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Lena Oberdorf to Bayern Munich: A seismic transfer

February 14, 2024

Germany's star midfielder, Lena Oberdorf, will swap Wolfsburg for Bayern Munich later this year. The two teams have long battled each other for the Women's Bundesliga title, but does this mark a turning point?

Lena Oberdorf points while playing football for Germany
Lena Oberdorf has already won 44 caps for Germany at the age of 22Image: Hansjürgen Britsch/Baumann/IMAGO

Even at this relatively early stage, the Women's Bundesliga once again looks a two-horse race, with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg reaffirming themselves as a notch above the rest. But the imminent record-breaking transfer of one of Germany's most sought-after players suggests a significant power shift towards champions Bayern.

Lena Oberdorf, the smart, tough-tackling, driving heart of Wolfsburg and Germany's midfield for the last few years will to move to Munich for a German record fee of €400,000 (€429,000) at the end of this season, the clubs announced on Thursday. With her contract running out at the end of next season, this was Wolfsburg's last chance to get a fee for her.

"Lena Oberdorf is one of the most talented players in Germany and has a great future ahead of her," said Bayern Munich Women's Department Manager, Bianca Rech. "We look forward to her playing for us from the summer onwards because we are convinced that Lena, as a footballer, represents the values ​​that we need in order to continue to be successful in the future."

SGS Essen doing it their own way

The financial clout of England's Women's Super League (WSL), French giants Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain as well as Spanish side Barcelona has fueled something of a talent drain from the German top flight in recent years. And while Oberdorf's move to Bayern – and rejection of Chelsea and PSG, keeps one of the country's top talents in the domestic league, it is undoubtedly a blow to the club she will leave behind.

"I really liked the club’s vision of what they want to achieve in the next few years. I was also shown where my potential lies and what else can be got out of me," Oberdorf said on signing a contract until 2028. "I don't think I'm a complete player yet, but I want to get there."

Wolfsburg shedding stars

With two Champions League wins and six Bundesliga titles in the last decade, Wolfsburg have been Germany's flag bearers in women's football. But with funding from Volkswagen dwindling in recent years, players like Fridalina Rolfo and Pernille Harder have departed for other leagues and greater financial and sporting opportunities.

The signing of fellow German midfielder Janina Minge, announced on Tuesday, will soften the blow of losing Oberdorf somewhat. But with Harder and Magdalena Eriksson joining England midfielder Georgia Stanway as recent arrivals in Munich, and Bayern on course to retain their title this term, the Bavarians appear determined to match the dominance of their men, who have won 11 Bundesliga titles in a row, signing plenty of talent from direct rivals along the way.

Nevertheless, Oberdorf's expected move would come as something of a surprise, given her previously stated aversion to Bayern.

"I can't imagine joining Bayern," she told German weekly SportBild in 2022, adding that even as a Schalke fan, she backed rivals Dortmund against Bayern when the two were fighting for the men's Bundesliga title.

Oberdorf grew up in Gevelsberg, not far from Dortmund, and captained the local boys team as a young player, an experience, she told The Guardian, was formative.

Toughening up

"It made me a better player because boys are bigger and stronger and you have to get through them somehow," she said.

"I also learned to get rid of the ball very fast because I didn't want to take a bad tackle. But I was used to it from my brother [Tim who now plays for Fortuna Düsseldorf] and sister. When you're with your siblings in the garden you get those tackles because that's how it is with family. You get angry at your brother and tackle him just as hard."

Lena Oberdorf kicks a ball while playing for Wolfsburg
Lena Oberdorf moved to Wolfsburg from SGS Essen in 2020Image: Christian Kolbert/dpa/picture alliance

While Oberdorf often plays in a more offensive role for Wolfsburg than for Germany, it's her defensive attributes that stand out, those tackles taken and dished out in the garden have stood her in good stead.

"I need three or four good tackles in order to get into a match," she told DW during Euro 2022, when she was named the tournament's best young player. "I'm learning to trust my own strengths even more and just throw everything in."

The 22-year-old is equally firm off the pitch, criticizing the men's World Cup in Qatar and advocating for LGBTQ rights in light of Saudi Arabia's proposed sponsorship of last year's World Cup.

Oberdorf said she will  "give everything" for the rest of this season with Wolfsburg and try to help them regain the title from Bayern, who lead the league by a point. Even if she manages that, the future is looking increasingly Bavarian.

Edited by: Chuck Penfold