By Chapin Landvogt – Coming out of the winter break, the HSV of the German’s Bundesliga had managed to garner a win, two ties, and a loss in its four games heading into its match against FFC Frankfurt. There, they were able to upset the heavily favored ladies of the FFC, 1-0, on the road, something that sent some shockwaves through the women’s Bundesliga.
The team’s record over the past few weeks is coming on the heels of a fall season in which the team was only able to gain two wins and two ties in its first 10 games of the season. In continuing our inside look at the club as a functioning business entity and sample of the challenges facing a team in Germany’s professional women’s soccer scene, Our Game Magazine took the opportunity to talk to Coach Achim Feifel after a 1-1 tie against Bayern München.
OGM: Have you been happy with the team’s performance coming out of the winter break?
Coach Feifel: Most definitely. I’m quite happy with how well the team has practiced and worked on itself, on improving certain aspects of their game. During the winter break, we ran a much harder program than last summer, and I’m quite satisfied with the attitude of the players and their willingness to do whatever is necessary in practice. That’s an important thing too, because we definitely want to stay in this league.
OGM: Speaking of practice, most all of the ladies have full-time jobs or are still studying at a university or even attend high school in the course of the week. Their life can’t be devoted entirely to soccer. How difficult does that make things for you in organizing, planning and constructing meaningful and goal-oriented practice schedules and routines?
Feifel: Sure, it can be quite difficult and causes us, for example, to have to practice quite late. Wolfsburg is a team that is able to practice at 4 p.m. in daylight, which is when the games are played. We practice at 6:30 p.m., sometimes 7 p.m., under spotlights, and the girls don’t get home until late at night. Many have to be up and at it the next day at 5 or 6 in morning. So for our girls, these are much different prerequisites than some other teams have. It can be quite an extreme workload for them. Then we have the problem that some players are often held up from practicing and playing due to their work, school, tests, etc.
OGM: Do you also have players on the team who have to travel a long way to practice and play here?
Feifel: Yes. Lena Petermann, for example, needs an hour and half to get here from where she lives, often travelling through rush hour traffic. It’s asking a lot. We practice late, and then a player like her isn’t getting home until 11:30 at night, if she’s lucky. There are a few like her in the team. That travel makes for some difficult conditions.
OGM: So when acquiring players for the team, is it your experience that Hamburg has a more difficult chore of it than many of the other teams in the country?
Feifel: That is the case. Hamburg is indeed a bit of a difficult site, if even simply in light of the fact that it isn’t a heavy urban center where lots of towns are located close to each other. This leads to us having to acquire some of our players from external areas. This means that we also have to invest more money into these players. This leads to greater efforts in supporting and coordinating our players. Take a place like North Rhine-Westphalia, where ladies can transfer from Essen to Duisburg and vice versa, much less other clubs that are very closely located to each other in that area and do some really good work. Those areas also have some great potential with their heavily dense population. It just makes things simpler for them in putting together teams with quality throughout the lineup.
OGM: When we talk about players coming from elsewhere, some of your opponents have a number of players coming from foreign countries. Many play for their national teams and bring a boatload of international experience with them. The HSV doesn’t have any of these at the moment and has only had a few in recent years. Does this alter the playing field a bit right from the get-go knowing that some clubs are simply more capable of acquiring several players of this caliber and others are not?
Feifel: On the one side, yes. We too are currently looking into expanding our sites into the Scandinavian countries that neighbor us here in Northern Germany. On the other side, it’s always difficult to incorporate foreign players. Our experience is that things can go well and engaging foreign players can be a win-win situation, but it can also backfire. In addition, it’s never easy when you have lingual barriers. This always makes it more difficult to integrate the players. So there are definitely two sides to this coin.
OGM: Your goals for the rest of the season: Is it safe to say that you’re now primarily playing against relegation?
Feifel: Yes, you can say that. That’s definitely our goal. We’ve now got 15 points. Depending on how the games turn out, I’ve got the magic sum of 20 points in site. That is generally what it takes to guarantee yourself a spot in this league when all is said and done. That’s definitely what we’re shooting for.
OGM: Did you do anything special in the winter break to help focus on this goal in a serious, concentrated manner?
Feifel: Indeed we did. We spent time working on the psychological aspect of things, concentrating on personalities. We did some work in that field with a company called PI Europe to try and figure out what makes the individual players and the team tick. We wanted to best figure out how to approach the individual players and see what characters require which forms of motivation. We also wanted the girls to get to know each other better through these courses. In general, we were looking to discover and then pinpoint the maximum in team spirit.
OGM: You also played some test games against some boys’ teams in the area. Is it safe to assume that you as a coach do see this as being an optimal way to prepare the team for the opponents in the women’s Bundesliga?
Feifel: Yes, because playing against boys means that you have to play a compact style as a team. Boys are simply better in 1-on-1 situations because they’re generally quicker, if not stronger. This leads us to need to play better as a group. We need to generate as many 2-on-1 situations as possible, also defensively. We can’t afford to give the opponent any space. We have to keep things as tight as possible. It all requires a quicker reaction time and dribbling can’t be done lackadaisically. Decisions have to be made quickly. In addition, the ladies have to play more rugged and be more assertive. The tempo is totally different, too, because boys are able to create a much faster transition game. Moving into the attack is something that these boys were brutally good at. This all demands a lot of our girls and has a wonderful training effect.
OGM: About yourself: You’re actually from Southern Germany, where you spent the bulk of your playing and coaching career. Now you’ve been coaching the HSV since 2005. How did you land in this job?
Feifel: That’s a funny story. It came through the type of connections you make along the way. I had been working as an assistant coach with the women’s U23 team. This team had a certain management delegation. One of the members of this delegation was the decision-maker for the women’s team here with the HSV back at that time. We got to know each other, and he’s the one ultimately brought me into the fold here in Hamburg.
OGM: And I guess one can say that you’re satisfied with your life up here in the far North?
Feifel: I’ve now been here for seven years and really like it up here. I’ve since founded a family and really like my life here.
OGM: Let me just ask you about the Women’s World Cup last summer in Germany. It seemed to be such a big success in so many ways. Do you see it as such as well?
Feifel: Well, yes, but not with respect to the sustainability of the success. In my opinion, we’re now seeing what some predicted, namely that there’d be a drop in the sustainability of the popularity generated by the event. For the women’s world of soccer here in Germany, there’s still a lot that needs to happen in order for the game to continue developing.
OGM: Did the tournament perhaps lead to an increase in the participation of young girls who have now started playing organized soccer, at least in as much as you can decipher from what’s gone on here in this club?
Feifel: Yes, actually it did lead to an increase in participants, and that’s something we definitely have to build on and profit from. This will only be improved through dedicated youth work, an improved quality of the coaches, and in further developing the structure of our system. There are a lot of things that need to improve in order for the girls to develop better.
OGM: Speaking of further development, do you personally see a few future national team players right here in your current lineup?
Feifel: Well, we’ll definitely have to wait and see about that. We certainly have some players here who have that potential and room for improvement towards that goal, for example, a player like Carolin Simon who plays on our left side. Still, that’s something that’s hard to foresee or predict. Potential is there for a few, but a further development certainly has to take place for all possible candidates.
Originally from Virginia, Chapin Landvogt spent his childhood playing organized soccer everywhere from California to Florida to the greater Washington D.C. metro area and finally in high school a few hours south of Boston. A Siena College grad, he spent the better part of the past 15 years living and working as a professional translator in Germany, where he’s been able to remain more than just an avid observer of one of the world’s most passionate soccer cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @Csomichapin, where he enjoys sharing occasional commentary on primarily soccer, ice hockey and some of his favortie music.