Next season's new UEFA Women's Champions League format is already proving popular with some the game's leading players.
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The 2021/22 UEFA Women's Champions League will feature a new competition format as well as a series of important innovations that will kick off an exciting new era for women's football:
• A new financial model will guarantee more money invested into the development of the game, more money for competing clubs and for the first time, solidarity payments to all non-competing top division clubs in Europe.
• Fans will be able to enjoy more matches, all available to watch globally, while on the pitch players will benefit from new squad list regulations to promote youth development, more chances for locally trained talent and dedicated provisions to protect pregnant players and new mothers.
It all makes for a very bright future, and the biggest names in the game can't wait to get started. We spoke to some of the stars that will benefit from a bigger, bolder and better UEFA Women's Champions League.
How important is the addition of a group stage to the UEFA Women's Champions League?
Vicky Losada, Barcelona: "I think that the group stage had to come about sooner or later. At the end of the day, it means that there’ll be more games.
"People are interested in women’s football because people are watching it. What people want is a spectacle, and I think that it’s great news that, at last, the Champions League will have a group stage."
Magdalena Eriksson, Chelsea: "[The Women’s Champions League] doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, so this new format will definitely help with that. There will be a lot of attention on the group stage – you know you will have a set of games that are going to be the most competitive games in women's football with the biggest stars. I think it's a huge step in the right direction."
Lucy Bronze, Manchester City: "It's what the players have wanted for a long time. It's what the teams have wanted and it's the best thing for women's football now – to get more of the top teams playing and having more top games with these top teams playing against each other more consistently. It's important to include the lower-ranked nations as well; they need the exposure and it's an important balance between getting the top teams playing and making sure we don't leave anybody behind, because we want to grow women's football together."
Ewa Pajor, Wolfsburg: "This is a great idea which will move the competition to another, higher level. Rivalry between the biggest teams in Europe in the group stage will let us make another step forward. For us players, it is a great joy to play more games in this unique competition."
What differences do you see in women's football from when you started your career?
Vicky Losada: "Well, they’re huge. Back then, we used to train for two hours at night, and we would travel by bus for 12 hours or eight hours. We didn’t analyse our opponents. That mentality simply didn’t exist because, given that we didn’t have any way of analysing ourselves, it was impossible. There’s no comparison. There was no television coverage, no sponsors, no brands. It was impossible.
"[Now] we train more and for longer hours, because we want to improve. We look after ourselves more, we rest more, we prioritise football 100%."
Emma Hayes, Chelsea manager: "Investment through clubs and national associations has been the most significant change. I was in the industry when everyone was amateur, to semi-pro, to now managing world-class athletes. I've also really enjoyed watching the growth of the game off the pitch, the increased broadcasting and the number of opportunities that are being provided for players to professionalise and to turn it into a sport that is creating opportunities for everyone."
How excited are you about the future of the Women's Champions League?
Magdalena Eriksson: "There are things happening all over Europe, all over the world, in women's football and it’s a really exciting time to be a women's footballer. It's just fun to be at a place now [where] anyone can really win it. There's a lot of contenders to win the Champions League."
Ewa Pajor: "The competition is growing every year and that is why I am very happy and excited that I can be part of all of this."
Lucy Bronze: "Seeing where it is going is amazing. The way we change the Champions League will have a huge effect: you can see already leagues are changing and improving. The [FIFA Women's] World Cup is the same and the UEFA Women's EURO will be the same when we play in England. The future is looking really good and it's nice to know we have the backing of so many different associations now to make the game great and to be where it should be."
How important is it that the next generation coming through see female role models they can aspire to?
Christiane Endler, Paris Saint-Germain: "It’s important for me in the sense that they have as a role model a person who came all the way from Chile, who managed to come to Europe and play football, and make a living out of something she enjoys.
"If that is helping them to keep going and fulfil their dreams, I'm happy to be that role model and for them to identify with a Chilean girl who came from so far away.
"It feels good to receive those messages I get on a daily basis that are like: 'I play football thanks to you' or 'I'm chasing my dream thanks to you' – things that might have nothing to do with sport, but that hit you in an emotional sense. It’s not what you set out to do when you play football, but football brings those things to the fore as well."
Asisat Oshoala, Barcelona: "I have a foundation, which supports girls. Not because I don't care about males, but the environment and society, when it comes to sports, are always more supportive to male athletes than female athletes, so this is a strong point for me. I can tell my story to these kids, advise them, talk to them, and say 'Go for your dreams, push for it, stay focused and don't give up'."