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Germany make Olympics, but 'stagnating'

February 29, 2024

A win over old rivals the Netherlands saw Germany secure a spot at Paris 2024. But with an interim national team coach, a league that is falling behind, and youth development issues, there are dark clouds looming.

German players celebrate a goal against the Netherlands
A win over the Netherlands secured qualification, but Germany have work to doImage: Marcel ter Bals/DeFodi Images/picture alliance

August 2023 was a time of failure, introspection and chaos for Germany’s women’s football team at the World Cup. While the chaos persisted for a time, their qualification for the Paris Olympics in 2024 offers them a chance of golden redemption this summer.

Even if Horst Hrubesch's side can arrest the decline experienced since their loss in the final of Euro 2022, the interim coach can only really paper over the cracks, according to former Germany international Julia Simic.

"I think you have to look at what's coming behind, and that's where I think we are lacking – the next generation of players coming in," Simic, who won the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, the German Cup with Bayern Munich and two Germany caps, told DW.

"We currently don't have an under-23 national team. That's something that's missing in Germany as well. The journey kind of stops, they don't have these competitions internationally against the best other nations in the world in their age group unless they make it to the A team."

Simic also believes the Bundesliga has fallen behind other leagues, such as England’s WSL, the NWSL in the USA and even, to a lesser degree, France, Italy and Spain.

Lina Magull on the ball against France
Lina Magull has recently swapped Germany for ItalyImage: Molly Darlington/REUTERS

"It's stagnated. It hasn't gone downwards, but the steps aren't quick or big enough compared to other leagues. It just kept its level while other leagues were raising theirs quickly and investing a lot," she added. "Our biggest talents and our best players now have other options, [Germany midfielder] Lina Magull going to Inter [from Bayern] or [Germany internationals] Sjoke Nüsken and Melanie Leupolz to Chelsea for example."

Time for change at the top?

A World Cup campaign that ended in a shock group stage exit followed by the drawn-out departure of long-term coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg and the lack of a single Bundesliga team in the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in history has led to widespread concern about the state of the domestic game in Germany.

A report published in January by Eintracht Frankfurt CEO Axel Hellmann, who also holds positions at Germany’s football association (DFB) and football league (DFL), and Katja Kraus from the 'Football Can Do More' initiative, called in to question the role of the DFB.

"The overall development is not going fast enough. The English are outsourcing the women from the football association, the Americans have already done that. Both have a completely different media depth and have a magnetic attraction for advertising partners," Hellmann noted.

Julia Simic coaching
Simic represented Germany at senior level and now works with Eintracht Frankfurt's women's youth teamsImage: Oliver Zimmermann/foto2press/picture alliance

It's a point that Simic agrees with. "We need investors, we need money, and we need infrastructure to grow. But you also need to have that target the goal, the vision," said the midfielder, who also spent time in the WSL with West Ham.

"At the moment, a big tournament comes along or there's a bit of success for the national team and everyone is a bit more motivated than they were the year before. And then it goes down again, the media loses a bit of interest and the clubs stop investment because it's not so visible anymore, and so on. And I think that shouldn't be the case. There should just be linear improvements year after year, with clear targets and a clear strategy. I think the DFB has had its chances."

While Bayern’s capture of Germany midfielder Lena Oberdorf from perennial title rivals Wolfsburg bucks the recent trend of a talent drain from Germany’s top flight, Simic believes the league's other clubs need to catch up to those abroad. In particular, she feels archaic attitudes towards female footballers are preventing progress.

Men's clubs must do more

"At the moment it sometimes feels like a social responsibility thing that people feel they have to do, it's not that people are 100% down to do it," she said.

Traditional powers like Turbine Potsdam have fallen away in Germany in recent years, lacking the backing of a men's side, which is increasingly necessary to compete at the top level in Europe. Simic believes rich and powerful men's clubs like Cologne, Werder Bremen or Bayer Leverkusen could be doing much more, as their counterparts in England are.

"The infrastructure was there already [during her time in the WSL], the doors were more open. This is something we could have here, but the doors are closed and we won't let the women in."

While investment is key, Simic acknowledges that tradition cannot be dispensed with entirely and recent successful protests in the men’s Bundesliga that investors in German football are viewed with some skepticism.

Bundesliga investor deal collapses after fan protest

But Kraus and Hellmann suggest in their report that there is little appetite for change among those responsible at the DFB, with the power structures confusing and tangled. "There is so little enthusiasm, everything is far too quiet and well-behaved for me," said Kraus.

Enthusiasm should at least be roused again when the Olympics come in to view later this year. But, as is so often the case in women’s football, it’s sustaining those peaks that will dictate the long term health of the game in Germany.

Edited by: James Thorogood