Women’s Bundesliga – Europe’s strongest female league?

Bayern Munich v HSV DuisburgSo what makes the Frauen-Bundesliga one of the best leagues in Europe? On Saturday 29 October, I attended Bayern Munich’s match with HSV Duisburg at the Grunwalder Stadium to find out.

Bayern, who are back-to-back German league champions, won the game 3-1. The result was not a huge surprise with Duisburg struggling near the bottom of the division but they made the hosts work for the victory. Vivianne Miedema opened the scoring for the home team just before half-time, while Lara Hess equalised for Duisburg in the second period. But goals from Gina Lewandowski and Melanie Behringer sealed a third straight league win for the Bavaria side.

Something which really stood out was the dedicated home support. On a cold, damp and grey afternoon the fans, complete with drum, created a lively atmosphere throughout. On average in 2015/16, the division attracted 1,076 fans per game with only the English Women’s Super League reaching similar figures in Europe. Bayern Munich are the most followed side with an average attendance of 1,672. The club has fully incorporated the female team in their vastly successful brand. Previously they have jointly celebrated men’s and women’s titles with supporters. The two squads both train at Sabener Strasse, Bayern’s world class training complex.

Säbener Strasse
Sabener Strasse

Interestingly not all Frauen-Bundesliga clubs are affiliated to men’s Bundesliga counterparts. Teams are able to standalone and do not require the backing from the male game. In fact, two of the most successful clubs; FFC Turbine Potsdam and FFC Frankfurt – with 13 league titles between them – are both specifically female clubs.

Strength and depth

The division is hugely competitive, with teams recently only dominating for short periods. Although Bayern have won the last two Women’s Bundesliga titles, before them VfL Wolfsburg claimed back-to-back league wins. There have been four different champions in the last ten years. In that period a team has won at least two consecutive titles. German clubs have dominated the UEFA Women’s Champions League with nine previous winners in the 15 editions of the competition. This has come as a result of the strength in depth of their domestic game.

Bayern Munich’s 18 matchday squad included nine Germans and nine non-German players. This gives the team a core of home-grown talent combined with contributions from other cultures. It is clear the Frauen-Bundesliga is an incredibly strong division and as a result attracts the best players. Many European leagues are seeing a rise in numbers of foreign stars entering. Although there’s a danger this will damage the growth and development of youth at national level, the men’s game does a great job of minimising this – with almost 50% of starters in the Bundesliga being German.

Bayern Munich v HSV Duisburg

Ahead of the 2016/17 season the German television channel SPORT1 announced a deal to broadcast the Frauen-Bundesliga live until the 2017/18. Taking over from Eurosport, the station will broadcast up to 22 live games across the season on free-to-air television and online. The fact the Women’s Bundesliga is shown on free TV is significant when reaching and inspiring vast audiences. In England, the WSL is shown on BT Sport which is a subscription channel and cannot compete with the figures of free-to-air. Dirc Seemann, Chief Editor and Director Content of SPORT1, described the league as being “highly attractive,” and fitting “perfectly,” in their current live sport offering.

Sponsorship is also helping the Frauen-Bundesliga stay ahead as it further supports the league, clubs, players and staff. The German Football Association recently increased funding by selling the naming rights of the division to Allianz until 2019. The deal will contribute around nine million euros.

German national team

It is no surprise the female German national team is so successful because of the quality of their national league. They are two-time world champions, winning the 2003 and 2007 tournaments. They have won eight of the eleven European Championships, claiming the last six consecutive titles and are unbeaten in the tournament since 1993.

Ultimately, success at international level is key to inspiring and improving the female game within a nation. It creates a cycle; as an international team succeeds it inspires more to take up and follow the sport. As a result, this improves the strength of the league which in turn improves the national team. A stronger division also attracts the world’s best players, further progressing the standard.

Having experienced a match firsthand, I can why Germany leads the way in Europe but the English game is gaining on its old rival. Manchester City Women, who won the WSL in 2016, saw attendances increase by 50% to 2,253 in 2016. City went throughout the season unbeaten and have impressed in their first year in the Champions League. Will further competition result in more equal leagues, a greater standard in Europe and further player movement? We will have to wait and see but stronger competition can only continue to improve the overall standard of the women’s game.

Women’s Super League and Bundesliga most exciting in Europe – Melanie Leupolz

German women’s football leads the way in Europe, if not the world, but England are certainly gaining on their old rivals.

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 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.

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. The performance was the second best by an England team following the 1966 win by the men’s side.

After the World Cup success, average attendances at the 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 Sports Personality of the Year.

Melanie Leupolz
Bayern Munich and Germany’s Melanie Leupolz

Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Melanie Leupolz, who was involved in the World Cup defeat to England, is aware of these developments and feels they have strengthened 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.

 Sabener Strasse training complex in Munich
Sabener Strasse training complex in Munich

Chelsea begin their WSL title defence as the season returns on 23rd March. The league is expanding and for the 2017 season WSL 1 and WSL 2 will increase 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 and 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.”

Further Developments

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.

 FIFA 2016 includes Women's National Teams
FIFA 2016 includes Women’s National Teams for the first time

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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