This article was first published in the 2018 UEFA Women’s Champions League final programme. Buy the programme here to read the original article.
The dominant European player of the 2000s, Prinz’s goals propelled both Frankfurt and Germany to huge success. Prinz scored with one minute to go in the inaugural UEFA Women’s Cup final of 2002 to confirm Frankfurt’s 2-0 success against Umeå, was superb when they reclaimed the title four years later – striking right at the end of the second leg in the decider versus Potsdam – and was again crucial when the German side became the first three-time winners in 2008. Aside from her finishing, Prinz brought an athleticism and competitive nous that few matched at the time or since. She spent her whole playing career in her hometown (including an early spell with FSV Frankfurt), other than a brief stint in the United States with Carolina Courage.
The brilliant Brazilian has become a world star but it was Sweden she made a second home. At just 18 she moved to Umeå in 2004 and went straight into the team for the semi-final with Brøndby IF, scoring in both legs. Then in the final with Frankfurt, Marta struck three goals over two legs in an incredible 8-0 aggregate success. She was to help Umeå to further finals in 2007 and 2008, suffering narrow defeats, and after a spell in the US came back to Sweden with Tyresö, making the 2014 decider in Lisbon which was won by Wolfsburg. After moving on to Rosengård she returned to America in 2017, but not before taking Swedish nationality. Her skill level has probably been unmatched by any other female football player.
Conny Pohlers’s record as the all-time top scorer was taken by her former Potsdam team-mate in November 2015, even as Mittag has reinvented herself from a centre forward to a player comfortable out wide. Like Pohlers, Mittag also scored on her European debut in Potsdam’s 6-0 defeat of Montpellier Hérault SC in September 2004, and also struck in the final against Djurgårdens IF. Mittag’s second European title with Potsdam came in 2010 and she has continued to star since her 2012 move to Rosengård, who she rejoined last year after spells at Paris and Wolfsburg. Like Prinz and Marta, Mittag never finished as the season’s leading scorer in this competition but over a decade has overtaken them all to be the first to 50 UEFA women’s club goals.
Nobody has scored more final goals than Pohlers with eight, and her four titles came with three different clubs – Pohlers’s incredible strike-rate in the top games ensured her place in the competition’s pantheon. She managed a hat-trick on her European debut for Potsdam against Montpellier in 2004 and by the end of that season she had managed a record 14 goals. That included three over the two legs of the final, something she matched for Frankfurt against Umeå in 2008 (as well as two in Potsdam’s 2006 loss to Frankfurt). In her final two seasons she claimed more titles with Wolfsburg, managing two hat-tricks on their run to the 2014 final after which she retired as, along with Viola Odebrecht, the first four-time winner.
The Irish goalkeeper long held the European appearance record and played a crucial role in Arsenal’s superb string of performances in this tournament’s opening decade, capped by their against-the-odds defeat of Umeå in the 2007 final. Byrne kept two clean sheets as the Gunners won 1-0 on aggregate and in Arsenal’s 12 European seasons they reached the last eight every time and the semis on six occasions, Byrne a stalwart in each of those campaigns. She joined Arsenal in 2000 and remained until 2016, aiding them to 11 league titles and nine FA Women’s Cups. She retired in 2017 after a brief spell at Brighton and Hove Albion LFC.
No one scored at a faster rate than Ljungberg in this competition’s early years and but for a string of injuries she would have reached 50 long before Mittag, and Umeå might have managed more than their two titles. Prolific in leading the line but with no shortage of skill or physical presence, Ljungberg struck ten goals in Umeå’s run to their 2003 victory, including three across the two legs of the final with Denmark’s Fortuna Hjørring. She also played a role in Umeå’s victorious 2004 campaign, though was injured by the time the final arrived – and perhaps crucially also sat out the 2002 and 2008 deciders with Frankfurt. That she missed so many games, yet scored so many goals, is proof of how good she was.
There have been few more effective defenders in UEFA women’s club football and none more successful – Renard is the only centre-back in the select band of four-time winners. Martinique-born Renard has spent her entire senior club career at Lyon, winning the French league every season since her debut campaign of 2006/07, not to mention their record-equalling four European triumphs. Renard reads the game superbly and her height not only makes her a dominant presence in defence, it is more than useful at the other end – hence her decent goal return, including the opener in the 2011 decider against Potsdam, one of five clean sheets in her six final appearances. She even got a hat-trick this season [2017-18] against KKPK Medyk Konin.
Only one player has struck past Wendie Renard’s Lyon in a final – Müller, with the only goal in 2013 at Stamford Bridge. To prove it was no fluke, Müller got the winner again 12 months later as Wolfsburg beat Marta’s Tyresö 4-3 in Lisbon. That was her second goal of the game and a competition-leading tenth of the season. The Wolfsburg triumphs were extra special to the striker, who had joined the club in 2005 when they had just been relegated, a surprise move for a world and European champion with Germany. As Wolfsburg were transformed from a second-tier team to back-to-back UEFA Women’s Champions League winners, Müller was front and centre (and indeed centre forward), right from scoring 36 goals in the initial promotion season.
Known as Fatmire Bajramaj for most of her career prior to marrying fellow Kosovan-born footballer Enis Alushi, the playmaker’s breathtaking skills were to earn her this title in consecutive seasons – with different clubs. The first was in 2009 for Duisburg, the club where her senior career had begun five years earlier, and she was among the scorers in the final against WFC Zvezda-2005. She then joined Potsdam and helped them to victory in 2010, striking in the decisive shoot-out with Lyon. However, Lyon had their revenge a year later against Potsdam and 12 months on beat her new club Frankfurt. Another final defeat followed against Frankfurt in 2015 with Paris – after the game Alushi revealed she was pregnant and subsequently retired.
Impressively for a player most known for her midfield ability, Abily’s hat-trick against BIIK-Kazygurt in the round of 16 (on the night she equalled Byrne’s appearance record) took her to 42 goals in Europe for Lyon – the most in the competition for a single club. She was a teenager when she first appeared in the UEFA Women’s Cup for Montpellier in 2004, featuring in their run to the 2005/06 semi-finals, and since joining Lyon for the second time in 2010, Abily has been integral to their European domination. She also has 13 league titles to her name – ten with Lyon, two at Montpellier and one in the United States for FC Gold Pride. A brilliant all-round midfielder and on-pitch leader, and a 2012 final scorer against Frankfurt.