German women’s football leads the way in Europe, if not the world, but the game in England is certainly gaining on its old rival.
You only have to look at the UEFA Women’s Champions League to recognise Germany’s domestic dominance. They possess the most successful league in the tournament’s history, with a total of nine titles won by four different Women’s Bundesliga clubs. The German national team are the only side to have successfully defended the FIFA Women’s World Cup and have also won the last six European Championships.
However, women’s football in England is making huge leaps forward. In the last year, there has been a number of significant landmarks. The Lionesses beat Germany for the first time in 20 attempts at last year’s World Cup to finish third – the highest placed European side. That performance was the second best by an England team at a World Cup following the men’s 1966 win.
After the World Cup success, average attendances at following FA Women’s Super League (WSL) fixtures more than doubled, Chelsea beat Notts County 1-0 in front of a record crowd in the first FA Women’s Cup final at Wembley and Lucy Bronze was nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Melanie Leupolz, who was involved in the World Cup defeat to England, is aware of these developments and how they are strengthening the English game.
“The English soccer, or the women’s soccer has changed a lot, they improved and we saw it at the World Cup,” she said when I sat down with her at Sabener Strasse, Bayern Munich’s training ground.
“In my opinion, the German Bundesliga and the English Super League are the strongest and most exciting leagues in Europe, as all teams play on a very high level. Every match day is a big challenge, what I personally like a lot,” she added.
Chelsea begin their WSL title defence as the season returns on 23rd March. The league is expanding from the 2017 season with WSL 1 and WSL 2 increasing to 10 teams each. The English league appeals to Leupolz and is somewhere she can see herself playing, after admitting one day she would like to move abroad.
“Now I have a contract with Bayern and I am happy, we are successful and I have big goals with the club. But I am only 21-years-old. In general, I am a person who is highly interested in other countries and foreign mentalities.
“That is why I could imagine making some other experiences in the future. The English League could be a good way to go some day. But this is nothing which I think about at this time of my career. At this moment Bayern is Munich is perfect for me,” she explained.
Bayern’s number eight, a hard-working central midfielder, is pleased the famous clubs in England have female teams as it increases the strength in depth in Europe.
“I like it when the big clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester [City] and Liverpool also have good women’s team as then the soccer in Europe is improving.”
Grassroots level is again advancing in England and football is now officially the biggest female team sport. Recently the FA raised the age limit for mixed football teams from under-16s to under-18s, in a move inspired by Germany and other European countries.
The former Freiburg midfielder started playing football with the boys at her primary school and later progressed through the German tiers.
“I was playing until I was 14 with the boys in my home club, then I switched to a girls club – it was an under-17s team.
“They played in the highest league in Germany and there I played two years. Then I went to a boarding school, to FC Freiburg. I played one year in the second Bundesliga and then we went to the first Bundesliga.
“There I played three years and then I switched to FC Bayern.”
Bayern Munich going strong
Bayern Munich are a giant of world football and the 21-year-old described it as a “pleasure” to sign for them in 2014. Bayern emulated the men’s team’s success as they lifted their first league title since 1976 last season and are in a great position to reclaim it this year. They currently sit 10 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table.
“Maybe we haven’t won many titles in the past, just the one Championship, and we are out of the Champions League so we, of course, want to win the German Championship.
“We are working hard every day and every training we are focused and want to learn more.”
Not only have we seen huge developments in England but also globally, with female players being included in Electronic Arts’ FIFA 2016 football video game for the first time. The Bayern star sees the fun side of having her own computer game character.
“Now seeing me play on the Playstation is great. I don’t like [to play] Playstation that much but when I see myself, then it’s a little bit funny because I’m always discussing with the referee and I think I always get yellow cards,” she jokes.
Mark Sampson’s side face Germany on 6 March in America during the SheBelieves Cup as they look to continue their progression against the world’s best. The German international, who has since had to pull out of the competition with an ankle injury, sees it as a chance for “revenge” and recognises what a difficult fixture it will be.
“I think with the USA, the French and England, there are many good teams and good tests for the future.
“I count, like I say, England one of the best teams in Europe, so I’m looking forward to the game and of course we want to try and beat them.”
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