On the day Europe’s most successful men’s soccer club, Real Madrid, officially took control of a women’s team, the first women’s club side to become champions of Europe, 1. FFC Frankfurt ceased to operate after merging with men’s club Eintracht Frankfurt as the independence of women’s teams throughout the continent is eroded in the drive to stay competitive.
One of the few leading clubs in the world without a women’s team, Real Madrid last September purchased the women’s side CD Tacón for €300,000. President Florentino Pérez declared that “Real Madrid must be part of this worldwide phenomena and the time has come to face this new challenge and build a football team which is able to compete, and of which we can feel proud”.
From today, CD Tacón, a previously independent women’s club, will officially come under the umbrella of the 13-time men’s European Cup winners. After finishing tenth out of sixteen teams in their first season in the Spanish top flight, Real Madrid’s objective for the new season is to move into the top three positions and qualify for the following season’s Champions League.
Despite initially bringing in World Cup stars like Kosovare Asllani, Sofia Jakobsson and Thiasa, the club has promised to do this by investing in young Spanish talent rather than recruiting from abroad. Several players were released yesterday at the end of their contracts and future internationals such as Spanish u19 midfielder Olga Carmona are expected to come in. Pérez said CD Tacón was chosen because “this club has an academy structure which will allow us to remain loyal to our philosophy from day one. As such, we will look to scout, train and develop young talent”. Despite the stellar name, their budget is said to be far smaller than champions FC Barcelona Femeni as they seek to secure their own sponsors. The Real Madrid women’s team will continue to be led by Ana Rossell, a Real Madrid socio (member) and the former President of CD Tacón. It will be the third sporting section of the club alongside the men’s soccer and basketball teams and the first for a female team since the women’s basketball team CREFF was dissolved in 1977.
Meanwhile in Germany, another merger between a women’s soccer team and a men’s sporting institution will lead to the disbanding of the most successful club in the country’s history. Formed in 1998, 1. Frauen Fussball Club (FFC) Frankfurt have been modern trailblazers, seven-time German champions and four-time European champions, but their independence as a women’s club is now holding back their development. As European super-clubs increasingly invest in their women’s sides so the names at the top of the game are becoming the familiar ones already dominating the men’s game. Yesterday, another former women’s Champions League winner, Turbine Potsdam announced they would be entering into a three-year “co-operation” with Hertha Berlin in which the men’s club would provide financial support to the women’s side. Glasgow City are the only independent women’s side remaining in the last eight of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
On announcing the merger on 16 June, Eintracht Frankfurt board member, Axel Hellmann admitted that “1. FFC have had a greater impact on German women’s football over the past 20 years than any other club, and turned Frankfurt into an incredible center for domestic and international women’s football”.
The general manager of 1. FFC Frankfurt, Siegfried Dietrich is also the chair of the German Football Association (DFB) committee for the women’s national leagues. He said, “I am incredibly happy and grateful that this contract has been signed with Eintracht Frankfurt, after an extensive and highly-focused period of preparation. For us this is a dream come true. The signature under the merger agreement is also a historic and trend-setting moment that will enable our life’s work to have a future with new goals”.
DFB President Fritz Keller added that “The merger between Eintracht Frankfurt and 1. FFC Frankfurt is an important step in the right direction and certainly has a signal effect. It is a strong sign not only for football in Frankfurt, but throughout Germany. I hope that other clubs will follow the flagship model of the two Frankfurt clubs and thereby advance women’s football in sporting, social and economic terms”.
Seven members of the German squads that won successive Women’s World Cups in 2003 and 2007 played for 1. FFC Frankfurt including captain Birgit Prinz and influential midfielder Kerstin Garefrekes. Now retired, Garefrekes spent 12 years with the club. “Since the end of my career, I also feel very connected to the club. I was able to experience many beautiful and formative moments with 1. FFC Frankfurt, which I will gratefully remember”.
Despite winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League for a then record fourth time in 2015, in recent years 1. FFC Frankfurt have fallen behind current champions VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern both of whom are affiliated to men’s Bundesliga clubs. Each has recruited relentlessly, domestically and internationally, to establish a stranglehold on German football.
Garefrekes admits that Frankfurt now require greater investment to compete. “The recent past has shown that women’s football has evolved, men’s licensing clubs have achieved success, and new approaches are now needed to be successful”.
“Under the previous conditions, the realization of such an objective would be unlikely in the long run. In women’s football, too, you have to position yourself optimally in all areas in order to celebrate success and to be successful in the long term, a good first team squad alone is no longer sufficient. Rather, there has to be a broad foundation on and off the pitch. In my personal understanding, this also includes good youth work and a strategy practiced throughout the club for optimal further development of the players and teams”.
“Eintracht Frankfurt is a great club and I see it as an enormous opportunity for the further professionalization of women’s football in Frankfurt. The medical and physiotherapeutic care of the players will improve, the sporting and organizational area will in future be shaped even more by full-time employees”.
As at Real Madrid, Garefrekes believes that the key to competing at the highest level is to develop young talent which will come through the ranks of the club. In addition to the 1. FFC Franfurt second team, the two existing Eintracht Frankfurt women’s sides will all become developmental teams for the new first team. “In my view, healthy work with young talent is an important building block for sustainable success” said Garefrekes. “I believe that we should train young talents and introduce them to the first team through the second. In my view, this approach would also have the great advantage that players would gain greater identification with the club. We will soon have four women’s teams in the first four leagues. I think this is unique in Germany and we should use this unique selling point as an opportunity for us. It may take some time for the fruit to be clearly visible, but we should take it”.