In the course of the season Claire Falknor und Mana Iwabuchi had already left. Spanish-star player Vero Boquete also announced the end of her time at FC Bayern last summer. Now there are even more important players leaving the club. With the likes of Vanessa Bürki, Katha Baunach, Nora Holstad and top scorer Vivianne Miedema there are real role models departing from Säbener Straße.
To understand all the changes within the squad, it seems to be necessary to look at the development of the club as well as at the particular situation of each of the players. We cannot read their minds, but it is worth trying to recreate their thought process to understand their decisions.
This is the start of a mini-series, which deals with the current situation at FC Bayern women’s team.
Development over the past three years
Three years ago the team was in a similar situation. Big changes seemed to be a necessity. More than 10 players left the club and exactly the same number of players was added into the squad. The aim was, apart from integrating the new arrivals as fast as possible, to develop all the talent within the team. In addition to that they had to find new leaders and become a unity while gradually improving quality-wise. Even challenging the top three in Germany (Wolfsburg, Potsdam, Frankfurt) was part of the expectations as well as having the possibility to win the cup once again and maybe qualifying for an international competition – quite ambitious.
Champion by surprise in 2015
Nobody thought about winning the Bundesliga title but who knew that this young team could play on a high competitive level in such a small amount of time. It seemed like there was catalogue where you can simply order players who provide leadership in a way like Melanie Behringer and Nora Holstad.
Both came to Munich at their peak. Melanie Behringer had not always been a starter at her former club FFC Frankfurt. They instantly became key players for the team, which was helpful especially for the young players. It might even have helped them to grow with more and more responsibility on and off the field.
Vivianne Miedema arrived as a 17 year old talent from the Netherlands. Her composure in front of the goal was an obvious trait but at FC Bayern she became a real professional footballer. The squad as a whole exceeded all expectations and played on an incredible level as a unity. Vanessa Bürki, Katie Stengel and Eunice Beckmann, who had no problem to contribute even without starting, provided many goals. They always performed when they were needed.
Tom Wörle, the coach of the team, played a huge part as well. His tactical concept, which initially was created to outplay the three at the back formation of Potsdam, worked throughout the entire season. All the opponents had their problems to counter a back three with wingbacks. This formation made a strong defensive in combination with a creative offence possible.
Champions by surprise in 2015 – only the second Bundesliga title overall after the success in 1976 – was the result of a team that presented themselves as a unity.
Time for consolidation
At first it seemed that all targets were reached and there would be nothing more to accomplish. But exceeding the expectations usually means a decline is coming very soon. The team wanted to stay at the top and use all the momentum and success to promote women’s football at FC Bayern, within the club and to get more fans.
Reaching the same performance level again would have been an incredible task and even on that level, succeeding was no guarantee because all competitors work hard as well. The FC Arsenal is a good example that shows that progress does not necessarily mean success because sometimes the others do their work even better.
The main problems were the additional games because of Champions League football, all the attention of the other top teams, higher expectations and the loss of the surprising tactical factor, which was decoded by the start of the new season. This squad needed more improvements.
Defensively it was hard to outplay the champion. They only conceded seven goals in their winning season. That is why the focus lied on the offence. They added three talents, with Lisa Evans from Potsdam, Nicole Rolser from Liverpool and Sara Däbritz from SC Freiburg. All of them had experience and some potential that could challenge the other members of the squad. In addition to that FC Bayern made another big transfer move possible. Vero Boquette joined the reining champion from FFC Frankfurt. She was destined to help the team to reach a complete new level. Unfortunately she missed out on the entire first leg of the season such as Mana Iwabushi and Lena Lotzen. All the negative factors of the previous success became noticeable. The knock out of the Champions League against Twente Enschede came very early – it appeared to be some kind of advantage in retrospective.
Both Wolfsburg and Frankfurt reached at least the semi-final of this competition, which made them focus more and more on the big cup and Potsdam had a very bad season anyway, which caused FC Bayern to accomplish the second Bundesliga title in a row. With all the lucky circumstances the team even won the league with a 10-point lead without playing very good football. Just incredible.
The next step: Europe
FC Bayern’s women had made it. A Two-time champion, in a row. This could not be a coincidence. Celebrating together with the first team and their stars like Xabi Alonso, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago and Philipp Lahm. For the first time the women’s team standing seems to fit the club’s self-understanding. Right?
No, not exactly! Surely they gained a lot of respect and players like Verena Faißt, Simone Laudehr and Stefanie van der Gragt (all experienced internationals) came to play for the reigning champion. A talent like Anna Gerhardt was, without a doubt, a perfect fit as well. However in Europe, nobody feared FC Bayern’s women’s team. The level of professionalism compared to Wolfsburg, Paris, Lyon or some of the English clubs would be comparing apples with oranges.
An on-going tactical progress never happened. The team had to deal with injuries, which sometimes caused six starters to miss out at once. A Circumstance, no team can deal with properly over several weeks. They even tried to counter the situation over the winter break by adding Fridolina Rolfö to the squad. With her and the hope of many returns by the second leg of the season, everything seemed to get better. New injuries however foiled all hopes.
In the Bundesliga the squad managed to win against teams of the bottom half of the table, but struggled massively against all of the top teams. In the course of March they lost connection to the top of the table and got knocked out from all the other competitions. Reaching the quarterfinal in the Champions League and even winning one leg against a dominant side of Paris St. Germain can be counted as a huge success.
Maybe this was a moment of realization for some club officials, that there still is a big difference between European top-clubs and FC Bayern’s women’s team. Even the gap to VfL Wolfsburg is huge, not even mentioning teams likes Paris or Lyon, which are on a higher level.
Comeback in the Bundesliga
For a long time it seemed like FC Bayern would miss out on the international challenge in the upcoming season. Wolfsburg and Potsdam were way to dominant in the domestic competition. Nothing pointed towards a phase of weakness, from which FC Bayern could only benefit by not dropping any points for the rest of the season.
However FC Bayern’s women’s team took on the challenge and collected point for point. After loosing one game against Frankfurt, Wolfsburg took away points from Potsdam. In a direct meeting near the end of the season FC Bayern took their chances and defeated Potsdam to claim the runner-up spot in the Bundesliga table. In the last match of the season, it was Vivianne Miedema who socred the late goal to secure the spot against Essen.
— FCB Frauenfußball (@FCBfrauen) 21. Mai 2017
On the same day FC Bayern had to say goodbye to a huge part of the squad. Let us have a look at the particular cases in part 2.
To be continued…