Germany. Serial contenders on the European and world scene. Dominating finals spots since the conceptualisation of women’s competitions. The Frauen-Bundesliga is certainly a competitive domestic league; its strength shows in Europpean performances: German teams are 9-time winners and 4-time runners-up in the 15 editions of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. This season, after surprising FFC Frankfurt 4-1 on aggregate, Wolfsburg have set up an exciting finalé with Olympique Lyonnais, against whom they have the psychological upper-hand having beaten Lyon 1-0 in the 2013 final.
So how have Germany remained dominant for so long?
One answer could lie with the strength of their national team, which is built on a foundation of consistent management. Since women’s football was reintroduced in Germany, the squad has been led by only three managers: Gero Bisanz (1982-1996), Tina Theune (1996-2005), and Silvia Neid (2005-2016). Theune, assistant coach to Bisanz, inherited the throne; Neid stepped into the assistant role and then did the same. Each successor has learnt from their predecessor, drinking in their beliefs, systems and tactics whilst developing their own. Silvia Neid in particular is gracious about her time with her predecessors; Bisanz tutored Neid during her playing days and touted her as a potential coach within the national set-up; soon she was assisting Theune as a technical staff member and leading the Women’s U-18 and U-19’s to European titles between 2000-2002 and the U-19’s to a World Cup win in 2004.
Germans are often mocked for their efficiency but perhaps it is their meticulous attitude that has afforded them much success? The national team are twice winners of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, eight-time winners of the UEFA Women’s European Cup and have three third-place finishes at the Olympic Games. They’ve never been ranked lower 3rd in the FIFA World Rankings, and even that was only for a short period in 2009.
Youth teams are often picked young, with an apparent focus on athleticism honed by strength and conditioning. Consistency in squad selection and identifying talent early on has reaped rewards. The team is one of the most successful in Europe, having won every youth and senior title available, including, most recently, the UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship earlier this month. But is it the international success that has encouraged domestic success or vice versa?
Despite the Frauen-Bundesliga being only semi-professional, the league remains competitive. Not all Frauen-Bundesliga teams are affiliated to their Bundesliga counterparts, suggesting there is at least some strength in financial backing. Although many players and coaching staff must finance their careers with second jobs, the Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) have recently increased funding by selling the naming rights of the league to Allianz. Eurosport’s television rights help as well, boosting club budgets and reaching more potential fans: the first four matches of the 2015-2016 season attracted around 760,000 viewers collectively.
Attendance has doubled since the 2005-06 season. On average, the league attracts 1,076 fans per game, a very similar figure to that in the English Women’s Super League, which enjoyed a massive boost following the 2015 World Cup. Crowds have steadily increased over the last decade, except for a dip in the 2012-2013 season – interestingly enough, after the national team did not qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Bayern Munich are the most followed team with an average attendance of 1,672 per game, often attracting more fans to away games than to home games. Their following could be attributed to a knock-on effect from the World Cup, or it might be an overflow from their hugely successful male counterparts. But the team is successful in its own right, having won back-to-back titles, although they struggled in Europe this season.
Increased attendance? Check. Funding increase? Check. Foreign influx? Check. During the 2015-2016 season a quarter of registered players were foreign, a slight increase from the previous season and a 9% rise of foreign imports over the past five years.
Should the Frauen-Bundesliga – and indeed other European leagues – be concerned about the increase in foreign imports? Probably not. There’s certainly an element of flattery. It’s clear players are identifying the Frauen-Bundesliga as a strong league and naturally want to test their mettle there. Many European leagues are also seeing rising number of foreign stars entering. National governing bodies may argue it will damage the growth and development of youth at national level; however, it shows women’s football developing as a whole. Players are wanting to compete at the highest levels and are willing to relocate to do so.
At this point, Germany have little to worry about. Since the introduction of a continent-wide club tournament in 2001, only six countries have contested a European final, and only Germany, Sweden and France have appeared in a final on multiple occasions. Prior to the rebranding of the UEFA Women’s Cup Finals to the Champions League, Sweden were a mainstay in the finals, contesting six out of eight, but only appearing once since the relaunch. Why? Another story for another day, perhaps. Germany,Frauen-Bundesliga however, have remained a powerhouse in Europe: only in 2002-2003 and 2006-2007 did German clubs miss out on the final, while this season only the French and Germans made it to the semifinals.
Does this imply that outside of Germany, other European nations are poor? Not necessarily. In 2010 England introduced the Women’s Super League, which has helped some teams to develop into fully professional units. France’s financial gains have helped their clubs become even more competitive. Scotland has restructured its league in a bid to make the domestic season more competitive and will benefit from an additional UEFA Champions League qualifying spot next season.
It’s not just luck: Germany has found its formula whilst much of Europe is catching up. We all know Germans like efficiency and they do it so well…