“My aim is never to win the best awards but I obviously want to be the best,” Lucy Bronze says. “I don’t care about being known as the best, I don’t care about the title, but I want to be the best at what I do.”
The England right-back, crowned as Fifa’s The Best women’s player of the year on Thursday, is not your standard award winner. The 29-year-old is only the second defender awarded one of Fifa’s top prizes, after Fabio Cannavaro.
She is not a Marta, Megan Rapinoe or Mia Hamm – players who score for fun and and ooze skill and technical ability. Bronze is technically astute but more notably she is a battler. Tough by name (her middle name and mum’s maiden name) and tough by nature.
The young Bronze “probably would have laughed” if you told her she would end up as the best player in the world, but she would also have quipped, “I know I’m going to be good”, with all the confidence and belief that is one of her most powerful characteristics.
“I’ve always had it running through me, it’s just been built into me, competing with my brother and sister from such a young age, always trying to be better than them, always trying to be confident in myself; I know what a difference that makes,” she says, seated in Manchester City’s academy stadium, having had an 8am start and training, the glamour of the online awards ceremony well and truly over.
“Sometimes I’ve maybe strived for goals that I’m thinking deep down, ‘This isn’t possible’, but I’m going to go for it, I’m going to believe in myself and try and get myself to the top.”
It is that drive, coupled with physicality and grit, that has taken the pacy full-back into the elite alongside players she admired growing up. “Alongside Marta? That’s crazy,” she says with a laugh.
That drive has been critical in forcing her out of her comfort zone, taking her from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Sunderland’s academy and first team, the University of North Carolina (which churns out World Cup winners like a factory production line), Everton, back-to-back league titles with Liverpool, domestic trophies at Manchester City and three Champions League titles with Lyon. Now, she is back at City, not for comfort, but driven by unfinished business, a desire to win Europe’s premier prize with an English side and have success with England.
“I have always been that person who wanted to be challenged, wanted to push, always got the next thing in mind, wanting to do something different or prove myself,” Bronze says. “There’s always a small part of me that needs to prove myself. I don’t even know who I am doing it to, but there’s just something inside of me to do it every single game, keep shaking it up, keep doing something different to keep myself on my toes.”
This year has been difficult for everyone. Bronze is the first to say her form has been hampered by injury: “I got hit with an injury that I’ve been struggling with the entire time I’ve been back home, but I’m kind of getting my feet back on the ground now.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been in my best form yet. I’ve not had my best game in a City shirt, I know that for sure. I’m just excited that I’ve got that to come for me after Christmas.”
In a year of uncertainty for all players, this award feels like a reward for more than form in a set time frame. “For me [it] is more an accumulation of successes I’ve had over two, three, four years,” Bronze says.
Alongside the confidence and swagger on the pitch exists a much more unassuming and limelight-dodging person off it. As Bronze’s star has shone brighter she has been forced somewhat to embrace being a role model but is “more proud of the people I’m representing when I win these awards and when I get nominated” than of the awards themselves.
“This is really not good but all my trophies are still in boxes,” she says, laughing again. “I don’t want to be that person that’s showing off – that’s not my style. I like winning them but then they go in the cupboard and that’s that.”
Has being the best player in the world sunk in? “I still don’t have my hands on the trophy,” she says. “So until I get that and I see my name engraved on it I probably won’t believe it.”
When she does get her hands on it, someone else has laid claim, her brother Jorge, whose birthday was on the day of the announcement.
“He texted me straight afterwards and was like: ‘Brilliant birthday present. You’ll have to give that trophy to me now and I can put it on the mantlepiece in my new house.’ I was like: ‘You can have it because I always keep putting them in the cupboard, so if you want to put that out on yourself you’re more than welcome to it.’”