Former FC Bayern women’s player Verena Schweers: “I’m certain that women’s football will go through the roof soon”
Verena Schweers has played in and won many great games during her career. With VfL Wolfsburg, the former defender twice became German Champion (2013, 2014), three times DFB-Pokal winner (2013, 2014, 2016) and twice Champions League winner (2013, 2014). In 2014 she scored the important 3-3 leveler on her birthday in the final of the Champions League in her team’s 4-3 victory over Tyresö FF.
Schweers has scored three goals in 47 matches for the German national team. The now 31-year-old has always been known as an opinionated leader both in the national team and her club teams. In 2016, she moved to FC Bayern, where her career came to a surprising end earlier this year. In an interview with us, she explains, among other things, why, in her view, she did not get a new contract, how things will continue for her, what is currently missing from women’s football in Germany, and what will be the key points in the upcoming top match between her two former clubs in the Bundesliga.
Miasanrot (MSR): Servus, Verena! How are you doing in this still new phase of your life?
Verena Schweers: I am doing well. I feel very good even without football and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead.
MSR: You said in an interview with Munich-based newspaper tz that you were very surprised by FC Bayern’s decision not to renew your contract because you felt that there had actually been positive signs pointing in that direction. That does not necessarily sound like a harmonious farewell. Can you explain what went wrong?
Schweers: The talks with the club and the people in charge were generally very slow. I was told in January/February that I was an important player, that I was getting older, of course, but that there was nothing in principle to prevent me from continuing to work together. Then the discussions became strange, and in my view the club started to send mixed messages using phrases such as ‘we’re still thinking about it’, ‘it’s not yet final’, etc. Finally, a week after the end of the season, I was told that I would not be getting a new contract. At some point you have to accept that, but it also shows me again and again how difficult and superficial a business football is.
MSR: Superficial in what way?
Schweers: For example so far neither the national coach nor anyone else from the DFB has contacted me after the announcement of the end of my career. I have played almost 50 international matches, so you wouldn’t be amiss to expect more. But it’s probably the same as everywhere else, you’re part of something for a certain time and then others follow in your footsteps. There are a great many players who can replace you. It’s not about me personally at all. I think a good exchange at eye level and with mutual respect is important. What other people can expect from me, I naturally expect from them as well. Respectful interaction with each other is part of it, for me it’s all about human interaction.
MSR: Back to FC Bayern again: What could have been the reason why things did not work out as you thought at the beginning of the year?
Schweers: If everything goes well and you get along well, then there are no problems. But as soon as you try to voice a different opinion, for example on topics like appreciation, acceptance or respect in general, then things can become difficult. It has always been important to me that we in the women’s department of FC Bayern work and fight for women’s football in the entire club. Actually, everyone has the same feeling and wants to promote women’s football and the team. But in the end, individual interests often trump overall success. I was always a regular and leading player at FC Bayern, and I led the team in the important matches against Barcelona a year and a half ago as temporary captain. Why something like that and all the work should suddenly no longer count and what it was that made it fail in retrospect is not clear to me. I only know that it’s over now and that’s a good thing. I am much happier about what I was able to achieve than I am unhappy about what didn’t work out.
MSR: You raise a point here that you also mentioned in the tz: As soon as you expressed your opinion, it became difficult. Can you give us a specific example?
Schweers: In the end, it’s certainly better if you mostly have the same opinions as the people in charge. But you also try to develop something positive for women’s football and try to make things better. I think – and I’m doing very well with that in life – that only if you have a different opinion and don’t always just fall in line with what others are saying, only if you speak up at times, only then can things really improve and change.
MSR: You said that there were offers by other clubs, which is not surprising for a player with your career. But did you categorically rule them out, or were there also conditions under which you would have continued your career elsewhere?
Schweers: I definitely looked into it, but I would have liked to continue to play for FC Bayern for at least another year. However, I also have to say that in recent years my thoughts have shifted and changed a bit towards a different life with a bit more free time. I have also noticed that my body simply needs longer to regenerate and that I have to invest much more than in previous years. There are of course many more players at this high level available nowadays, which makes it easier to replace you. But I would also have liked to help develop young, upcoming players. I liked to work with and support young girls at the end of my career, I was godmother of the U-17, so to speak. Basically, the whole package has to fit at the end of the career: I am happily married, my husband works in a good job, we feel very comfortable in Munich and want to build a future here. And then there was Corona. And should I have gone to Spain or England alone, with all this uncertainty? That was no longer important enough for me. I’ve seen girls who can’t get away from football and chase their dreams contract after contract. That didn’t feel right to me.
MSR: What’s next for you?
Schweers: I want to take a new step into a professional life after football. It was important to me to start now and begin doing what I see a future in. I wanted to start in an industry that suits me and, ideally, that is as much fun and fulfilling as football. Luckily, I have managed to achieve just that as a kindergarten teacher – at least for the time being. That makes me really happy right now. I already know that football is the easier, the more comfortable way. You have a reasonable income, you have time, there are a lot of good girls with the same drive around you, and you can also live out your passion in front of a large crowd of people every once and again. That was a great time and now there’s something new. It’s different, but just as great.
MSR: Considering that women’s football is far less professionalized than men’s football, it is probably even more important to build a second career besides football, isn’t it?
Schweers: Definitely. And most female players are aware of this and everyone is actively building a second career because women’s football is not possible without a second professional foothold. Playing football is a great part of life, but it is also a very finite endeavor. In women’s football, and indeed in most other sports, most athletes are very mindful of the fact that all can be over quickly. As a female professional you don’t have the same financial security as a male player, for example. Many athletes have to work ‘normally’ after their careers and most of the people I know think that’s a good thing. With me, it’s always been a good balance: Throughout my career, I have always tried to work, study and prepare myself for life after football. Sometimes more, sometimes less so, but it was always very important to me.
MSR: But it seems to me that FC Bayern in particular have been doing a lot to put women’s football on a sustainable economic footing and to support its players in this respect. You were part of the club for four years, what is your impression of it?
Schweers: You have to draw a distinction, I think. There is the general impression that women’s football is getting off the ground. That’s not wrong but a lot more is possible. A bigger hurdle is that at FC Bayern women’s department is just one part of a greater organization at one of the world’s largest clubs, whose primary interests are the men and also the youth teams. That is of course understandable, but I don’t think women’s football wants to take anything away from men’s football, nor could it. On the contrary, women’s football can expand the outlook of the club and add new facets to the overall picture. Stories, faces and new, different goals. In my opinion, that’s where the great potential lies. Above all, it needs people who want to see this potential, seize it and develop it.
You can see how much women’s football – especially in other countries – has developed on and off the pitch. In comparison, it’s quite apparent that FC Bayern are still finding it difficult to keep up. Our women are currently at the top of the table, they are unbeaten and have yet to concede a goal. Have you ever seen these achievements mentioned anywhere? I think FC Bayern always emphasizes their pioneering role. During my time at the club we have tried to grow our appreciation and acceptance within the club, tried to raise our profile so that people see and perceive us more, that they include us more in sponsor appointments, merchandising, fan article catalogues – there is so much potential. But I also want to say on a more positive note: I am sure that women’s football will enjoy a substantial rise in it’s importance and appreciation soon. And I hope that FC Bayern will recognize and seize this opportunity. At the moment, the Corona situation is certainly one of the reasons why the main focus is on other issues, but I am sure that the club has women’s football very much on their agenda.
MSR: You have already mentioned the competition abroad. By international standards, women’s football is losing ground in Germany, especially compared to England. In your opinion, is this solely for economic reasons, or are there other factors?
Schweers: In the end, we always come back to the points of appreciation and recognition. It’s not so much that the players leave because they’re interested in earning a lot more money. It’s more about going to a league where you have the feeling that something is happening, that the clubs and the league collaborate and work in the same direction as a unit, that investments are being made, in players, in the environment and in structural developments. Then, as a result, and this is what it’s ultimately all about, the level of competition on the pitch rises as well. That’s when there’s just good football – regardless of whether it’s men’s or women’s football. I think that’s exactly what most female players find super important, which is why many of them decide to go abroad. The next point is that for us women players, a career is typically over sooner than for men because many decide to have a family at one point and maybe want to see or experience a little bit of life beforehand.
If so much money is invested in England across the board, then why not [go there]? And if the DFB can’t keep up, it’s clear that more and more female players will make the move abroad. England is leading the way, because all matches are now broadcast live there, but there are also Real Madrid, Barça or Juventus Turin – everyone is pulling in the same direction at these clubs and hopefully something similar will happen in Germany soon as well.
MSR: Is the gap between the top teams in the league – in Germany Wolfsburg and Bayern – and the rest a problem that plays into this issue?
Schweers: It does make a difference. A player like Lucy Bronze, for example, who had played for Lyon, has moved back to Manchester City. I don’t know her personally, but I could imagine that the league might not have been attractive enough for her in France. It’s always just Lyon and Paris. Here in Germany, too, you can see the same thing again this season with Wolfsburg and Bayern. Teams such as Hoffenheim, Potsdam and Frankfurt had all been said to have great potential before the start of the season, and none of them have been able to even remotely threaten Wolfsburg’s and Bayern’s supremacy and create a sense of tension in the league. This is not a good sign for the balance of the league.
MSR: Wolfsburg and Bayern will meet at the weekend. The situation before the match is excellent for the Bayern team. What do you think is going better for the club from Munich this season than last?
Schweers: They’ve certainly reinforced their team well again, although I don’t think that last year’s team was worse than the current one. I rather believe that the players know each other better now, maybe the right measures were taken in terms of improving team coordination. For example, the players have now begun to communicate with one another much more, which had often been a problem in recent years. There are always eight or nine players who leave before a season and it’s difficult for a team to cope with that. But you can tell that the current team is intact, that there’s a good harmony and that things are running smoothly. If you get on well with each other, then it’s also noticeable on the pitch. I didn’t always feel that way last season.
MSR: Coach Jens Scheuer got a lot of criticism last season. We at Miasanrot also noticed that the team was too limited in their offensive play despite their individual quality. How did you experience him as part of the team?
Schweers: After Tom Wörle left [Thomas Wörle, editor’s note], we got a new coach in Jens Scheuer. I think for a long time we didn’t play the kind of football that everyone hoped for as a result of the change of coach, and which we could have played. Apart from the team spirit mentioned above, what we lacked most was structure on the pitch. With the exception perhaps of the time after the lockdown, when things went well for us. Perhaps the coach also needed some time to find his way around a big club like FC Bayern. Anyway, this year I’m a fan of the team, I like to watch it, and I see a lot of good games and good football”.
MSR: This season Bayern’s game looks very good both offensively and especially defensively. Sydney Lohmann is currently making a huge difference. How do you see her?
Schweers: Syd is a great player with enormous potential. I also appreciate her as a friend and a human being. I have always seen a lot in her as a player and have tried to support her from the beginning. I am really happy for her that she has been able to assert herself over the last years and is now a regular player. From a technical point of view, she is super strong in defense, she is robust, she has a good technique and has now also become a goal scorer. Also, she is the type of player that a team absolutely needs. By the way, I think it’s a great sign that she will stay at Bayern long-term and that she identifies herself with the club. You can start building a framework around her and other players now.
MSR: You have played countless games at the highest level: So what exactly will be important this weekend?
Schweers: It will be crucial that they keep up the momentum and maintain the current high spirit. As the home team, Bayern are probably even a bit of a favourite now. That in itself is proof of the outstanding work so far. For once it’s not as if you have to beat Wolfsburg just to keep up. The girls can take a very important step forward, but they have to concentrate on their game and stay true to themselves. Now the pressure is on Wolfsburg to step up and show that they can perform in unfamiliar circumstances. Bayern are now the chased ones, otherwise it has always been Wolfsburg. I have the feeling that the girls finally have a chance this season. A better chance than ever.
MSR: Why better than ever?
Schweers: Because Wolfsburg have lost very, very important players. They have to cope with the absence of Harder and Gunnarsdottir, who have moved on, Pajor, who is injured, Rolfö, who is not yet at 100% after her injury, and Popp, whose appearance is still doubtful. They have strengthened the squad relatively well with van de Sanden and Saevik, but they are not what they used to be. In general, you can see that the team is in a state of upheaval. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but if there’s ever a chance to beat them, it is this season.
MSR: Then the final question: Will the FC Bayern women come out victorious in this game and ultimately in this season?
Schweers: I definitely hope so. It would make me happy for ‘my’ girls. And of course I would like to see an exciting game of football that produces good advertising for women’s football. These two teams can take women’s football to the next level. This is very important, but even more than that I would like our girls to pull it off this year.
We would like to thank Verena Schweers very much for the interview.