Champions League final could be Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan's last European game with Lyon
'We'll see with time,' says Toronto star ahead of Saturday's clash with powerhouse FC Barcelona
Kadeisha Buchanan has been here before, time and time again.
A key member of the Canadian women's soccer team that struck Olympic gold last summer in Tokyo, Buchanan is one of Canada's most successful players at the club level, among both men and women, having won four French league championships and four UEFA Champions League crowns with Olympique Lyonnais.
The towering Canadian centre back has an opportunity to claim a fifth Champions League title on Saturday when Lyon competes in the final of this year's tournament against FC Barcelona at Turin's Juventus Stadium (1 p.m. ET).
Saturday's contest could be Buchanan's last European game for Lyon. Her contract expires at the end of June, and there's been rumours about her joining Real Madrid. A move to the Spanish league appeals to the Canadian defender.
"Since 2019, I think Spain as a country, but also Barcelona, has been developing very well and fast. Their style of play is [fun] to watch — it's very clean, very sharp and very exciting. I feel like I fit somewhat in that Spanish style, so me looking to play in Spain is something that's probably in the near future. We'll see with time," Buchanan said.
However, there's no time to think about her contract at the moment as standing in Lyon's way is Spanish powerhouse Barcelona, which is not only the defending European champions but the most dominant club in the professional women's game over the last two years.
Barcelona looks to repeat
Barcelona destroyed Chelsea in the 2021 Champions League final in Gothenburg, putting four goals past its English opponents in the opening 36 minutes before taking its foot off the gas and en route to a 4-0 victory to claim its first European title.
Now they are back for more after barely breaking a sweat through the earlier rounds of this season's competition. Barca went a perfect 6-0 in the group stage, and then followed that up by dismantling Spanish rivals Real Madrid and German side Wolfsburg over two legs in the quarter-finals and semifinals, respectively. Domestically, the Catalan club three-peated as Spanish league champions by winning all 30 of its games by a combined score of 159-11.
Barcelona is littered with world-class players, but the pick of the bunch is captain Alexia Putellas. The reigning FIFA world player of the year is a nightmare for opposing defenders to handle, and she leads the tournament in scoring with 10 goals. Buchanan, a 26-year-old from Brampton, Ont., faced Putellas back in February when Canada played Spain at the Arnold Clark Cup invitational tournament in England. In a tight 1-0 win for the Spaniards, it was Putellas's goal in the 21st minute that was the difference.
Undoubtedly, Lyon goes into Saturday's contest as the underdog, but Buchanan and her French teammates should not be overlooked. For one thing, Lyon is the most successful team in Champions League history with seven titles to their credit, and this is its unprecedented 10th appearance in the final, all since 2010. One of those victories came in the 2019 final in Budapest in a 4-1 decision over Barcelona. So, this French side knows how to win.
What's more, Lyon has quietly but effectively gone about its business in this year's tournament. It finished first in its opening round group ahead of German club Bayern Munich, highlighted by Buchanan scoring two goals against Benfica of Portugal in a 5-0 victory last October.
WATCH | Canada's Buchanan leads Lyon to victory over Benfica:
Lyon impressive in knockout wins
Impressive knockout round wins over Italian giants Juventus (featuring fellow Canadian Julia Grosso) French rivals Paris Saint-Germain (with Ashley Lawrence and Jordyn Huitema) followed, with Buchanan playing a role in all four games.
Regarded as one of the best defenders in the world, Buchanan was on the bench against PSG in the second leg of the semifinals before being subbed on late in the game. The Canadian centre back helped Lyon lock things down after it took the lead through captain Wendie Renard's goal in the 83rd minute, and went on to punch its ticket for the final. Renard, 31, is also a highly accomplished central defender in the women's game, winning praise over the years for her attacking prowess and prolific scoring rate.
"She's a great leader, a great person. Being on the pitch with her day in and day out, her leadership is very inspirational. On the field, she's a goal scorer; as a central defender that's unheard of. But her technicality and presence on the field is so strong, so I really admire that about her," Buchanan said.
Playing alongside Renard and other top-class players has helped Buchanan develop her game since turning pro with Lyon in 2017. During four NCAA seasons at the University of West Virginia, Buchanan was known more for her athleticism and her physical presence. But ever since moving to France, her game has become more refined and balanced, and has been aided along by routinely testing herself against some of the top forwards in the world in the Champions League.
"I think my game has grown more on the technical aspect of it. I was always a physical [and] dominant player, so I've just added a bit more finesse to my game and a bit more composure to my completion of pass technique. I think I've added that throughout the five years I've been with OL," Buchanan said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.