Anna Margraf: From Germany to Australia and back again
Germany's Women's Bundesliga is littered with players from across the globe but few feel quite as at home in a foreign land as Australian forward Anna Margraf.
The 21-year-old may be 10,000 miles away from her hometown of Alstonville in New South Wales but playing football in Germany was always top of the striker's wish list.
Since signing for newly-promoted SV Meppen, who notched their fourth win of the season against Cologne on Sunday, nothing has dampened Margraf's pleasure of playing football in the country of her birth, having left Germany at the age of just three.
"Playing in the Bundesliga has been one of my dreams," Margraf told DW. "I grew up watching Bayern Munich's men's team play and thinking they were such a cool club.
"I always felt the Bundesliga was one of the best women's leagues in the world. It is still pretty surreal for me that my dream has finally come true."
Turning COVID disappointment into opportunity
At the age of 17, Margraf enjoyed an impressive breakthrough season at Brisbane Roar between October 2019-January 2020 in the formerly named W League, Australia's premier women's domestic tournament.
The striker played in six of the team's 12 matches, amassing 410 minutes out on the pitch alongside Australia national team stars Katrina Gorry, Hayley Raso and Clare Polkinghorne.
However, with her sights firmly set on pursuing a professional football career in the Bundesliga, Margraf wasted no time in searching for opportunities at European clubs as the Australian season came to an end.
Having lined up a trial at Hoffenheim in March 2020, Margraf took the gruelling 23-hour flight only to be told the evening before her big test that the trial had been canceled as the world began to shut down with the coronavirus pandemic taking grip.
Despite the understandable disappointment at missing out on the chance to achieve a long-held desire, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Margraf. Returning to Brisbane Roar for the 2021-22 season, and finding new coach Garrath McPherson place faith in her abilities, the attacker scored three goals in 14 appearances, particularly impressing with her link-up play with the attacking midfielders.
"In the end, returning to Australia and having the final A League season was important," she explained. "I knew I didn't want to get stuck or be in my mid-20s and only then just be going overseas.
"There's no security in the Australian league, a lot of players are working and studying alongside playing football.
"Players still do that abroad too but with contracts it means at least you're not having months away from the team, training alone and trying to stay fit enough to be at your best for peak performance, because that is what is so tough.
"That's why I was so motivated, and I knew when the next opportunity came for me I was going to jump."
A nervy but promising beginning to life in Germany
As Meppen were nearing the culmination of their ultimate title-winning campaign in Bundesliga 2 last season, eventually pipping MSV Duisburg to the trophy by a single point, Margraf's agent made contact with the German club.
On learning that the side wished to offer her a contract, meaning she had achieved her primary goal at only the age of 21, the first person she shared the news with was her older brother, who had long shared her love and passion of football and the Bundesliga.
Off the back of a successful final season with the Roar, Margraf was full of confidence but adjusting to a new country and league has understandably taken a bit of time.
"Coming into a small club like Meppen you have to work twice as hard in the league," she said. "I was really nervous for my first training session because I wasn't sure if I was going to be up to the level to be able to play in the Bundesliga.
"The tempo here is very different to in Australia and the players here are a lot more technical. The game in Germany is more focused on a 'tika-taka' style of play.
"In my first match when I was substituted on, I was a bit taken aback by the pace of the match. But, it wasn't so huge a gap that I felt I couldn't compete in the league.
"Of course, when you play against Bayern Munich or Wolfsburg it is different and more challenging than playing against the rest of the league but having the confidence my last season at Roar gave me, helps a lot."
And, when asked how she felt after scoring her first Bundesliga goal against Werder Bremen on Matchday 7, there was just one way to describe it for the young forward.
"It was bloody amazing," Margraf exclaimed.
Edited by Matt Ford