Photography: Joan Monfort/AP
There was a moment just before the break when Chelsea left-back Niamh Charles thought he’d done it. It is the escape from the one-on-one duel with Caroline Graham Hansen of Barcelona at the umpteenth request with the ball in his possession. Charles skated free from the attacker, who hurried to his feet in front of the benches, with all the enthusiasm of a child who has just beaten his older brother in a card game for the first time. Except it was a false alarm, the referee’s whistle halted Charles’ charge and carried the ball back towards where Graham Hansen was fouled by the England player.
As in Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona, Charles’ flank quickly became the focal point of Barcelona’s attack, leaving Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson brutally exposed on the left side of the third defence. . It was a family story. In the 2021 Champions League final, Barcelona left behind inexperienced full-backs Charles and Jess Carter who scored four goals in 36 minutes.
Related: Barcelona and Graham Hansen put an end to Chelsea’s Women’s Champions League dream
Two years later, in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea conceded in under four minutes. Graham Hansen was the architect, driving towards the edge of the box as the Chelsea players drifted away from her, before unleashing a wicked left-footed shot into the far corner. In contrast to the final, a collapse was avoided, but the gap in class between the two teams was more than noticeable.
At the Camp Nou, which started to swell from around 15 minutes when fans filtered in for early kick-off at the end of the working day, Graham Hansen was rampant and ruthless as she wreaked havoc on Chelsea’s left flank. The Norwegian striker would put the ball in the back of the net again early, this time in the ninth minute, after dodging in front of Charles to collect the ball dropped for her by Eriksson before the VAR disallowed the attempt for controlling the ball with his arm in the process.
However, there was no stoppage for the striker, who would have left Charles on the ground before the half-hour mark before choosing Marta Torrejon to shoot over the bar.
Charles has struggled, but there can be little shame in fighting to contain one of the best wingers in the game, one who is criminally underrated. The fact that Graham Hansen has never even made the shortlist for the Ballon d’Or, frankly, makes a mockery of the award which aims to recognize the best players in the world. After being left off the list in the year Barcelona prevailed in that 4-0 Champions League final victory over Chelsea, the striker felt the need to respond on Twitter, such was the clamor over her absence of him.
“To all those wondering. It’s all right,” he said. “We won the treble and we are working hard to achieve it again. All that matters and the only thing that matters.
Also absent that year, 2022, was Aitana Bonmati, who is the metronome of Barcelona’s attack and whose connection with Graham Hansen against Chelsea was a highlight. It was fitting, therefore, that the goal which would have given Barcelona a two-goal lead in the draw, albeit with Chelsea recovering one thanks to fellow Norwegian striker Guro Reiten, should come from the deadly Bonmati-Graham Hansen axis.
Released by Mariona Caldentay, Bonmati’s deft first touch allowed her to widen Chelsea’s half, passed the ball to Graham Hansen and the striker’s shot was only cleared into the net from inside by an overloaded Carter , with goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger beaten. Spain’s Alexia Putellas may be the flagship of a Barcelona side with a legacy of talent who have coped unfailingly well with the loss of brilliance following a cruciate injury on the eve of last year’s European Championships, but it’s Norway’s Graham Hansen who is the driving force behind Barcelona’s unstoppable wide game.
It is rumored that the golden girl of Norwegian women’s football and the first woman to win the Ballon d’Or, Ada Hegerberg, may be tempted by the Catalan club to step away from eight-times European champions, Lyon. She would be a Galactico-style signature. In Graham Hansen, however, who extended his contract with the Catalan club in January until June 2026, Barcelona have a quality Norwegian striker who deserves a similar spotlight.