Wolfsburg's Ralf Kellermann is aiming to become the first coach to win this title three times. He discusses Thursday's final against Lyon and his club's evolution.
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No coach has won the UEFA Women's Champions League three times, but Wolfsburg's Ralf Kellermann could be about to change that, all in a period of four seasons.
In charge since 2008, before Wolfsburg were even German title challengers, Kellermann has a wide-ranging role at the club beyond coaching the first team and again made some shrewd additions to his squad this season after their semi-final exit a year ago. He discusses Wolfsburg's season and Thursday's date with destiny against the side they beat in their debut 2013 final, Lyon.
UEFA.com: What are your emotions ahead of your third final in four years?
Ralf Kellermann: The same as the first two times: it's very special. And it's a long way to get here, which is becoming more difficult as there are more and more competitive teams. I've had a chance to take a look at the stadium, and we're very happy about the conditions there and the pitch. It's a great choice.
UEFA.com: What kind of threat do Lyon present?
Kellermann: I took the chance to watch them play in their domestic league back in September 2015, just to see what their level was like, and it was really impressive. There was a huge difference in quality between Lyon and Paris then, and you could see that again in the two recent semi-final matches.
Lyon have been playing some great football, they have world-class players in every position, and they've also improved their efficiency in front of goal. People say that the French national team are technically the strongest in the world but not clinical enough in front of goal, but Lyon don’t have that weakness any more, thanks also to the foreign players in their attack. So they have world-class players in every position.
UEFA.com: What must your team do in order to lift the trophy for a third time?
Kellermann: I think Lyon are the slight favourites, because of their recent performances and because of the players they have. But we showed in 2013 that we can beat teams like this. We are very confident, and we’ve performed very well in the Champions League, for example in the first leg against Frankfurt when everything went great for us. And I know that if we have a day like that again, we are capable of beating Lyon.
There is still a bit of a question about who will be available to play, we're hoping no one else gets injured, as we’re already having to compensate for the loss of a few players with long-term injuries, like Caroline Hansen for example, who can make a difference in matches like this.
UEFA.com: After a mixed start to the season, Wolfsburg have been in incredible form en route to the final …
Kellermann: A Champions League match is always something special; you can already see that in the preparations and I think you can see it in the body language of the players: they know that one bad day can mean you're out of this competition. So there's more focus compared to the domestic league.
I would say that the leading players in the team's development since the winter break have been Nilla Fischer, who has had a great second half of the season, Alex Popp, and Almuth Schult in goal. When those players are doing well, then it’s easier for the players in the background to do well, build up their confidence and perform better.
Before the winter break players like Élise Bussaglia, Ramona Bachmann and Lara Dickenmann hadn’t settled in completely, and they took part in the World Cup so they didn’t have time to prepare for the start of the season. But I think that when you have your full squad available for five to six weeks to prepare for something specific, like the second half of the season, then you can work on tactics much more effectively and the players can gain an understanding of how we want to play. We have good individuals, but they have to gel as a team, which is something that has improved a lot for us in the last few months.
UEFA.com: How difficult was it to cope with the retirements of Martina Müller and Nadine Kessler?
Kellermann: Both players had different reasons. Martina Müller ended her career at the age of 35 and went out on a high after winning the German Cup. We were able to prepare for that, but she is still definitely missed in the dressing room, especially her character. Anyone who saw her play here over the years, including Champions League finals, will know she always gave her best. Maybe we have been missing that mentality.
As for Nadine Kessler, I have to say that it's a real footballing tragedy. She had to stop at the peak of her career and hasn't played since she received the FIFA award. She had to retire at a very young age. We have been missing her as a strategist and leader on the pitch.
We've played without her for almost a year and a half now, and we've managed to compensate for it, but if you're then told to look for a new player like her, they are difficult to find. Losing them really weakened us for many months, but I think we’ve managed to deal with it well.