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The Atltico Madrid forward discusses last years Champions League final, Twitter rumours and why she left Barcelona

It hurt, Toni Duggan says, it hurt a lot. It remains raw, and serves as inspiration. All that time, all that effort, the expectation, and it was over before it had really begun. The England striker had reached her first Champions League final and so had Barcelona, her club, yet after five minutes in Budapest they were a goal down to Lyon, the competitions winners three years running. After 15, it was two. After 30, it was four. I wanted the ground to suck me in; you just want the game to end, Duggan says. Instead, there was an hour to endure, empty but for regret. There isnt an adequate word for it. It was so…, it was just like

You dont want that for womens football, you dont want that for yourself, to be part of that, Duggan says. Im a positive person. I was saying: were going to win it, were going to win it. I believed in the team, but when that happens against Lyon youve got a mountain to climb. On the pitch, I still had belief but its more anger and frustration and embarrassment. I watched Istanbul and that was a mountain too but Liverpool have history, theyve been in finals, won trophies. With Barcelona, it was new and Lyon have won and won and won and won and it was so easy. It was really difficult to take.

The family had travelled over and you feel so much like youve let people down. Naturally, people arent going to say that, but it was an amazing achievement to get there and one day Ill look back, but that day I was devastated.

Not everyone shared her tears. A lot of the Barcelona girls are young, 22, 23, and theyre getting selfies with their medal and stuff. Im not criticising: its amazing to reach a Champions League final at 22, make history for your hometown club, but I was in a different mind-set, she explains. Id been to semi-finals with City. I was always that close. Id been defeated by Lyon so much. And I felt this was the day. I just felt it. And it wasnt. I dont know, maybe my expectations were higher. I was so upset. They were trying to console me: dont worry, weve done well, but I was in a different place.

Soon, she really was: a different city, a different club, but the same aim. On Wednesday, Atltico Madrid, the club Duggan joined this summer, domestic double winners last season, face City in the round-of-16 second leg having drawn 1-1 in England. The girls want to create history, reach the next round for the first time. I cant wait, she says. A big part of signing for Atltico was the Champions League. There were other clubs interested, good offers, but they werent in it.

One was Manchester United, they said. That literally just stemmed from Twitter, Duggan laughs. Abbie McManus and Mary Earps, good friends, signed and it just grows and grows and grows and grows, but I was never close to signing. It was [weird]. People assumed because theyd seen it on Twitter. Ive never really been in that position before: I dont think womens football itself has. When I was at City, there was this thing about me going out with Sergio Agero and I was like: this is news to me. Honestly, its like: God bless the mens players because they get it every week. Oh my God. I just laughed it off.

Its the easy option to go home: my familys there, boyfriend, friends. Thats the thing people dont realise. The men can bring the family over. Its easier financially. Id love that opportunity; Id probably be in Spain my whole career. But [the salary] doesnt allow it. Therell be a time I go home: my mum wants me to already. But its a nice lifestyle, too. I was speaking to [Kieran] Trippier and he said the same. I played in England, at the top level, for years and won everything. Im glad I took this opportunity. Spains an amazing place to play.

Toni Duggan (left) tussles with Manchester Citys Lauren Hemp during the first leg of the Champions League tie between the two sides two weeks ago. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images

But why not stay at Barcelona? Its about being happy. I was happy but the football was a little bit frustrating. They have an identity, a philosophy, which I enjoy but I felt it didnt get the best out of me as a No 9. I looked at Atltico, where I would fit, spoke to the manager and president. I played them last year and knew their style, the supporters. And I turn up and it feels like a family already. I havent yet scored as many as I did there to start with, but Im more involved in the game, more comfortable, more happy with my performances.

Atltico also hosted last years mens Champions League final, and Duggans family are huge Liverpool fans. Talks hadnt started yet, she laughs. It wouldve been a big pulling factor, that: two tickets to the final. I always try to get my brothers tickets, Liverpool got there and they were like: Tonill sort it. I literally tried everything without being too cheeky, but this time I couldnt.

Now the focus is another final of her own. Another shot at Lyon, the club that sometimes feels invincible? Yeah, they do, Duggan says. The financial support has helped them bring in top players, unbelievable. Other clubs dont have that luxury. Consistently winning breeds success, too. Teams fear them. I used to feel that a bit at City: I wouldnt say it was easy but come 70 minutes their mind-set would be were against City, well never win. As soon as someone breaks Lyon down we came close in preseason and people see theyre not invincible, it might change.

I speak to the four English girls there and they tell me: all they care about is the Champions League. At Barcelona, our aim wasnt to win the Champions League. There was a sense everyone was happy to be there, a fantastic achievement, but I dont care who youre playing, its a one-off: you can win that football match. I was like this is the day. It didnt happen, but its inspired me to try again.

It hasnt been the easiest start. The Atltico manager, Jos Luis Snchez Vera, left for personal reasons 10 days before the first City game, they were hammered by her former club, and theyve suffered injuries. But Duggan insists: the spirit to deal with all this, I cant tell you say how strong it is thats got to be a reason they won the league the last two seasons. Were playing well now, winning, Im really enjoying it.

Toni Duggan: Its City but its tough whoever you face. We lost in Kazakhstan last year. Thats the Champions League, its amazing. Photograph: Pablo Garcia

Facing her former club was a nice draw. I honestly dont care; I just want to get through, Duggan laughs. I care that my family could come [to the first leg] easily. I was like: Yes! City! Theyre the most supportive family and friends I could wish for. In Barcelona, every game, someone came.

Here too. I feel like a travel agent, always sorting flights, but I couldnt do this without them. The fans gave me a good reception there too, as always: theyre amazing. Its nice they appreciate you, theres respect, but if a couple stick the finger up or said I was crap I wouldnt blink. Its football. Its City but its tough whoever you face. We lost in Kazakhstan last year. Thats the Champions League, its amazing. Thats why I came. I absolutely love the competition. I want to be a part of it and I want to be part of it to the end.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/oct/29/toni-duggan-interview-atletico-madrid-manchester-city