As VfL Wolfsburg face 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam in the all-German semi-final, coach Ralf Kellermann explains how they went from also-rans to European champions.
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Not much more than 12 months ago, VfL Wolfsburg had never won a major trophy, but this season they have found themselves defending honours on all possible fronts.
A domestic double in 2012/13 was topped off by their debut UEFA Women's Champions League triumph in London last May, but hopes of another treble ended when they lost to 1. FFC Frankfurt in November's German Cup round of 16. Also trailing both Frankfurt and Saturday's UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final first-leg hosts 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam in the league, Wolfsburg's recent form has proved they are a worthy addition to the two traditional powerhouses of the German women's game.
For over a decade the Frauen-Bundesliga title was a duopoly between Frankfurt and Potsdam, one or other winning it every year from 2001 and 2012, FCR 2001 Duisburg not able to stop them despite claiming the 2009 UEFA Women's Cup at European level. Of course, having the backing of a leading car manufacturer and the structure of a men's Bundesliga club behind them has aided Wolfsburg's emergence, but when the former VfR Eintracht Wolfsburg were taken over in 2003, they were relegated within two years.
It was a slow and methodical build-up that raised Wolfsburg to the heights they occupy today and it is firmly connected with coach and sporting director Ralf Kellermann, who took charge in 2008. After all, other men's Bundesliga clubs have entered the women's top flight in recent years, yet none have even come close to Wolfsburg's success.
"The conditions I worked under when I started in Wolfsburg and how we work now – some enormous progress has been made," Kellermann said. "It is a logical consequence to get such results if you continue to work more professionally and improve training and general conditions."
In the first three years under the former 2. Bundesliga goalkeeper, Wolfsburg finished solidly in mid-table. The catalyst for further improvement was forward Conny Pohlers in 2011/12, the year they came second in the league, just three points behind Potsdam, earning a European bow.
However, they also integrated a lot of talented young players as Kellermann is keen to explain: "The standard of young girls in Germany is very high, there is a lot of meticulous work going into this. Every year we take a step forward. There have been setbacks, but we were really able to continuously build something."
Kellermann's achievements are also proof to club boards that patience can be a virtue. "In a team sport it is crucial to get the time to build a squad, develop players and see if new signings have the right character for team spirit to develop," said Kellermann, who signed a new three-year deal in March. "Without this team spirit, no success is possible."
Guided by these principles, Kellermann created a side that won the 2012/13 treble – a feat he thinks will not be matched in quite a while. "No German team will accomplish this in the near future," the 45-year-old said. "Those are special moments with midweek fixtures [in Europe or the cup]. If your concentration is lacking or you have a bad day, that's enough to go out of the cup or not become league champions."