In only his second full season as a head coach, Sven Kahlert is preparing to lead 1. FFC Frankfurt into the UEFA Women's Champions League final against holders Olympique Lyonnais in Munich on Thursday.
Kahlert, formerly a junior coach at 1. FSV Mainz 05, moved to three-time European champions Frankfurt in summer 2009 as Günter Wegmann's assistant and a few months later took over the helm. Last season he ended a rare barren spell for the club by winning the German Cup and leading Frankfurt back into Europe, and now they are preparing for a joint-record fifth final – but one the 41-year-old feels they will enter as outsiders.
"Lyon are the favourites, they have had a strong team for a while now, they know the atmosphere, they know what goes on before, during and after a match like this, how great the attention is," Kahlert told UEFA.com. "That might be a slight advantage.
I think we have a team that is experienced internationally, and who have managed to play their best football when they've needed to, and we're trusting in that again. So we might be the slight underdogs, but I see a realistic chance for us to win the final."
Last summer, Frankfurt lost much of their experience with the retirement of Birgit Prinz and the departures of Ariane Hingst and Conny Pohlers. "The plan was to bring through players who had been a bit hidden a bit before, and now could take over responsibilities, develop their own personality," Kahlert explained.
"It happened, but there were matches where there was not really a player who led the team on the pitch; that developed slowly, step by step. You can say that the team managed to get over it, but we are still lacking that player who rolls up her sleeves and leads the team. That doesn't happen overnight."
He too had to change when he was promoted from assistant. "You had a different relationship with the players, [as assistant] it was somehow a more friendly relationship, just a different connection with the players," Kahlert said. "As head coach it was difficult, as I was partly by myself for six months. So I worked very closely with the experienced players like Prinz, [Kerstin] Garefrekes, [Nadine] Angerer, [Saskia] Bartusiak, Sandra Smisek, and it worked well.
"You need to be ready to develop further every day, and to enjoy it, despite the pressure you have. But this is part of football, this is part of Frankfurt, I knew before what to expect. And
I always say it's better to have pressure like this and not be sleeping, rather than feeling for example the pressure of relegation and not be sleeping."
Certainly, there is no more welcome pressure than a showpiece final. "I'm looking forward to it," Kahlert said. "Not every coach has the chance to participate in a Champions League final. It might not be comparable to the men's final, or as prestigious, but it's still a Champions League final, and with all the events that surround the final, the advertising, the media interest, the fans, a full stadium. And that is something that you don't really have in your daily business as coach of a women's football team."
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