Interview: Hamburger Sports Verein (HSV) General Manager Christian Lenz

By Chapin Landvogt – The German women’s professional soccer league, affectionately known as Frauenfußball Bundesliga, kicked off the second half of the 2011-12 season last weekend. After only having garnered two victories in their first ten games, the 10th-place Hamburger Sports Verein (better known as HSV) started off the second half with a surprising 1-1 tie against the league-leading ladies from Potsdam. The team played one of its most inspired games of the season and was just centimeters away from a possible win when a 20-yard shot hit the crossbar with less than three minutes to play. This moral victory nevertheless obviously took its physical and mental toll as the team dropped its next decision, 3-1, to second-place Duisburg, but there’ll certainly be no quitting in the club as the team approaches the stretch run of the season.

To gain some insight into the team and the goings-on of the German women’s soccer league at the management level, Our Game Magazine took the opportunity to chat with HSV General Manager Christian Lenz.

1) Herr Lenz, this past weekend marked the beginning of the second half of the Frauenfußball Bundesliga. As of Dec. 18, 2011, the HSV was ranked 11th amongst the 12 teams. What realistic goals do you have with respect to the final 10 games of the season?

A team’s spot in the standings can only be fairly evaluated once all of the cancelled games have been rescheduled and played (Editor’s note: two games where cancelled due to poor field conditions). Nonetheless, we are no doubt in a battle against a possible relegation. That is our reality. This threatening danger has our full attention and it’s our goal to remain in the top women’s league in Germany.

Aside from that, we’ve also got our eye on the German “Pokal” semifinal in Munich.

2) What expectations do you personally have of the team in its current shape and form? Are you primarily placing your hopes in the strength of continuity?

We know that our lineup has a great deal of potential. It is our foundational philosophy to face the challenges of this level with talented players who continually develop and improve with our program. For this, it is important to achieve sustainable results. We place a great deal of value on not only being a unit in a sporting sense, but also inter-personally.

3) In the winter break, you conducted a few test games against some local men’s teams. What advantages does a top league women’s team have from this type of competition and preparation?

To be more precise, they were male junior teams we played against. These teams were comparable to our level of play and provided our women with the necessary physical challenges. Athleticism, combativeness, and the ability to thinking quickly on one’s feet were the attributes that were best tested in these games.

4) Is the risk of injury in such test game not a bit too high for one’s own good?

We don’t think so. It’s our experience that these games tend to be very fair. When choosing our opponents, we definitely make sure that there’s a fair and sufficiently understood sports relationship between our club and that of the opponents.

5) What other types of preparation were made use of in the eight-week winter break in order to best prepare the team for the second half of the season?

We conducted a workshop with an emphasis on the mental aspects of being an athlete at this level. We very much feel that trusting in one’s own talents and capabilities as well as being confident in the strengths of our team are key factors for success.

HSV General Manager Christian Lenz

6) At the beginning of January, you added a new player to the lineup, the 22-year-old Aylin Yaren. What changes do you feel will come of this transaction?

With the acquisition of Aylin Yaren, we are looking to strengthen our attack while giving it more flexibility. Just a glance at our goal difference this season points out that we aren’t dangerous enough on the attack. But it’s not just her acquisition that should help us improve in this department. We naturally know that Aylin has to get used to this league after having just come up from the second Bundesliga.

7) Without taking a detailed look at all the other lineups in the league, it seems like the HSV has a relatively young team. No less than nine of the women are 21 or younger. Is this just by chance the case or did you put together this lineup with the thought that these young player are simply qualitatively better trained/developed or have better skill sets than older players?

When you take a look at our player additions in recent years, you can see that we have usually replaced departing players with younger players who lack experience in the women’s Bundesliga. But this corresponds to our already described philosophy that we want to achieve a common development towards success moving forward. Nonetheless, this cannot be interpreted to mean that older players possessed a lower playing quality or less skill.

8 ) With an eye on developing from within, you currently have no less than three women’s teams in your system. How helpful has it been to have this club depth and how do players get promoted or called up, possibly as fill-ins?

We had even more teams in the past. However, our competitive department only consists of this 1st Bundesliga team and two girls’ teams.

The HSV organization also offers recreational sports opportunities. It is naturally a regular part of our system that there are times when girls in our other teams have the opportunity to present themselves as options for the women’s Bundesliga team.

9) Do all of the local women who currently play in the 1st Bundesliga team initially spend time in at least the supposed B-team? Does that team fulfill a certain planned “farm team” function for the big league squad?

We are always very happy when a player develops in our reserve teams and reaches a point where she can play in the women’s Bundesliga. This is the goal we have for our competitive youth work. Nonetheless, we will continue to have to address a number of our team needs with external sources when it comes to player acquisitions.

10) Speaking of locals, almost the entire current lineup consists of players from Germany, most particularly Northern Germany. In recent years, the HSV has only had but a few foreigners on its team. Some opponents have quite a different acquisition policy when it comes to foreign players, for example, Frankfurt or Potsdam, and find themselves at the top of the standings. Is the HSV’s current lack of foreign players just the way things are at the moment or do the market constellation and conditions make the acquisition of foreign players very difficult for your club?

In the past, we too have had foreigner players in the lineup such as Antonia Göransson (Sweden), Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic (Switzerland), or Fata Salkunic (Slovenia). Thus, we’re not just scouting in Germany. However, the effort necessary for providing players who do not speak German with support, consultation and supervision should they play here is much greater than with our German-speaking players. In addition, due to certain rules and regulations related to residency permits, there are other financial aspects involved. For these reasons, it only makes sense for us to obtain foreign players when their skill sets and playing capabilities make them absolute top performers in our team.

Still, at the end of the day, the German women’s Bundesliga should be league and destination that is of great interest for international players.

11) You are surely aware that the Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) in the USA is taking a season-long break. What effects do think this will have? Will it lead to a possible flooding of the player market, and are there any players you may have your eye on for the HSV?

There are surely a number of players who could play for the HSV. For the upcoming season, we’ll surely keep an eye on North America. We will simply have to see how the player market develops in the meantime. As opposed to Russia and Sweden, the transfer period determined for the Bundesliga in Germany was already closed when the WPS made the decision to take a pause.

In addition, players are only of interest to us if they can imagine spending a longer period of time with our team and becoming part of the developmental process. If it’s a player’s goal to simply play somewhere to bridge the time until the WPS is up and running again, then that’s a situation we have a very hard time imagining ourselves getting involved with.

12) What is the general practice and policy when it comes to scouting and observing players when looking for new additions to your team? How did you go about acquiring your latest player, the aforementioned Miss Yaren?

Generally, it’s our goal to uncover players and talents before others do. For this reason, we keep an eye on what’s going on all over the place – even beyond German borders. Aylin Yaren was a player we had been observing for quite some time. We then established more intense contact over the winter and after conducting a personal meeting, we came to an agreement which led to her being signed to a contract.

13) How good do you feel the German Bundesliga’s current organization, level of play, and general financial ’health‘ are?

From an economic and sporting standpoint, the league is surely very healthy. I believe that the classic concept of how soccer is lived and breathed here in Germany is also the best thing for women’s soccer in this country. At the same time, there’s developmental potential at just about every level of the game. We cannot afford to get lazy or start slacking in this department.

Hamburger SV
HSV Frauen

14) What improvement would you like to see within the league?

The framework schedule could surely be better coordinated. This is however quite a challenge as it very much dependent on what’s going on with the national team and its international schedule. For a while now, we’ve had a committee called the ‘KFBL’, which handles the league’s strategic questions and issues. I feel very confident that this committee will continue taking the right measures.

15) Now to everyone’s favorite topic: Referees. Are you generally satisfied with the performance of the referees in the women’s Bundesliga?

The referees in the women’s Bundesliga have been developing very nicely in recent years.

16) A very diplomatic answer. Do the general managers of the 12 teams in the league remain in contact with each other? Are there certain forums or perhaps special conferences in Germany where the GMs get together and discuss the various topics and issues in the league or perhaps construct new rules and regulations?

Contact between the clubs does indeed take place. Since the introduction of the aforementioned KFBL, this contact has been very well-structured. We also have a league conference once every six months and there are other opportunities to discuss issues and share our experience in a constructive competition.

17) In the course of your business with the HSV, how much attention do you give to the national team? Do you also, for example, make business decisions that are directly influenced by the happenings surrounding the national team?

The national team is the flagship of women’s soccer in Germany and thus, has a direct influence on our realities. But the league itself does indeed play a critical role for the national team. As such, we naturally support the German Soccer Federation with all our might. The compromise made by the women’s Bundesliga before the World Cup in 2011 to end its season in March for the benefit of the preparation of the national team is a testimony to that supportive dedication. In daily business though, a correlation between my work and the national team is pretty difficult to establish.

18) A number of your players have recently taken part in training sessions or games with various German national teams (i.e. Ewers and Bagehorn with the U23, Simon with the U20 and U19, etc.) Do you feel the general public should see this as a direct sign for the good training and developmental work that’s been conducted in the club in recent years? Do you personally see some future national team members in your current lineup?

We are well aware of the quality of the players in our team and are always excited and proud when they are invited to partake in national team events. For a leading athlete in the team, the feedback between the club’s coach and a national program’s coach is very important from a sporting aspect in order to be challenged and developed in the best manner possible. As such, any nominations of our players also have a wonderful effect in making our work more noticed and visible. We profit from each other in this respect.

As for the second part of the question, there are a number of players in our club who we feel have just begun to show what they are truly capable of. There’s a lot of potential here in our locker room.

19) To conclude, how much did you enjoy the Women’s World Cup of Soccer last summer, which was of course hosted by Germany? Would you say that interest in the women’s side of this sport in Germany has increased after this event, especially with respect to young girls starting to play organized soccer?

The WC was a huge success as sporting event and we absolutely have to congratulate the organizers for their great work. It surely has had positive effects on women’s soccer and the women’s Bundesliga and we need to continue building on these effects. However, it’s never easy to keep the excitement of such an event alive over a long period of time once ‘everyday life’ is back in full swing. This poses a great challenge for us and the league.

Indeed it does. Thank you very much for your time and candidness! Best of luck to you this season!

About the author: Originally from the state of Virginia, Chapin Landvogt spent his childhood playing organized soccer everywhere from California to Florida to the greater Washington D.C. metro area and finally in high school a few hours south of Boston. A Siena College grad, he spent the better part of the past 15 years living and working as a professional translator in Germany, where he’s been able to remain more than just an avid observer of one of the world’s most passionate soccer cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @Csomichapin, where he enjoys sharing occasional commentary on primarily soccer, ice hockey and some of his favortie music.