Josephine Henning interview (Part Two): La Riviera symbolique – Brand new brushstrokes for Lyon’s champion extraordinaire
The champagne scarcely had time to burst into the Cardiff night before Olympique Lyonnais returned to the skies with the UEFA Women’s Champions League still clasped safely in their possession after penalty triumph over Paris Saint-Germain last month. Although Josephine Henning had felt take-off from that particular winners’ runway three times before, the Hollywood-style exit and diamond-encrusted days that followed felt full of novelty for the dab-hand designer/defender.
In the closing act of another memorable Champions League season, the instantly-recognisable colours of Lyon and PSG took centre-stage in the Welsh capital, with cast members from Japan to Costa Rica all vying for that perfect outcome upon the fall of the curtain. France’s two most notable women’s teams remained locked together through two hours of play, but they would be in the starkest of contrast soon after.
Josephine Henning was wearing PSG’s badge in May 2015 and felt the crashing thud of Germany teammate Mandy Islacker’s injury-time winner for Frankfurt in the Berlin final. This time, however, she was on the other side, among the substitutes as Lyon goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi drove home the crucial shootout spot-kick to wrap up a second UWCL in succession for the club, with PSG left to face the reality of at least a season outside the door of Europe’s biggest competition.
The emotions were pretty familiar for Josy, who had felt the trophy in her hands as a Turbine Potsdam player in Getafe in 2010, before two more wins, in 2013 and 2014, at VfL Wolfsburg. This was the first time she hadn’t played, though, having figured for the entirety of those previous three finals, while something else was unique about the 2017 edition.
“It’s the first time for me that we fly home right after the final,” she explained. “They said ‘40 minutes and then we leave,’ but it’s girls, so let’s say an hour!”
“Party in the locker room, then we went to the airport, had a private jet with the families, so that was nice. If you can, you have a little beer on the plane home, you go home and you sleep maybe three hours, because at 3 o’clock, we left for Saint-Tropez.
“We spent two days in Saint-Tropez with our President (Jean-Michel Aulas), which was a different world; it’s unbelievable, there’s so much money. We had those little fancy restaurants, we went on his boat to watch a game and we went to a little bar/restaurant again, and then we had this amazing hotel.
“Everything you can imagine in Saint-Tropez; the whole cliché. It’s the first time that I didn’t celebrate in the city we won; I remember the party in Madrid after we won, in London, in Lisbon.
“Every Champions League final was also amazing.”
Awash with fame, fortune and picturesque decor, St. Tropez is maybe a metaphor for taking Josy out of the ordinary, which is something she has always welcomed. Even though life and football in France, and certainly winning trophies, is not unfamiliar, the scale and setting of those Champions League celebrations certainly was, while there are many new teammates that surround her in Lyon, itself a markedly different place to her previous home of Paris.
As Josy detailed, the celebrity image of St. Tropez was there in full view, with recently-departed Roma legend Francesco Totti one A-lister the Lyon players happened to meet there. The French Riviera town is also decked in artistic history, with galleries aplenty to be found amid the sun-drenched scene.
Defensive composure might be a trait principally associated with Josy, although she is also a considerably gifted painter, speaking of art as how she sees the world. Set to wear number two for Germany at this month’s European Championship in the Netherlands, she brings up the backstory of how art has run alongside her on this successful on-field path to date, as well as how it is now also helping her to give back to a cause that matters greatly to her.
“Painting has always been a part of my life, or creativity and art in general. I went to Saarbrücken and to Potsdam to play football, and in Wolfsburg I studied health management, because health and nutrition in sport is something I’m interested in.
“I did my bachelor degree in this, and three years I studied graphic design, but in distance studies – that was hard, but really cool – and after that, I did interior design. The last two are more creative, the first was ‘this is something good and right, and you can earn money with that.’
“We all know that with a photograph or something, they don’t earn much money, but it’s something you love. I think you have to search for the best mix, but the bigger part should be that you enjoy what you do.
“I always painted, like these little skits on my laptop or on my pad, so in Lyon, I thought why not just post one (on Instagram)? So everyone was like, ‘When did you start painting?!’
“I was like, ‘What? I painted my whole life!’ The reaction was great so I decided to keep posting one now and again.
“Actually, today is my first auction and all the money will be donated to different things. Right now, it goes to childhood cancer survivors; that has also been a part of my family, so I’m happy to give something back.”
This feature is the second of the three parts to our interview, and as mentioned in the opening instalment, Josy now has her own website showcasing her work. Her collection includes acrylic and watercolour, with a neon and even a coffee painting on there to see.
Years competing at the top level and in stadiums across different continents allows you to discover more than a little about yourself, with the people and places so much travel brings a central fibre to it all. As Josy’s outlet for what she’s thinking and feeling, her artistic flair is something she’s refined from all the time she has devoted to it, and it is also a gift she can showcase or give to people.
One such example was the beautiful ‘Palms & Springs’ piece she affectionately referred to as her ‘pink baby’, which was the one she recently put up for auction. We have the privilege of seeing the finished picture of her work, but how do all those ideas and components even begin to start colliding?
“Well most of the time I have something in my head. I think it’s very private; sometimes I’m not sure if I should post this because if someone sees it they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, she thinks about that’ or ‘she’s scared of that,’ you know?
“‘Palms & Springs’ is about a friendship. You look in the same direction and you don’t have to be close or touching; you can be on your own swing but you look to the left, and you look to the right, and you see a friend.
“There’s quite a lot in that picture. I think it’s something I have, where I think about this or I feel this.
“There’s one picture where I have someone who’s not there now, but I can still feel that person, so it’s a line and then you have two faces. This is something that’s very ‘plakativ’ (striking), we say in Germany, so most people say ‘oh, this is my favourite one.’
“I’m like, ‘Yeah well, that maybe took five minutes.’ It’s hard to describe, but some things work really good, even if for you they’re not the deepest ones.”
When it comes to a canvas reserved only for the most meaningful additions (for some people at least), the body is the prime example. Tattoos are of course seen on so many footballers, with ink ranging from the superficial to the sacred, and while there is nothing complicated about the small design Josy has beneath her collarbone, it is well and truly treasured.
“I have a tattoo, it’s a V. My brother’s name is Valentin, then there’s a reason I just keep for me, and it’s also ‘victory’ because my mom survived cancer.”
Body art can be an added source of strength to carry along with you, as something that deeply signifies who you are, where you come from, or what you and those closest to you have been through. On her professional voyage, Josy is currently at club number six, and after the 2016 FA Cup success of her Arsenal stint, the move to Lyon this year brought a domestic league and cup double to accompany that European elation.
Unveiled in January alongside loan signing from Orlando Pride, U.S. striker Alex Morgan, Josy had been signed along with defensive counterpart and Canadian international Kadeisha Buchanan to significantly bolster now-departed coach Gérard Prêcheur’s side. She has seen first-hand how Club President Jean-Michel Aulas’ ambitious plans are continuing to be set in motion, but how has she re-adapted to life in France this year, and what looks or feels different to what she remembers from PSG?
“Well, the cities are different because one is a huge city; Paris is unbelievably big, and you have to know where you go, before you go. Lyon is more like you take your bike and you experience, or you go just with the girls by foot in the city.
“It’s a lot of charm, the French cities, I love it. Beautiful buildings, a lot of nice architecture, history.
“I was happy that I got to know a few more players. Ada (Hegerberg) is really young; in her head, she’s maybe 25!
“I got to know her a little bit better, and (Caroline) Seger, I met for a second time. In Paris, we didn’t do so much together, but I got to know her better and she’s a great person.
“Maro (Dzsenifer Marozsán) is there as well. Besides football, I enjoyed my painting as well and I finished my interior design studies, so I had a lot to do in the last couple of months.”
Understandably, a key driver in Josy’s departure from Arsenal was the Gunners’ absence from next season’s Champions League, although she took numerous positive memories away. At Lyon, there was relatively instant silverware, but in order to make a team work successfully you generally need a good mesh of characters who can work well together, with a bond off the field potentially invaluable on top of that.
In various ways, music has a hand in that, and describing the mix of styles that makes up the team sound at Lyon, Josy also tells how she can bring her own element to it from time to time.
“In Lyon, it’s different because you have a big Arabic culture, and urban music, in general. The DJ, I think it’s Wendie (Renard), or (Élodie) Thomis; I think it’s Thomis.
“I can listen to that, but not 30 songs in a row. Sometimes I’m the first in the gym, just to put my music on, and it’s fine, they like it.
“Ada, she came in and she said, ‘Josy, if I hear Sam Cooke, and I’m outside the door, I know it’s you!’ It’s funny, but what they hear is more like, you know when they’re driving home listening and they record those (Instagram) videos?
“Yeah, that’s not my style!”
Three seasons of Josy’s career so far have included time in French football and she rates the level of technical prowess as among the best on offer in the women’s game. Musically, however, she thinks it can all fall down a little bit sometimes in France!
“In France, there’s a rule where on the radio, you have to have something like 70 percent French songs, so what they do sometimes is translate the English songs to a French version. Something like 50 Cent in a French version, it doesn’t work; the first time I heard it, I was like ’what’s that?!’
“Shirley Cruz, though, I lived with her for a time in Paris, so we heard a lot of Spanish songs; I remember some salsa choruses with her. They’re so laid-back, but in a happy way, not boring, and I love that.
“I remember Helene Fischer was the music of the (2013) Euros in Sweden, so it can bring you together when you play a song and you remember it from a time you had. I think that’s great.”
Alongside her memories of vastly-experienced Costa Rica midfielder Cruz, who remains at PSG, Josy also remembers Spanish-language music on the first CD she ever owned.
“Yeah, Shakira! In English, it was ‘Whenever, Wherever’ (‘Suerte’).
“That was the first one, and then I think we had those ‘Bravo Hits’ CDs. Also, my mom always tells this story whenever we hear it, but you know the ‘Lambada’?
“When she was pregnant, she had the earphones and so I listened to ‘Lambada’ (made most popular in 1989 by French-Brazilian act Kaoma), then I was dancing to it when I was little. I guess she wanted it to be my song!”
The on-field rhythm hasn’t betrayed Josy as she’s tested herself in the top leagues of Germany, France and England. Beyond 2016/17’s top three of Lyon, Montpellier and PSG, she strongly doubts whether the rest of the Division 1 Féminine would survive in the second tier in Germany.
In the season just passed, there was a 14-point gap in the final table from PSG back to Marseille in 4th place, after just 22 games. Representing a club like Lyon brings many selling points, including life in a charming corner of Europe, world-class teammates and a big chance of continental success each year.
Nevertheless, plenty in the game have pondered just how beneficial it may be for some of the world’s best players to find so much less of a challenge in the majority of league games. You have to go back to 2006 and FCF Juvisy to find the last time a team other than Lyon won the league, while OL have also lifted the domestic cup on the last six occasions.
With such factors in mind, to what extent does Josy feel she is being sufficiently challenged by French football, outside of encounters with Montpellier, PSG and Champions League opponents?
“That’s always a big question when you’re playing in France – can you keep the level and concentration so high for the big games if you have all the small games? The rest after the top three is not good, but we’re successful, and so is Paris, so I think the answer is yes, you can.
“You have so many camps with the national team in between, then you have two (league) games and they’re not as good (teams), but maybe it’s not bad, because you just played against U.S. You have to focus, yes, because you have to win, but it’s not like another big fight, you know?
“Maybe that’s also good, because we don’t have so many injuries in Lyon, and I think that speaks for itself.”
At the time of Josy’s signing, Jean-Michel Aulas said that club and player would meet at the end of the season to discuss the exact length of her contract. In life and certainly in football, you can never be sure what the next day, game or season will bring, but whatever happens after this summer’s Euros, it has been a welcome return to France for Josy.
The three trophies and varying levels of off-field contentment have been particularly nice given how her last spell in the nation ended. PSG was a wonderful time in many ways, but she is grateful that from an unsatisfactory conclusion came another new beginning in England, as she explains in her own words.
“I came to Arsenal in a difficult situation, because I was injured in Paris, and Paris couldn’t help me with my injury. I don’t want to talk bad about Paris, but I have to say it’s just the fact that they couldn’t help me, and they didn’t help me to find other help.
“That was not okay, and I still think it’s not okay. At that time, I said I wasn’t going to go to the press, because that’s not my style, but if anyone asks me I’m just going to say it.
“I was a little bit lost and I had to go to Germany; I had no insurance so I had to pay everything by myself. In the end, it was a nerve in the back, so it was not a big, major thing; you work, you get an injection, and, fine.
“Now it’s easy to say, but I was on the search for four or five months, and that just kills you, mentally. I came to Arsenal just recovered from that, didn’t have any playing time, and for (manager) Pedro (Martínez Losa), I think it was hard to see what I’m able to do.
“I still had a bit to go to make it into the team, and then I made it and it was totally fine. I think he liked my style and my character.
“We’re still in contact; we wrote this morning. It was a rough start, but for me, a good time.
“I enjoyed everything; it was my second new country and I still believe it’s the best thing to travel and get to know people. It’s always about the people.”
In the third and final part, Josy gives us the personal side to the captains of the German ship, in head coach Steffi Jones and skipper Dzsenifer Marozsán. She describes why you most likely won’t find her joining Twitter, as well as sharing her idea for a new role in women’s football. There’s also life learning, her Euro 2017 entourage, a special 5-a-side selection, and even more music!
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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