A few weeks after the Bundesliga-team of Bayern Munich came to Doha for their eighth consecutive annual training camp, their women’s team followed suit. For one week some of the world’s best female football players made Aspire Academy their temporary home. Besides getting in shape for the second part of their season in the “Allianz Women’s Bundesliga”, the training camp also provided an opportunity for players and staff to get to know Qatar’s culture and promote women’s football.
Qatar and FC Bayern Munich has been a success story for almost a decade. The men’s team of the record holder in German football with 27 championship and 18 cup titles, has held their eighth consecutive winter-training camp at Aspire Academy in the first week of this year. Since January 2016, Doha’s Hamad International Airport, ranked Sixth Best Airport in the World by the 2017 Skytrax World Airport Awards, has been an official platinum sponsor of the Bavarians.
For the women’s team of FC Bayern, the training camp from January 27 to February 3 was the first encounter with Qatar. Head Coach Thomas Wörle, who took over the coaching job at the club with only 28 years of age in 2010 from his father Günther Wörle, was also looking forward to the trip to Doha. “Like in any other training camp, one of the most important things is to bring the team closer together. In terms of football, we put a strong focus on tactics to practice things such as set pieces. The conditions here are perfect and allow us to work on small details of our game, which would be very difficult in Germany because of the harsh climate with snow and rain.”
Ambassadors for Germany and women’s football
“Of course, we saw pictures and videos from the men’s training camps and were excited to come here,” said midfielder Melanie Leupolz, who was part of the German national team that triumphed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Not surprisingly, the players already had first encounters with fans at their arrival at Hamad International Airport. “When they saw the Bayern Munich sign, people at the airport came and talked to us. It’s great that the club is getting more popular in this area and it’s great to come in touch the local people and fans,” US-American defender Gina Lewandowski described their first steps on Qatari soil.
The fans at the airport were not be the only ones who were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Germans. At the beginning of the camp, team captain and German international Melanie Behringer paid a visit to the German International School in Doha, and more than 70 students asked the World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist questions about football and especially about women’s football. Accompanied by Aspire Academy’s Football Operations Manager and fellow German Stephan Hildebrandt, Bianca Rech, team manager of FC Bayern’s women team and Christopher Keil, Head of Public Affairs & CSR at the club, also had the opportunity to meet with Hans-Udo Muzel, who has been serving as Germany’s Ambassador to the State of Qatar since September 2015.
Due to the initiative of the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee (QWSC), FC Bayern also played a mixed friendly with Qatari girls between 14 and 19 years in front of 400 enthused spectators. The result in this 2x30 minute long game was insignificant, as the purpose was to motivate the aspiring local female players. “Events like this help us in promoting the sport and enhance our efforts in building a strong women’s football national team in Qatar. The women’s sports sector has grown in recent times thanks to the vision and leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser and we will continue our work as we have plans to build solid foundations for our female sports teams,” Lulwa Al Marri, Chairperson of QWSC emphasized the importance of this friendly.
A question of determination
“What does it take to become a professional women’s football player?” was a question the Germans heard a lot during their stay in Doha. According to coach Wörle it’s all about practice: “Every athlete who performs extraordinary is able to do so, because he or she trains hard. Practice makes perfect. That’s why I think that for girls between five and nine years of age it’s very important to become friends with the football and play with it as much as possible, because a good technical foundation is very important.”
“First of all, it’s important to have fun at what you are doing. It’s okay to dream big, but in order to make it to the top you need focus and be persistent,” said Viktoria Schnaderbeck and the 27-year-old midfielder from Austria, whose cousin Sebastian Prödl plays for FC Watford in the English Premier League, is probably one of the best examples what you can achieve with determination and dedication. Spotted by the FC Bayern scouts at the age 15 when she was already playing for LUV Graz in the highest Austrian League, she made the decision to accept the offer from the Germans one year later. “It was like a dream come true”, she remembers.
A dream that required a lot of hard work. First, the teenager had to leave her family behind to move to Munich, settle in a new environment and continue her school education, while making the next steps in her development as a footballer at FC Bayern. But not everything was smooth sailing. Shortly after joining her new club she tore her ACL. Just after being back on the pitch after spending months in rehabilitation, she tore it again. Multiple injuries and five surgeries cost her almost three years of her career, but she always fought her way back. “Giving up was never an option. Every day I am trying to become better and it’s the same when I deal with injuries. I have this inner spirit that drives me in a positive way. I set myself goals and work hard to reach them. And when I am injured, I do everything to get fit as soon as possible, so I can help my team again. It’s part of the game.”
In the end her effort would pay off. After winning the German championship with Bayern Munich in 2015 and 2016, she led the Austrian national team to the European Championships in the Netherlands and the underdog sensationally finished third in their first EURO participation. Her achievements and leadership did not go unnoticed, as she received the award for Austria’s female “Footballer of the Year” in January 2018. “I am really happy for her. She has come a long way to get where she is now. If someone deserves this award, it is her,” applauded fellow Austrian and FC Bayern defender David Alaba. Both have known each other for quite a while, since the left back joined the Bavarians just one year after Schnaderbeck in 2008 and they still chat from time to time when they meet at the club’s home in “Säbener Straße”.
Tough fight until the end expected
In contrast to the German Bundesliga, where the men of FC Bayern are the most successful team of all time and have also been playing a dominant role this season, the women’s team has been facing a more challenging situation. After winning the women’s league in 1976 it would take 36 years before FC Bayern celebrated their next honors in women’s football, which was the German Cup in 2012. Just in the earlier past the dominance of 1. FFC Frankfurt and 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam would be broken by clubs like VfL Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich, who managed to win the championship in 2015 and 2016.
After the first half of the current 2017-18 season, FC Bayern is ranked in third place – three points behind leaders Wolfsburg and one point behind SC Freiburg. Naturally, the preparation in the mid-season break plays an important role. While the team enjoyed activities like a gala dinner at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), a desert safari, or watching some games of the “Al Kass International Cup”, the main focus remained on their work on the Aspire Academy pitches. Anything but a top-2 finish at the end of the season would be a disappointment. “Winning the championship would be great, but the main goal is to qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions League and therefore we need to finish at least second in the championship”, explains Melanie Leupolz.
While German clubs have triumphed in the UEFA Women’s Champions League nine times so far, Bayern Munich is still looking to top their best result in this competition, which was the quarter-final in 2017 which they lost to Paris Saint-Germain. Coach Wörle is expecting an exciting second half of the 2017-18 season. “It’s going to be a tough fight for the top spots with a couple of other teams until the end. However, we also want to do well in the German Cup this year. We are already in the quarter finals and with two good games we can be in the final.”
In order to master all these upcoming challenges, the club signed three players in the winter break: French international Laura Georges joined the club from PSG, the Chinese national team goal keeper Fei Wang, who recently played for Dalian Quanjian and English forward Leah Galton, who spent the last two seasons with Sky Blue FC in the North American NWSL. Players like defender Georges, who participated in three World Cups, represented France in more than 180 games and won the UEFA Women’s Champions League twice with Olympique Lyonnais, definitely adds a lot of experience to the squad. To her, winning two titles at the end of the season would be fantastic. “But before we start talking about titles, we have to lay the foundation, and that’s what a training camp like the one in Doha is perfect for – to work hard and to further develop the team.”
For FC Bayern Munich’s men’s team, coming to Doha to train at Aspire Academy has proven to be an integral piece of their puzzle when it comes to defining a successful season. Fingers crossed that Behringer, Leupolz, Schnaderbeck, Georges and the rest of the club’s women’s team will benefit in a similar way from their trip to Qatar. And some experiences such as their encounters with Qatar’s culture and female youth football talents might even have touched them on a personal level.