The influential midfield stalwart’s set to leave the French giants after eight trophy-laden years at the end of the season but not without one last title in the bag, writes Martin Whiteley.
When Japan midfielder Saki Kumagai recently announced that she has decided to say au revoir to Lyon when her contract runs out at the end of this campaign, it signalled the end of an era.
The 30-year-old has spent eight terrific seasons with the French champions and helped them claim every trophy available multiple times over. Although out of the Champions League this season after losing to national rivals PSG — who drew 1-1 with Barcelona in the first leg of their semi-final, with Bayern Munich 2-1 up against Chelsea in the other tie — Kumagai could still finish her time in Lyon with yet more silverware.
With Lyon looking for a 15th straight Division 1 Feminine title, they are currently just one point behind leaders PSG with five games left to play after thrashing Guingamp 5-0 on the road on Saturday.
Kumagai’s final top-of-the-table showdown could prove a title decider on May 29th, with the champions having home advantage as they look to make amends for the 1-0 loss they suffered at PSG back in November.
If it ends in triumph for Kumagai at Lyon it will bookend a glittering spell, a journey that began when she left Japanese outfit Urawa Reds in 2011 to join Frauen-Bundesliga side FFC Frankfurt in Germany before winning a move to the French top flight two seasons later.
The Sapporo-born midfielder quickly established herself in the starting line-up for the French powerhouse and celebrated a domestic double at the end of her first season in 2014.
Lyon would repeat the feat for the next three seasons and, after a year when the Coupe de France Feminine trophy vacationed in Paris, Kumagai has enjoyed doubles in the last two campaigns. She has also played a significant part in the team being able to hold the Champions League trophy aloft on the last five occasions.
Although mainly played as a defensive midfielder during her time in Lyon, Kumagai has shown her versatility when asked in certain circumstances to take her place at the heart of the defence.
Kumagai was a finalist in 2015-16 voting for the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award. In the end, she finished fourth with team-mates Ada Hegerberg and Amandine Henry occupying the top two positions. The duo, though, would have seen at close quarters the impact that their number five in the centre of the park had on helping to nullify the threat posed by their opponents.
As one of the most influential players during Lyon’s success, Kumagai, who will turn 31 in October, will have a great many clubs queuing up to secure her services. Experience and having that winning culture ingrained into her are just two of her many attributes she would add to any team she decides to join.
Whether that is going back home to join the newly-formed WE League with Kumagai’s first club Urawa Reds, staying in Europe, or sampling some of the other offerings available worldwide, one thing is for sure: the club will need to be super competitive with a clear vision to be in with a chance of signing this true superstar.
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