope United is rallying the UK to tackle online sexist hate. Visit ee.co.uk/hopeunited