Wolfsburg coach Tommy Stroot reflects on his team's season and assesses Women's Champions League final adversaries Barcelona.
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This article also appears in the official UEFA Women's Champions League final programme. Get your copy here!
After narrowly missing out on the UEFA Women's Champions League final last season, Wolfsburg coach Tommy Stroot has guided his team to the UEFA Women's Champions League final. Now all that lies between him and the trophy on Saturday in Eindhoven are the very team that denied them in the 2021/22, Barcelona.
You've got to the final – how was the journey to get here?
If we are still there by the end, we must have done a lot right. In the group stage we knew we were favourites but we had some challenging games – away in Rome and at home against Slavia – that made our lives harder. In the end we pushed through, quite deservedly, as group winners. After that we had the two games against Paris. Carrying [a 1-0 away victory] forward to the second leg proved to be an advantage: following the 1-1 draw, we were able to progress.
Then the semi-final tie against Arsenal. How did you feel after the final whistle in the second leg?
The excitement for the final was huge. We have already achieved a big goal and we are very excited to have Barcelona as opponents. We got to know them better last season [in the semi-final]; we know how they are and we managed to win one of the two games. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it through, but we know that in the final everything is possible.
Barcelona beat Wolfsburg 5-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals last season, with your side losing the first leg 5-1, then winning the second 2-0. What's the biggest challenge you face against them this time?
Last season there was only a week between the two games and we managed to win the second leg. It was a completely different game. Those games helped us to shift up a gear in our development. Now it has been a year since our last game instead of a week, and that's what we want to show in Eindhoven. We are capable of defeating Barcelona in a game; that will be our challenge. We know that it is the biggest challenge that we will face this season, in regard to opponents, but we also know it's possible.
What kind of final are you expecting, not just from a sporting perspective but also taking in the atmosphere in the stadium?
It will be an occasion that none of us will forget. No matter how old we are, we will always be able to look back on this. Playing in a Champions League final will be a great moment in our careers. The stadium will be sold out and it will be an amazing atmosphere. It's a fantastic stadium – especially for a final – and I'm incredibly excited. This is what you work towards your whole life.
You were a successful coach in the Netherlands, winning the Eredivisie twice with FC Twente before joining Wolfsburg in 2021. Do you have memories from the PSV Stadium?
Very good ones. I celebrated a championship there, I won a title and my last game in the Netherlands was in Eindhoven. Therefore, I have many positive memories and I aim to achieve the same with Wolfsburg.
What will it mean to you to be on the bench in Eindhoven leading Wolfsburg?
In essence, it's not about me. That's quite simple. For us as a team it's worth a lot. It's been our aim for a long time, especially having reached the semi-finals last year. But it's also clear that we want to win the game and lift the trophy, and so the final also means hard work because we want to be champions.
You've been coach at Wolfsburg for two years now. How has the team developed during that time?
In our first year there was big upheaval in the squad – we lowered the average age, especially in certain positions – so our first job was to stabilise things before developing the intricacies of how we wanted to play. That has gone extremely well for us: we won the league and the cup last season, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League. But we wanted to keep pushing forward and not rest on our laurels. We still have the chance to win the trophy in every competition that we've entered, so we're on a good path and we've really strengthened in how we want to play the game.
Have you changed as a coach during your time at Wolfsburg?
I learn from the players and the experience here at the club, but the reverse is also true: we benefit from each other and can reach that next level. It really is an exchange. I'm not the kind of coach who will dictate how everything has to happen. I also have to look around at what works, what things we can take on. And the most important thing is how the group is, whether the players feel comfortable in their roles. It's teamwork and that means that I have to develop in certain aspects – but that never stops. So from that perspective I'm looking forward to the next few years and developing myself further.
What would it mean to you and the club to win the trophy?
It's almost impossible to imagine what winning the trophy and bringing it back to Wolfsburg would mean. I'm excited to see what the feelings will be if it actually does happen, but I'll definitely be proud – and certainly lots of other emotions will also pour out. However, let's take it one step at a time. When the game's finished, I'll release my emotions.
Get the official final programme
This article is from the official 2023 Women’s Champions League final programme. What better way to prepare than by immersing yourself in bespoke storytelling, stunning imagery, tactical analysis as well as player and coach interviews? The stage is set in Eindhoven as Barcelona and Wolfsburg prepare to light it up. Get your copy here!