Ellie Carpenter: "I couldn't be enjoying myself any more"
The last time Ellie Carpenter set foot in France, it was to play in the biggest tournament in women’s football; the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
12 months later, Carpenter is back in France and this time it’s as a member of arguably the biggest club in women’s football - Olympique Lyonnais.
Six time UEFA Women's Champions League winners, 14 time Division 1 Féminine winners and 9 time Coupe de France Féminine winners, in the past decade there have been few teams in world sport that have been as dominant as Lyon.
It’s understandable that when such a team shows interest, you listen.
“I think when the opportunity came about, I thought it was the right time for me to make my move to Europe,” Carpenter said.
“I wanted to be out of my comfort zone as well, and I have definitely felt uncomfortable here a lot of times already.
When you are out of your comfort zone, that's when you are pushed so that’s what I wanted to be. I just want to be the best player I can be.”
Sitting in an apartment in Lyon, on the east side of the river, it is easy to forget that Ellie Carpenter was once just a kid from Cowra.
In fact, that time was not that long ago. It underscores her rapid maturation and improvement that, just five years ago, Carpenter was still playing junior football.
Since her breakout debut season with the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Westfield W-League, the 20 year old has found herself gracing some of the biggest stages in world football - from the Olympics, the FIFA Women’s World Cup and to Providence Park in Portland.
That meteoric rise has worked to prepare Carpenter for the challenges of a new city, new language and an environment where success is expected.
“It's been a big change for me coming from the [United] States,” she said.
“I feel like I'm really settling in well here and I couldn't be enjoying myself any more. [I’m] very happy to be here and I have settled into my apartment now, in training and got a few games under my belt.
It's been a really good month and I can't wait for the next exciting opportunities and moments with the team.”
That team is one that is truly full of galácticos with Lyon captain Wendie Renard, French national team captain Amandine Henry, Norweigan striker Ada Hegerberg, German midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán, Japanese captain Saki Kumagai and Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan just some of the names on the roster.
The calibre of players has made for a training environment that Carpenter is not only enjoying, but thriving in.
“I feel like every training is so intense to what I am used to,” she recalled.
It’s another level up, and so exciting getting to know that you are going to go to training, you are going to push yourself. You want to win, every game, every small sided game with your team."
“Everyone's just so competitive and you can feel that on the pitch and, playing with some of the players, it's just so easy and fluid. It's just so fun and enjoyable.
“I definitely feel like just in the month that I've been here, I’ve definitely learned new things and improved as a player already. I'm really excited for the next couple years here.”
The lessons for Carpenter have not just been on the pitch, but off it. While she admits she knew only a little French before heading over, thanks to lessons three times a week with a tutor, the full back is also adapting to the language quickly.
“I can have a conversation here and there. I can order something at a cafe which is, most important thing,” she laughed.
“I have French lessons around three times a week, so it's pretty full on. But you need it because we speak it in training as well. There's a couple of foreign players on the team but most of them speak French.
“I know some soccer terms, which is important; to tell people where you want the ball. I would just say the basics, but I'm actually really excited to hopefully be fluent in a couple years.”
While Carpenter has already notched up a couple of minutes with Lyon in recent days, the next couple of weeks could see her play her first competitive matches for Les Fenottes, and they couldn’t be bigger.
Heading to Spain, Lyon will compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions League as defending champions - four time defending champions. No club has been able to release their grip on the trophy since 2015.
For Carpenter, the Champions League is a an exciting proposition as she aims to become the first Australian woman to lift that trophy.
“It's such exciting times ahead,” Carpenter said.
“I remember a couple years ago when I was actually watching Lyon in a final. I think it was maybe when I was in America, we were watching the Champions League final and I was thinking it would be so sick to play Champions League one day, or to be in a team that competes in the Champions League in Europe.”
I've always wanted to do it and always wanted to be here and at this club. It's crazy that's actually happening but it's really exciting. I can't wait to experience my first Champions League.”
Four other Australians could potentially feature in the tournament with Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Lydia Williams and Alex Chidiac all travelling with their teams.
Quarter final victory for Lyon and Arsenal could see the Westfield Matildas face off in the semi finals. While they haven’t broached that possibility, Carpenter has been catching up with her national teammates.
“We actually haven't spoken around it with each other,” she laughed.
“I messaged Caitlin yesterday just saying when she's saying in Spain, just to catch up.”
“If we win our game and if they win theirs, we meet each other in the semi finals. We're hoping for that so that'd be really cool and exciting.”