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'The Spanish league isn't sh*t, Barcelona are just really good' - Women's Champions League triumph proved people wrong, says Caroline Graham Hansen

09:00 BST 21/05/2021
Caroline Graham Hansen Barcelona Women 2020-21
The Norway international nearly quit football three years ago, but was crowned a champion of Europe on Sunday as Barca beat Chelsea 4-0

A dream come true. That’s how Barcelona winger Caroline Graham Hansen describes winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League for the first time, a title that has eluded her for many years, but one she could finally hold in her hands on Sunday.

That’s how many players would describe it, of course, but for Graham Hansen, it was a dream she was ready to give up chasing only three years ago.

The Norwegian is now rightly considered one of the greatest players in the world, but for a long time, injuries threatened to stop her reaching that point. They were so damning, in fact, that after losing the UWCL final in 2018, she was ready to walk away.

“I was serious when I called home and said, 'I'm done. I want to quit',” she tells Goal. “I was so far down. I was injured again. I couldn't perform at my best level. I didn't have any fun anymore. At that moment, after so many rehabs, I didn't have any motivation to keep getting smashed in the face.

“You can't always win, but it was the way it happened, always being injured. It was not because you weren’t necessarily the best player, or you weren’t performing at your best. I was not performing at my best because I kept being unlucky.

“Of course, that's also part of sport, but you have vacation, you get back and then eventually you find your way again. I did, luckily for me. It's a fun and nice story when you then win the Champions League three years later in the way we did. It makes all the hours you put down really worth it. It's also a motivation to just keep going, no matter what happens.”

Two years on from losing 4-1 in the final against Lyon, being 3-0 down after 20 minutes, Barcelona produced an almost identical performance in Gothenburg last weekend, with Chelsea on the receiving end. Graham Hansen scored the fourth and final goal after just 36 minutes, the score reading 4-0 at half-time, and full-time.

For those that have watched Barcelona this season – top of the league in Spain without a single point dropped, 136 goals scored and five conceded in 27 games – the level of performance was no surprise.

Yet, against a Chelsea side stacked with talent, who play in a league some call the best in the world, it served as a statement.

“I think it's funny how people talk about our league. They mostly look at the results that we have every weekend, which are big numbers, and just assume that it's because everyone is so sh*t,” Graham Hansen says. “But the fact is that people are not sh*t - we are just really, really good.

“I think also, going into the game, a lot of English press were very confident that Chelsea would go out there and win it, based on the fact that they were playing in a stronger league.

“But if you look behind the results, they played Atletico Madrid - and Atletico Madrid had a good chance to beat Chelsea - and they are sixth in our league. Maybe sixth is not the right position for Atletico Madrid this season, but they're a good team.

“The same way as we beat Man City over two games, they were a really good team as well. We beat PSG, also, which was a really good team, which beat Lyon.

“It's funny how the English press still then, after all these games that we play, assumed it would just be for Chelsea to go out there and run over us, if you can say it in this way.

“Everybody had a lot of motivation to go out there and prove everyone wrong based on the final loss two years ago, and also everybody believing that the Spanish league is so sh*t, but it's not.

“Of course, we have a lot of improvement to do around it, but that's not up to us. We need help from the federation and they have to do a better job. When it comes down to individuals and teams in the league, there's a lot of good players in it. They just don't get the recognition they deserve.

“Hopefully our Champions League victory now can contribute to more journalists and experts actually looking our way and giving us the well-deserved recognition our league also deserves.”

Graham Hansen, who ranked at No.6 in Goal 50 last year, will certainly be a contender for the individual accolades when they come around, ending the UWCL with three goals and five assists from nine games.

For Barcelona, head coach Lluis Cortes says that the aim is to continue to win on this stage.

“I don't think you should expect anyone to do the same [as Lyon],” Graham Hansen says, referring to the five successive European titles the French side won before Barcelona snapped their streak this year. “Anything is possible, but I think to put the pressure on any team to do that is insane.”

However, crediting consistency for the Catalans’ triumph this season, the winger is optimistic about the future of this team.

“I think it's a work in progress,” she says, a scary thought given the levels reached this season. “We still have to continue to be humble and work every day. You have to work hard every day if we want to make what [Lluis] said happen, and that's about consistency. Consistency is key. Without it, we won't win any more Champions League titles, for sure.”