What’s Been Happening In German Women’s Football #2

Mia San Mia

For the first time since 2016, Bayern München are the champions of Germany. The Bavarians only needed a point against Frankfurt to get over the line, but in typical Bayern fashion, they went out and convincingly defeated Eintracht – they don’t do half measures in Munich – which took their record for the season to twenty wins, a draw, and a loss, bettering their points tally from 15/16.

I have been raving about this team all year, so I won’t bore you with a full season review – you should know by now that this team is quite good – but I’d like to contextualize just how utterly dominant they have been: they didn’t concede a goal from open play until February 7 (7-1 v Meppen), they didn’t drop points until April 17 (2-3 v Hoffenheim), and if they had managed to salvage a draw from that Hoffenheim game, they would have equaled Wolfsburg’s tally of 62 points from last season; alternatively, had they turned that loss (or their draw with Wolfsburg) into a win, they would have set an entirely new points record (currently held by Frankfurt with 63).

From Lea Schüller up top to Laura Benkarth in goal, this team has been nothing short of outstanding. However, one player who deserves a special mention is Sydney Lohmann. If I had to pick a Player of the Season, it would be her. Yes, that’s perhaps harsh on Nicole Billa, who fired Hoffenheim into the UWCL with her Golden Boot-winning 23 goals, but Lohmann has been on a completely different level – a different planet, even – to anyone in the league.

In my season preview, I wrote that the 20-year-old would have some massive Melanie Leupolz-sized shoes to fill and that she is more than capable of doing that – perhaps even of exceeding her predecessor’s achievements – and I certainly wasn’t wrong, was I? My god, what a season she has had. Relentless off the ball, cultured on it; integral in the attack as well as the defense, and a real leader for this team. It was a fitting tribute that Jens Scheuer handed her the captaincy against Eintracht.

Bayern are deservedly champions and the scary thing is, they could conceivably become even more dominant with Saki Kumagai joining this summer. Ralf Kellermann, who calls the shots at Wolfsburg, has been quick to downplay and flat out dismiss suggestions that this is just the start of a prolonged spell of dominance from their rivals, but I firmly believe that we are in for a genuine changing of the guard in the Frauen-Bundesliga. One thing is certain: Bayern won’t go away anytime soon.

Who’s Up, Who’s Down?

With the Frauen-Bundesliga campaign coming to a conclusion, we now know who will be playing where next season. Well, kind of. Here’s what we know for sure: Köln and Jena will be playing top-flight football and Duisburg and Meppen will be in the second division. The first three we’ve known about for a while, I already mentioned them previously in this series. Meppen’s relegation, however, was only confirmed on Sunday.

SVM had to win their final game to stand a chance of surviving after losing the big relegation six-pointer against Sand on the penultimate matchday. They didn’t quite manage to do that, though. In fact, they went down with a whimper, getting absolutely hammered by a Freiburg side that didn’t really have anything to play for. It was a thoroughly pathetic performance: they were already trailing by three goals halfway through the first ’45 and ended up losing 5-0 in what wasn’t merely a must-win fixture in the truest sense of the phrase, but it was probably the biggest game Meppen’s women’s program has ever featured in. Fair to say that it has not been a great season in the Emsland as both the men and the women of Meppen have been relegated, although the former will reportedly be reinstated due to KFC Uerdingen’s failure to obtain a license for the 3. Liga.

To be fair to Meppen, though, even if they had won their game, the outcome wouldn’t have been any different, because Sand got the job done versus Leverkusen thanks to a Dörthe Hoppius strike. Sand’s form in recent weeks has been very impressive, to say the least. They showed that they meant business back in January with some of the players they brought in and ever since Alexander Fischinger’s return to the dugout, they have been one of the league’s in-form teams. He put an end to their rotten twelve-game winless run and under his tutelage, the little provincial club went on to win three of their last four games, only dropping points in a scoreless draw against Champions League-bound Hoffenheim. The upcoming campaign will be their eighth consecutive Frauen-Bundesliga season, not bad for a side hailing from a town whose entire population could fit into Meppen’s stadium and there’d still be 2000 seats to spare.

Who’s Up, Who’s Down? 2: Electric Boogaloo

Promotion from the Regionalliga to the second division is a trickier question because everything is decided at a regional level (hence the name) with all governing bodies handling the Covid situation differently. One team that will definitely play in the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga next season are Nürnberg. Having boasted a perfect record before non-professional football came to a halt some six months ago, the club that gave Nadine Angerer her big break have been declared as the “winners” of their regional division.

It’s the culmination of years of hard work – they missed out on promotion by the skin of their teeth last season – and also evidence of a renewed commitment to the women’s game. The department was originally established back in 1988, but it was later decoupled from the club, refounded, and it has acted as a quasi-independent entity under the FCN moniker since. After miring in the lower leagues for ages, the entire FCN organization ramped up its engagement in recent years and it’s now paying dividends.

The additional promotees will be decided via different playoff formats, some will play in a round-robin tournament, others in more straightforward ties versus a particular opponent. Don’t be surprised if VfL Bochum and Hannover 96 are among the sides promoted to the second tier when all is said and done. Both will certainly fancy their chances in the upcoming games.

With the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga returning to a single-division arrangement next season, the logical consequence is that a rather substantial number of teams will have to depart, six to be exact, five of which are set to go down directly, the other will be decided in a two-legged relegation playoff. Promoted sides SV Berghofen and Würzburger Kickers have been bounced from the league, which is surely quite the reality check for the latter considering that the proclaimed mission statement was to eventually reach the Bundesliga when SC Würzburg merged with the Kickers last year.

Additionally, former top-flight outfits Niederkirchen and Saarbrücken have been relegated as well as Arminia Bielefeld, who, evidently, didn’t learn from last year when they only escaped the drop because the season was discontinued. However, not everything is settled just yet. Wolfsburg II and Potsdam II both still have to face Bielefeld due to postponements earlier in the season. The best Potsdam can hope for is making the playoff, whereas there are still three potential outcomes for Wolfsburg: automatic relegation, the playoff, and even safety is still a possibility. If they beat Arminia, they will swap places with Mönchengladbach, who would then have to play Hoffenheim in the playoff.

Essen bleibt Essen

Apologies to the people of Mainz for borrowing their motto, but seeing as though SGS Essen are At It Again, it certainly feels pertinent in this context. The Frauen-Bundesliga’s chief talent producers have been busy announcing signings and departures in recent weeks and it’s been exactly what we’ve come to expect from Markus Högner’s team. Six senior players have already declared that they are moving to greener pastures this summer – among them stars like Nicole Anyomi and Jana Feldkamp – while two of the four players that have been brought in as replacements are under the age of 18, with three more teenagers getting promoted from within the club’s youth system. It’s the Essen way.

On a related note, 17-year-old Carlotta Wamser finished the season as Essen’s top goalscorer. If that’s not the most Essen stat imaginable, I don’t know what is.

Something Needs to Change

As is almost customary when talking about women’s football in Germany, you have to mention criticism because, well, there’s plenty to criticize. The DFB has increasingly (and deservedly) come under fire recently for its sheer incompetence in governing and advancing the women’s game. Prior to the title showdown on Sunday, Wolfsburg’s sporting director Ralf Kellermann bemoaned the fact that, while the DFB-Pokal final had been broadcast on free-to-air television, neither Wolfsburg’s match against Bremen nor Bayern versus Frankfurt would be shown on TV.

“It’s a shame,” Kellermann told Sportbuzzer. “And it is further evidence that Germany is lagging behind the progress being made internationally.” When reminded that this sad state of affairs likely won’t change anytime soon since Magenta Sport’s broadcast deal with the FBL runs for another two years, Kellermann emphatically proclaimed: “We can’t wait that long, we’re losing more and more ground.”

After Bayern were crowned champions, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge decided to chime in as well: “I think that something has to change at the DFB. We need to pick up the pace a bit, so that won’t get left behind.” This came mere days after Bayern CEO Herbert Hainer insisted that it is “imperative to improve the infrastructure.”

What’s more, last month, Sportschau released a short documentary about the women’s game in Germany entitled “Promotion of Women’s Football: Room for Improvement”. In the program, Wolfsburg goalkeeper Almuth Schult slams the poor production and presentation of FBL games: “When you watch women’s football on TV right now, particularly the Bundesliga, there are maybe two or three cameras . . . in men’s football, there are maybe twenty. It looks amateurish and an amateur product isn’t as attractive as a professional product.”

Even the DFB’s latest online marketing campaign, “Fußball ,die (feminin)”, has elicited critique for having a needlessly confusing name (what’s with space before the comma?) and for being yet another hamfisted attempt to promote women’s football with hollow slogans instead of actual, material support. Perhaps if, for once, there was some genuine, honest dialogue with fans where the association actually addressed some of their grievances – why is so hard to watch the FBL? Why is the league’s social media presence so bare-bones? Why is only a tiny minority of the players getting paid a professional wage? – instead of intransigently driving the product into the ground and then deflecting the blame, people wouldn’t have an intrinsically cynical reaction to even the most trivial of things.

Controversy

Dwelling on the topic of the wayward DFB, a couple of weeks ago, it forced second-tier outfit Niederkirchen to play their fixtures vs Frankfurt II and Hoffenheim II despite being only able to field nine players. Eleven players were in quarantine after a member of the squad had tested positive for Covid, four were nursing long-term injuries, one player had to work the next day (it was a midweek fixture; Niederkirchen are a semi-professional side), and two players had decided to stop playing after having previously been affected by the virus.

In an exhaustive statement entitled “Fair Competition?”, Niederkirchen took aim at the DFB: “We are extremely astonished to have received an email on the eve of a matchday with the DFB’s ruling that we will have to play these two upcoming games shorthanded.” After listing their absentees, the club continued by criticizing the federation’s decision to restart the season without giving clubs and players ample time to prepare: “To commence the second half of the season with just two and a half weeks of preparation essentially means going from 0 to 100. Tomorrow’s game will be our fifth midweek fixture and like many other clubs, we are missing several players through injuries, the majority of which are muscular in nature.”

The association responded in kind, placing the blame at the feet of the former German champions by accusing them of “gross negligence”. Niederkirchen, the DFB argued, disregarded the league’s hygiene rules by staging an indoor training session in which the rest of the squad came into contact with the infected player, thus the people in quarantine weren’t eligible to count towards the club’s absentees and Niederkirchen were ruled to have sufficient numbers to be able to compete.

Niederkirchen lost both games, conceding eleven goals. Oof.

The End of an Era

After Lena Lotzen’s announcement that she has retired from the game, Simone Laudehr and Julia Simic have now followed suit, becoming the latest (ex-)Bayern stars to call it quits this year. Laudehr’s decision, in particular, spells the end of an era as she was one of the last active players from that famous World Cup-winning Germany squad of 2007. Only RB Leipzig player-coach Anja Mittag and Real Madrid’s Babett Peter remain now, although the former has been oscillating between retirement (and, by extension, coaching) and actively playing for a while now. She only made her comeback this season because of an injury crisis and she will likely hang up her boots for good in the not-too-distant future.

It was great to see that Simone Laudehr was able to get a proper send-off. Not least because it meant that she was finally able to get that monkey off her back and break the curse that had haunted her up to that point: she had never actually won the Frauen-Bundesliga before, finishing as runner-up a ridiculous ten times over the previous 17 years.

Progress

Schalke 04 made their first tentative foray into women’s football this season, starting out with two teams at the very bottom of the pyramid. Borussia Dortmund will do the same next season. The season after that, it will VfB Stuttgart’s turn. We’ve known about Dortmund’s ambition to get involved in women’s football for quite a while now, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that concrete plans were presented to the general public. Like their royal blue rivals, BVB will also work its way up the divisions. Thomas Sulewski, who led local club SV Berghofen into the second division, is the man tasked with building a team from scratch. Before he can think about managing BVB to glory, though, his first job is to whittle down the list of over 150 applicants to a more modest 20 or 25 for the final roster.

Last week, Stuttgart finally got involved, too, announcing the creation of a women’s football department which will start operating in 2022. However, the Swabians have decided to go with a different approach: instead of starting in the Kreisliga like their peers, they have forged a partnership with Regionalliga side VfB Obertürkheim whose women’s teams will be incorporated into the VfB Stuttgart system. This means that Mainz 05 are now the only men’s Bundesliga side still without a women’s department. Of course, as we have seen, there is still a lot of work to be done (looking at you, DFB), but surely even the most cynical fan can admit that these latest developments are a step in the right direction.

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