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Caroline Graham Hansen: Barcelona's assist machine driven by Champions League disappointment

09:00 BST 25/08/2020
Caroline Graham Hansen Barcelona Women 2019
The 25-year-old has already lost two finals, but she's confident of getting another chance after joining last year's runners-up, Barca

Caroline Graham Hansen has achieved more in her 10 years as a footballer than most do by the time they hang up their boots.

With 16 major honours in three different countries, 84 caps for Norway and almost 100 goals from her 250 senior club games, there’s plenty for her to be proud of.

But there is one title that eludes her: the Champions League.

The winger had two shots at European glory in her five years with Wolfsburg - starting one of the finals, missing the other through injury - both of which ended in defeat.

But it’s more a motivation than an area of concern for Graham Hansen. After all, she’s only 25 years old – and, for many, one of the best players around. In the 2019 Goal 50, she ranked 13th in the world for female players.

“I think everybody wants to win the Champions League,” she tells Goal.

“Of course, it sucks to be on the losing side, but that’s sport. That’s football. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I can’t do anything about it.

“I enjoy playing the tournament and I am calm about the fact that I will hopefully get another possibility to play a final and another possibility to win it.

“I get a positive motivation from picturing myself maybe one day winning it. That’s a good motivation to have.”

On Tuesday, Graham Hansen will face her old club, Wolfsburg, with another shot at the Champions League title at stake.

She left Germany for Barcelona last summer, announced just two days after the Spanish side had finished runners-up in Europe's premier competition.

At times with Wolfsburg, injuries had threatened to stop the Norwegian from fulfilling her potential, but she continued to bounce back. In her fifth and final season with the club, she did as she always has: she dazzled.

Before moving to Barca, Graham Hansen picked up her third Bundesliga title, her fifth German cup and scored 12 goals in 27 games in all competitions. In 22 league games, she provided 25 assists.

Now, in Spain, there are new ways to improve and new things to learn.

“For me, it was a new adventure,” she says, talking about her decision to move on.

“[Barcelona] were very honest that it was their first time in the Champions League final [last season] and they wanted to build on that. As the season progressed, I also felt that we had a good possibility of doing great in [the Champions League].

“In terms of how we’re playing, we are taking so many big steps. It’s been a journey and it still is. I don’t think anyone is expecting us, or considering us, as a winner this year, but for us it’s all about the journey.

“We are taking that step by step and eventually, the way we work, I am very sure that we will get there.”

Like Barcelona in 2019, both of Graham Hansen’s Champions League final defeats came at the hands of the European powerhouse of women’s football: Lyon. The French giants have won the competition four years in a row now, and a record six times in total.

They are a prime example of the rewards that are waiting for those who invest in the women’s game. It’s a point that Visa – the sponsor of UEFA women’s football – is also trying to get across.

Graham Hansen is one of many athletes who form its Team Visa, a group of Europe’s elite female footballers who the company consult with as part of their sponsorship.

“They want to show that with investment, you can move the women’s game forward,” she explains.

“They are also very eager to help the women’s game grow. They see the potential in the game, which is very, very cool when it’s a big name and a big brand involved in the sport.”

One thing the players on Team Visa have spoken about is the desire for more women’s games to be broadcasted.

An improvement has already been made. This year, ahead of the competition's resumption, deals were struck around Europe to show all of the remaining Women’s Champions League games rather than just the final.

After last week's quarter-final ties, Barcelona and Wolfsburg are among the remaining teams trying to knock Lyon, who will face PSG in the competition's other semi-final, off their well-earned perch.

“Last year, at Wolfsburg, we thought that we were closer [to Lyon] than we were,” Graham Hansen admits, with the two having played out a thrilling quarter-final tie which the French side won 6-3 on aggregate.

“They’ve done an impressive job to just keep that throne. I think each year that goes by where they keep winning, it’s more and more the rest of Europe against Lyon.

"I think they also enjoy that position. You can see that more and more teams come up and get a small step closer to them.

“We will have to be humble enough to say that they have been the best team for the last five seasons. A lot of players there have been there for five years so it’s pretty much the same team which is also impressive.

“It means that the next team that wins it, there’s going to be a lot of players who have never won it.

“Hopefully we are closer this year, hopefully one of us will win this year. We will see.”

Whether it’s this year or not, though, for a player of Graham Hansen’s calibre, a Champions League title cannot be too far out of reach.