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‘It’s really hard to take the ball from Macario, but it makes me a better player’ - Lyon's NXGN star Sombath on training with the best

15:00 EAT 25/03/2022
Alice Sombath Lyon 2021-22
Despite being far from the most famous member of the squad, the teenage defender has caught the eye for the seven-time European champions

For any player, signing for Lyon, seven-time winners of the Women’s Champions League, is a big deal.

In Alice Sombath’s case, it was even bigger, as she was just 16 years old when she did it.

Fast forward only 12 months and she was starting at centre-back in the opening game of Lyon’s season, alongside Wendie Renard, a legend of the global game.

So when GOAL asks Sombath about that day and her senior debut, a smile flashes across the face of the NXGN 2022's sixth-ranked teenage footballer in the world.

“For a whole year, I trained without playing,” she says. “So of course, when I finally got the chance to play, I was extremely happy because it was kind of like a reward for all the work that I put in over the year before.

“All of the players were super supportive of me before I came in and I knew that it would go well. I was not stressed or anything about it. I was more excited and happy to finally get there than anything else.”

That was certainly reflected in her performance. Composed and intelligent in a 3-0 win over Reims, she came in for praise from her manager, Sonia Bompastor, after the game.

It was Bompastor, then in her role as director of the academy, that first spotted Sombath and wanted to recruit her from rivals Paris Saint-Germain.

“My last year at PSG, things weren't going well in the squad, so I was looking,” the young defender explains. “Then, when Lyon came and offered me a contract, I became interested, especially also because I kind of wanted to see further than Paris, where I'd been my whole life.

“The other factor is that PSG took a lot of time to offer me a contract because I was so young at the time. Lyon, from the moment they approached me, showed a lot of willingness to sign me and I really felt that. I felt the interest.

“Before I came to Lyon, my main worry, if I could say that, was that there's a big rivalry between Lyon and PSG. The fact that I was coming from PSG, I was like, 'Oh my god, how am I going to be treated by the other players in Lyon?'

“But everyone ended up being super nice and everything went well. In terms of when I arrived in Lyon, I kind of realised what it meant to be a professional, in terms of structure and things like that. It was really different.”

France international Amel Majri was one of the players who made sure Sombath, who had left home for the first time, and the other youngsters felt welcome, driving them to and from training every day.

Ada Hegerberg, too, was someone who the 18-year-old picks out as helping her to settle in because of the way she simply brought “joy” to group and improved everybody’s day.

As one of the best strikers in the world, Hegerberg’s presence helps in another way, too.

“The fact that I'm defending against top players every day allows me to have a better perception of the game,” Sombath explains. “I become a better defender because I don't always play against players of that level.”

There is so much top talent for the teenager to test her ability against in training. Be it a Ballon d'Or winner in Hegerberg; a player who was player of the match in a Champions League final, Delphine Cascarino; or one of the best forwards France has ever produced, Eugenie Le Sommer.

There is one, though, who tests her the most: “Catarina Macario. She protects the ball really, really well. It's really hard to take the ball from her.”

All of these chances to develop against the best are complemented by the world-class centre-backs she is surrounded by every day. As well as Renard, Lyon boast France star Griedge Mbock Bathy and Olympic gold medallist Kadeisha Buchanan in the squad.

“I feel grateful to train with those players and I look up to them every day,” Sombath says. “I try to get little pieces from their game to apply to my own game.

"It makes it, of course, a bit harder to get playing time because it's harder to take their spot, but it's a bigger challenge that I'm working towards. The goal is to become like them.”

Having had a taste of what it is like to be a regular member of this Lyon team this season, Sombath is hungry for more – but she is patient, too.

“I'm going step by step,” she concludes. “In the first year, I didn't play. This year, I'm playing a bit more.

“The goal is simply to really establish myself as the starting centre back in Lyon in the next few years."

With her attitude, ability and the people she is surrounded by, that is certainly achievable.