A Shadow of Its Former Self: The State of German Women’s Football

Once the crème de la crème of women’s football, Germany finds itself desperately clinging on to its place in the pantheon of the game. While others have progressed, the nation so renowned for its football culture has stagnated; gone are the days of international and continental dominance.

With eight European Championships, two World Cups, and gold at the 2016 Olympics to its name, as well as boasting multiple Champions League winners, Germany was one of the few nations able to challenge the hegemony of the United States, operating as equals to the all-conquering USWNT.

But since the mid-2010s, as complacency has reared its ugly head, the DFB-Frauen and domestic clubs have found it increasingly onerous to compete with their French and Spanish counterparts. Investment has been sparse, mainstream media coverage almost non-existent and what was once a behemoth of the game is now merely dwelling in a seemingly perpetual state of mediocrity.

The Glory Days

Women’s football was always frowned upon by the patriarchal leaders of the early 20th century. Things came to a head in 1955, when the DFB banned women’s football altogether, but that didn’t stop women from pursuing footballing opportunities. Unauthorized matches were still staged and there was even an unofficial national team. When the ban was finally lifted in 1970, women were officially allowed to be members clubs again, but it wasn’t until 1982 – in the wake of unprecedented success – that a proper German women’s national team appeared.

In 1980, Horst R. Schmidt, who was working for the DFB at the time, traveled to Taiwan with one of Eintracht Frankfurt’s youth teams. During his stay, the DFB was given an invitation to the (unofficial) Women’s World Cup held there the following year. He accepted it on behalf of the federation but failed to mention that Germany didn’t even have a national team. To avoid humiliation, the DFB sent domestic champions Bergisch Gladbach to the 1981 World Cup and passed it off as a German national team. Gladbach…err Germany scored 25 goals, went unbeaten, and ended up winning the World Cup.

Following that incredible achievement – which has since been dubbed “the Miracle of Taipei” – the DFB established an official national team, but for years, the side was subjected to ridicule and sexism by the German public and media. Luckily, that mindset somewhat shifted when the DFB-Frauen won the 1989 European Championship.

In total, the Germany women have been triumphant at eight of the ten Euros they have participated in. At the 2003 World Cup in the United States, Germany defeated Sweden in the final on a golden goal by Nia Künzer to claim their first World Cup. Legendary striker and three-time World Player of the Year Birgit Prinz won the tournament’s golden boot.

Four years later, at the 2007 World Cup in Japan, the Nationalelf became the first nation to retain their crown. Thanks to goals by Prinz and Simone Laudehr, who is still going strong at Bayern München aged 33, Germany beat Brazil to claim two consecutive World Cups. The seemingly unbeatable US women’s national team has since gone on to emulate and eclipse Germany’s achievements.

Similarly to the Spanish men’s side of the late 2000s and early 2010s, Germany’s success also translated to the domestic side of the game. For a long time, the Frauen-Bundesliga was Europe’s premier competition and German clubs always performed strongly against their foreign counterparts. The first-ever UEFA Women’s Champions League was won by FFC Frankfurt in 2002 and over the next 13 years, the club would go on to collect an additional three continental titles. Turbine Potsdam and FCR (now MSV) Duisburg have won three European cups between them and Wolfsburg were anointed back-to-back champions of Europe in 2013 and 2014.

Wolfsburg celebrate their 2013 Champions League triumph (Laurence Griffiths/Getty)

Demise of the Old Guard

Since the mid-2010s, continental and international silverware has been hard to come by. Frankfurt is the last German team to win the Champions League, beating Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the 2015 final in Berlin. Equally, the national team hasn’t tasted major success since winning gold at the 2016 Olympic Games, crashing out in the quarter-finals at both the 2017 European Championship and the 2019 World Cup.

The 2017 loss to Denmark was only the second time Germany attended a Euros and left empty-handed. The first instance came all the way back in 1993 when the Nationalelf lost to Italy, who, just like Denmark, would go on to finish the tournament as runners-up.

Moreover, the DFB-Frauen also failed to qualify for next year’s Olympics. The reasons for such a downturn in fortunes are manyfold, but perhaps the two biggest causes are the retirements of legendary players and the coaching position becoming a revolving door since Silvia Neid stepped down in 2016.

The likes of Birgit Prinz, Ari Hingst, Kerstin Stegemann, Célia Šašić, Inka Grings, and Nadine Angerer all retired between 2010 and 2015, leaving behind a void nigh on impossible to fill. Decorated head coach Silvia Neid, who had been in charge since 2005, announced in 2015 that she would leave her position upon expiration of her contract following the 2016 Olympics. In true Silvia Neid fashion, she went out with a bang, as her team defeated Sweden to win the first Olympic gold medal in German women’s football history. Neid also oversaw the 2007 World Cup win and success at the 2009 and 2013 European Championships, making her the second most successful national team coach behind her predecessor Tina Theune.

Former player Steffi Jones took over following Neid’s departure, but after crashing out in the quarter-finals at the 2017 Euros, becoming the first coach to lose a home World Cup qualifier (a 2-3 versus Iceland), and dropping down to third in the FIFA World Rankings for the first time since 2009, Jones was sacked after just 543 days in charge. Horst Hrubesch took over on an interim basis between March and November 2018.

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who had been incredibly successful with Duisburg and the Swiss national team, was hired after Hrubesch’s stint ended and it’s fair to say that the team is still adapting to its current head coach.

New Kids on the Block

Football is all about microcosms and not only has Germany lost its competitive edge internationally and on the continent but within the league, the prestige of the old giants has faded. The likes of Frankfurt and Potsdam had dominated the league for years, forging a heated rivalry and being fairly strong financial powers within the context of the women’s game, but the 2010s brought about a new era of football in Germany. New clubs, backed by the economic might of their men’s Bundesliga sides, burst onto the scene; and while the vigor of the previous generation waned, their star continued to rise.

VFL Wolfsburg’s women’s department was created in 2003, but it wasn’t until they achieved a second-place finish in 2011/12 that the football world began to take notice. The following campaign, the She-Wolves won the treble, conquering the Frauen-Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League – in their first-ever season in the competition no less. The 13/14 season yielded slightly less success, as Wolfsburg only managed to retain their Bundesliga and Champions League crowns, crashing out of the Pokal in the Round of 16 against eventual winners Frankfurt.

Soon, a new but actually quite old challenger approached. Wolfsburg were dethroned by Bayern München in 14/15 and the Bavarians managed to defend their title the following season. Bayern is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, having been officially founded in 1970. An original member of the Bundesliga, Bayern were relegated in the league’s sophomore campaign and wouldn’t return for eight agonizing years. Buoyed by increased investment, Bayern bounced back in 2000. Club president Franz Beckenbauer’s new-found enthusiasm for the women’s game following the 1999 World Cup manifested in the form of a 250,000 German Mark capital injection, which catapulted them back to the top flight.

Bayern claimed their first piece of silverware of the modern era in 2012, beating heavy favorites Frankfurt 2-0 in the DFB Pokal final. Their maiden Bundesliga trophy – and first league title since 1976 – came three years later. The Bavarians went unbeaten through the 14/15 campaign, which turned out to be decisive in the title race. Wolfsburg and Bayern both won 17 games over the course of the season and the former even had a better goal difference, the deciding factor, however, was that Bayern had picked up 56 points to Wolfsburg’s 55.

Bayern almost repeated this incredible achievement the following season, but a 1-0 loss at home to reigning European champions Frankfurt spoiled back-to-back invincible campaigns. Nevertheless, they finished the Bundesliga season on top, a whopping ten points ahead of their Lower-Saxon rivals. The She-Wolves reclaimed their throne in 2016/17 and haven’t looked back, winning every league title and DFB Pokal on offer since; and they will most likely triumph again this season when football returns from its COVID-19 hiatus.

Bayern players had plenty to celebrate during a successful 14/15 campaign (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty)

Mass Exodus

It would be a disservice to Wolfsburg, who remain one of the best sides in Europe, to say that the Frauen-Bundesliga has lost its appeal, but there has been a tendency, especially recently, for players to leave for greener pastures. Two years ago, Wolfsburg and Bayern went at it in the DFB Pokal final, with the She-Wolves coming out on top after a penalty shootout. Since then, a mind-boggling array of talent has been picked off by more attractive sides from abroad.

Belgian women’s national team record-goalscorer Tessa Wullaert signed for English giants Manchester City in the immediate aftermath of Wolfsburg’s triumph, with Norwegian superstar Caroline Graham Hansen joining budding superpower Barcelona the subsequent summer.

Bayern were hit even harder. Manuela Zinsberger, Leonie Maier, Jill Roord, and Viktoria Schnaderbeck can all be found wearing the Arsenal badge nowadays, and German national team star Sara Däbritz has since departed as well, joining PSG in 2019. Even captain Melanie Leupolz’s time with the club is coming to an end. After six years with the Bavarians, the 26-year-old fan-favorite has signed for Chelsea and will join the Blues when the transfer window opens.

Investment

Like so many other women’s sports leagues around the globe, the Frauen-Bundesliga suffers from a lack of investment and media coverage. A major concern is broadcasting. Unlike the FA WSL in England, broadcasts of the German league are behind a paywall. Friday evening games are shown on Eurosport for free and other showcase games may be streamed online but generally speaking, games can only be accessed through a Magenta Sport subscription.

On paper, this is a good development and a big step forward for the women’s game as it brings in some of that sweet TV cash which has become so infamous in the men’s game. Money is a rare commodity in women’s football, so every bit of this much-needed investment should be welcomed with open arms, but all might not be as rosy as it seems.

Magenta is owned by Telekom and also carries the broadcasting rights to the 3. Liga, German and European basketball, as well as ice hockey. If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s because it isn’t. Sure, if you’re a fan of those sports, Magenta is the way to go, but unless you support a 3. Liga club or someone like Bayern, which has both a basketball and women’s football department, there is no incentive for football fans to pay for a Magenta Sport subscription.

While the new deal is sure to bring in some money in the short-term, only avid women’s football fans are tuning in. It’s not expanding the viewership base or enticing the broader public to watch Frauen-Bundesliga games, as perhaps well-promoted free broadcasts would. I’m not sure the money trickling down to clubs is enough to make up for the potential stunting of the league’s growth. There is nothing to suggest that the Magenta Sport deal has increased the German public’s interest in women’s football. Perhaps an agreement similar to that of the WSL – every game is available for free with some high-profile matches being shown on subscription-based television services – would have been more beneficial.

Magenta also doesn’t carry 2. Frauen-Bundesliga games (those can be watched on FUSSBALL.de), so they’re missing out on potential views and subscriptions from fans of clubs in that division, including some big names like Bremen and Mönchengladbach.

An unequivocally positive piece of investment is the Bundesliga’s new naming sponsor – German web-to-print company Flyeralarm. The league will be known as the Flyeralarm Frauen-Bundesliga through the 2022/23 season and in cooperation with Flyeralarm, the DFB has started a new developmental program for young players which includes coaching and business education, as well as media training.

One of the more complex issues facing the Frauen-Bundesliga is the professional status of its clubs; the majority of teams are semi-professional and players are constantly fretting about making ends meet. Moreover, it’s hamstringing the league in terms of talent distribution and being an appealing option for foreign athletes.

“Some players make €200 (a month), while others make €10,000. That’s absurd!”, German national team goalkeeper Almuth Schult said in 2019. “I hope something can be done to ensure that every woman in this league is able to play this sport professionally. But for that to happen, you have to earn more than €200 a month.”

So far, it seems that Schult’s cry for reform has fallen on deaf ears. The average monthly salary in the men’s Bundesliga is €30,000 plus performance bonuses. Salaries in the 2. Bundesliga range from €7000 to €20,000, with 3. Liga players making between €2500 and €10,000 a month. Meanwhile, the average YEARLY salary in the Frauen-Bundesliga clocks in at a meager €38,766. A discrepancy this big is unacceptable no matter your stance on equal pay or whatever insipid argument about 15-year-old boys you want to throw at the level of play in women’s football. Some 3. Liga players make €120,000 a year, whilst players in one of Europe’s best women’s leagues can’t even cover rent with their salary.

Making the league fully professional would ease the players’ financial dolor, but as we have seen in the WSL, it doesn’t guarantee that working conditions improve. Poor pitches, substandard floodlighting, and crude broadcasting would still bedevil the women’s Bundesliga, not to mention the toll it would take on independent sides. Not all clubs would be able to carry the economic burden and it could lead to storied teams, like Potsdam, fading into obscurity; or even worse, it could drive them into fiscal ruin.

If that were to happen, if the league were to go fully professional, though, it’s entirely possible that within a few years it could be completely made up of sides that have male Bundesliga equivalents, due to their superior resources. Even RB Leipzig, whose investment in their women’s side has been minuscule up to this point, could realistically compete in the top flight within a few years. The Red Bulls are currently ten points clear atop their regional division and could get promoted to the second tier once football returns.

RB Leipzig, spearheaded by World Cup winner Anja Mittag, could soon reach the promised land (Dirk Knofe)

For now, though, it’s all just hypotheticals and ifs, while the harsh reality remains: most women in the Frauen-Bundesliga are scrambling for financial security and working conditions are unsatisfactory, to say the least. Pitches all across the league are inadequate – even the playing field at Bayern’s esteemed academy has looked under the weather at times – backroom staffs are spread thin and media coverage leaves a lot to be desired. The league is desperate for more investment and sponsorship opportunities.

With all of the above in mind, it has to be acknowledged that the DFB’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been good. €7.5m have been made available for Frauen-Bundesliga sides and men’s clubs in the 3. Liga to help alleviate the financial strain during the pandemic, with every team receiving €300,000. Clubs bankrolled by men’s Bundesliga sides have decided to forgo their share of the support so that smaller and independent sides get more. It’s an admirable act of solidarity, but the cynic in me wonders how much of a say the people in charge of those particular women’s departments had in that decision. Furthermore, there was no mention of the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga. Do clubs in that division not get any relief? Are they just being left to die? I’m sure criminally underfunded programs like Mönchengladbach would have bitten your hand off for an ounce of monetary backing.

The Foals were relegated from the Bundesliga after only collecting a single point from 22 games last season. Wolfsburg’s sporting director Ralf Kellermann said the following in an interview with Sportbuzzer last summer: “I have been crying out for stronger regulations for years. Mönchengladbach played in the Bundesliga and yet had floodlights that weren’t strong enough to light up the full pitch. There are still too many exceptions and different interpretations when it comes to infrastructural requirements.”

When asked whether the lack of governance was down to willful ignorance or simply the DFB’s incompetence, Kellerman pointed to the nonsensical yellow card rule in the cup. “If you receive five yellow cards in the women’s DFB Pokal, you get suspended. As a Bundesliga side that enters in the second round, the maximum number of games you can play is five, therefore the rule is pointless. In the men’s cup, the law was changed several years ago.” Too often the women’s game is being treated as a mere afterthought and federations all across the globe, including the DFB, have been guilty of that.

Speaking of men’s teams, the Frauen-Bundesliga has an interesting relationship with men’s football, as the league is a concoction of sides who are also represented in the men’s Bundesliga, independent clubs, as well as teams who have more modest men’s departments further down the pyramid.

Besides the big two, the likes of Leverkusen, Freiburg, Hoffenheim, and Köln are all competing in both Bundesligas with varying degrees of success. Former European champions Turbine Potsdam and FFC Frankfurt are independent clubs, although the latter will merge with Eintracht Frankfurt upon conclusion of the current campaign in an attempt to rectify their decline in competitiveness. Eintracht board member and sporting CEO Fredi Bobic is a long-time FFC Frankfurt season-ticket holder and it wouldn’t come as a shock to see substantial funds siphoned into the club following the merger. Duisburg, another historically significant team, had to join forces with 3. Liga men’s side MSV Duisburg in 2014 due to financial troubles and have found it increasingly difficult to stay in the division.

SGS Essen shares its stadium with men’s Regionalliga club Rot-Weiss Essen, but the two are not affiliated. USV Jena, who most likely won’t be competing in the top-flight next season, after only collecting a measly 2 points from 15 games so far this term, have hinted at a potential merger with 3. Liga side Carl Zeiss Jena, but ink has not yet been put to paper. Lastly, SC Sand, a solid mid-table club from the small town of Willstätt, has a trifling men’s side, which competes in the 9th tier of German men’s football.

Mergers with men’s clubs seem to be the way forward as financial demands grow ever larger and independent clubs become increasingly incapable of competing at the highest level.

A tier below the Bundesliga, Arminia Bielefeld are in a bizarre situation. The men’s side finds itself six points clear atop the 2. Bundesliga, while the women are dead last – a scenario that will sound all too familiar to fans of Liverpool FC. Of course, one cannot expect Bielefeld to be able to invest the same resources as the reigning European champions – ‘invest’ being used loosely here; that’s a story for another day – but it sure is fascinating that this kind of thing is allowed to happen.

Attendances

Clubs in the Frauen-Bundesliga haven’t been hit as hard by the enforced COVID-19 hiatus as other leagues, due teams not being overly reliant on matchday revenue as spectator turnouts rarely crack the two-thousand mark during games. Once people are allowed to enter stadiums again, what can now only be described as a blessing in disguise, will revert back to being a stain on the sport. The average attendance across the league clocked in at just 833 last season. For comparison’s sake, the average attendance in the Regionalliga West – a regional division in the 4th tier of German men’s football – was 1245. Unfortunately, it’s fair to say that the fan engagement, which has become so synonymous with German football, seems to be reserved solely for men’s football. Shoutout to the people actually attending women’s games!

Rather predictably, Wolfsburg leads the way in terms of spectators with an average attendance of 1840 last season. Turbine Potsdam comes in second with 1400 and boasting two official supporters’ groups and fan clubs. Bayern only came in seventh last term with an average of 667 and in their eight home games this season, that number has dropped down to 655. Even SC Sand from the tiny town of Willstätt attracts more viewers. A worrying trend for the Bavarian behemoth.

Comparing the Bundesliga’s average of 833 to other leagues like the WSL is a challenge because, for starters, there are no reliable sources for the English top flight. Some claim the average attendance in the WSL last season was also 833, others claim it was slightly higher. Additionally, attendance statistics will always be skewed because some high-profile matches are staged at Premier League grounds, which is something that doesn’t happen in Germany. The average in France’s Division 1 Féminine was 922 last term, with numbers in Spain’s Primera División likely being higher. It seems that the Bundesliga is being left behind on the pitch, as well as off it.

Sparsely populated stands are an all too common sight in the FBL (Alexander Scheuber/Getty)

Talent Factory

For all its systemic flaws and underperformances at the senior national team level in recent years, Germany is still one of the most prolific producers of top-level talent on the planet.

While Wolfsburg have run away with the league, Hoffenheim have been the surprise team of the season, keeping pace with Bayern and having a realistic shot at coming second and subsequently qualifying for a place in the Champions League. Hoffenheim’s campaign has been the culmination of a lot of hard work and consistent, targeted squad building over recent years. It’s easy to dismiss this season as an outlier, but they have already extended the contracts of as many as eight players and more could soon follow, meaning they could be in it for the long run and lay siege to the league’s top three for years to come.

23-year-old Tabea Waßmuth and 24-year-old Austrian Nicole Billa have been deadly in front of goal this term, and the main driving force behind 1899’s success. At the other end of the pitch, 20-year-old local hero Sarai Linder has been a mainstay in Hoffenheim’s defense. The right-back has played the second-most minutes on the team this season. Still, the crown jewel in their side is 20-year-old Lena Lattwein. The goal-scoring midfielder has already made six appearances for the senior national team and will only continue to get better.

Both Freiburg and Essen have made a name for themselves as talent refineries. Especially the latter has placed a huge emphasis on developing young talent, while the former has managed to achieve something extremely rare in the women’s game – actually getting transfer fees for players.

Goalkeeper Merle Frohms, who has been deputizing in goal for Germany in the absence of the pregnant Almuth Schult, will join Frankfurt in the upcoming transfer window. The 25-year-old had a contract until 2021, but a transfer fee hasn’t yet been disclosed. Furthermore, Klara Bühl, one of Europe’s brightest young talents, has signed for Bayern. The 19-year-old, too, had a Freiburg contract until 2021 and it is assumed that the Munich outfit had to pay a sizeable fee to acquire the forward.

At Bayern, Bühl will join up with another young attacking talent in the form of Lea Schüller. The 22-year-old honed her skills at Essen and has become Germany’s deadliest forward, only trailing Danish megastar Pernille Harder in the Bundesliga golden boot race. Schüller has scored 15 goals in just 16 games this term, already bettering her tally of 14 in 22 from last season, and will join the Bavarians on a free transfer.

The biggest piece of transfer news in Germany, or perhaps even all of Europe, is Lena Oberdorf’s potential move to Wolfsburg. Oberdorf made her Germany debut aged just 17 years and 109 days and was recently named the best young women’s footballer in the world by Goal. She became Germany’s youngest-ever player to feature at a World Cup and has been a mainstay in Essen’s side since joining in 2018. The 18-year-old is one of the most versatile players you’ll ever see; she can be deployed anywhere on the defense, in midfield, and on the wing.

Sportbuzzer’s Andreas Pahlmann confirmed what everybody already kind of knew: Wolfsburg are interested in securing her services. Whether it will happen this summer or next year when her contract expires is not yet known, but she would be an ideal replacement for Lyon-bound Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir. If it were to happen, it would be a massive statement of intent from the She-Wolves.

20-year-old Nicole Anyomi is another one of Essen’s huge talents; the forward has chipped in with four goals this season. Right-back/winger Sydney Lohmann has consistently featured for Bayern over the past two seasons and the 19-year-old could soon break into the senior national team. Meanwhile, Frankfurt’s Sophia Kleinherne has already made her senior bow; a center-back by trade, the 20-year-old started at left-back in front of a crowd of 77,768 at Wembley in Germany’s 2-1 win over England back in November 2019 and didn’t look out of place up against Nikita Parris.

Midfielders Sjoeke Nüsken and Gina-Maria Chmielinski, both 19, have played vital roles for Frankfurt and Potsdam, respectively, this season. Wiebke Willebrandt could be Germany’s next goalkeeping star, yet despite her success with youth national team sides, the 19-year-old still plays for her local boy’s team at Kreisliga level. I’m sure she’ll get a move to a Frauen-Bundesliga side before long. Verena Wieder (Freiburg), Paulina Krumbiegel (Hoffenheim), and Anna-Lena Stolze (Wolfsburg, on loan at Twente) have only played bit-part roles this season but are still promising talents. Most of the players mentioned above were part of the Germany side that finished runners-up in last year’s UEFA U19 Championship.

Maya Hahn, widely considered to be among New Zealand’s best young prospects, recently switched allegiances to be eligible to play for the DFB-Frauen after becoming disillusioned with the Football Ferns’ style of play. As Stuff’s Phillip Rollo reported, the 19-year-old was expected to be part of Germany’s U20 World Cup squad, but the tournament has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now in her sophomore year at the University of Oregon, Hahn scored three times from midfield as a freshman. 18-year-old Shekiera Martinez, another very promising youngster, has scored four goals for Frankfurt this season, mostly being used as a super sub.

There’s clearly a lot of young talent spread across the Frauen-Bundesliga, but with the league being as top-heavy as it is, a lot of these players will get hoovered up by the big two sooner rather than later. Ultimately, it’s unlikely that the likes of Essen and Freiburg will ever be able to topple the diarchy of Wolfsburg and Bayern. The independent Essen, especially, could really struggle in the coming months and years after seeing their team get picked apart, with inexperienced replacements and youth products having to fill the void left behind by departing superstars. Even 30-year-old captain Marina Hegering has now joined the Bavarians from Munich and the North Rhine-Westphalians, who have firmly entrenched themselves in the league’s top five in recent years, will likely be in a transitional phase for the foreseeable future.

Could Lena Oberdorf be the next talent to leave Essen for a bigger club? (WDR)

Hoffenheim, on the other hand, could be set for a sustained period among the league’s upper echelons, but a title challenge seems unlikely. The other two sides who are represented in both the men’s and women’s Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Köln, seem to have very different outlooks for the future.

After achieving promotion in 17/18, the Werkself of Leverkusen seems to be content with just avoiding relegation. Köln, meanwhile, have made their intentions clear – they want to become an established top-half Bundesliga club. Those plans could get derailed, however, as the newly-promoted Billy Goats find themselves in the relegation zone, two points behind the Zebras of Duisburg. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on which way you want to look at it), Köln have a game in hand, and that game is against, you guessed it, Duisburg.

Initially scheduled to take place all the way back in early December, the game was postponed with the pitch deemed unplayable. After two more fruitless attempts at staging the match, it was finally due to be played on March 22, but then the Coronavirus hit, and the league was suspended. Lord knows when the game will actually be played now, but whenever the day comes, it’s a must-win for Köln. Whatever the outcome, the Billy Goats have already begun strengthening their squad for next season, with the acquisition of two Freiburg players.

While Israel international Sharon Beck is a pretty lowkey signing, the free transfer of Lena Lotzen seems like quite a coup. Lotzen won the Fritz-Walter Medaille, given to the best young player in Germany, in 2012, and the European Championship with the senior national team the subsequent year. The 26-year-old started her career at Bayern with whom she won the DFB Pokal and two Bundesliga titles. That sounds great, doesn’t it, but there’s a catch. There’s always a catch.

The attacker’s career has been ravaged by injuries. After suffering not one but two metatarsal fractures in 2013, Lotzen tore her ACL the following year. It took two surgeries and 592 days of recovery, but in February 2017, she finally returned to the field, only to tear it again a month later. She has scored just two goals in 23 appearances since joining Freiburg in the summer of 2018 and it’s unlikely that she will ever recapture the form that saw her light up the Frauen-Bundesliga as a teenager. Both Lotzen and Beck have stated that they are committed to Köln even if the club were to get relegated.

That seems like a fitting note to end on – being committed to a cause, even if it means struggling in the short-term. Hopefully, that is something that the DFB can take to heart and apply to its governing of the women’s game. Officials are set to make a final decision on the resumption of the league on the 25th of May. The men’s Bundesliga has already been given the green light to continue, so there is precious little to suggest that the Frauen-Bundesliga won’t do the same. If the unlikely were to happen and the league were to get canceled, Wolfsburg would be crowned champions and Bayern would qualify for the Champions League. Jena and Köln would get relegated, with Werder Bremen and SV Meppen gaining promotion. This is, of course, based on the assumption that promotion and relegation is still a thing come the end of May.

German women’s football is searching for a new identity, but while things may seem grim, and have done so for a few years now, it appears that the game has surpassed its nadir and is moving in a new direction. As the production of young talents continues, Germany could soon be on the verge of a renaissance. A new era, driven by youth, could soon take reign and propel the German game back into the spheres it once occupied.

There is, however, still a lot of work to be done. Media coverage has to significantly improve, investment needs to become more sustained and the league needs to strive for increased professionalism in day-to-day operations.

4 thoughts on “A Shadow of Its Former Self: The State of German Women’s Football

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