This time of year is traditionally the ideal period to take stock of the events of the past 12 months and to look ahead to the forthcoming year. For Achim Feifel, 2012 brought with it plenty of big changes. In September, the long-standing coach of German Women’s Bundesliga side Hamburg ventured to move to Russia, where he has been in charge of national champions FC Rossiyanka for the last three months.
“Even after such a short space of time, I can absolutely say that I don’t regret coming here, quite the opposite,” Feifel told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview though, as well as learning a new language and adapting to unfamiliar surroundings, a completely different mentality has also taken some getting used to.
“For me personally it was a good step to take in order to keep developing," he went on. "There are big obstacles ahead, but things have been progressing very positively. It’s been great fun working with the side and our teamwork has paid off little by little. The players gelled quickly, they train enthusiastically and implement well what is asked of them.”
Feifel first came into contact with women’s football in 1999 as a coach responsible for both men's and women's teams with the Baden-Wurttemberg state football association, and has remained in the women’s game ever since. He joined Hamburg in 2002, where he was at the helm until his recent move to Russia. The 48-year-old is therefore well-placed to make comparisons between the German Women’s Bundesliga and the Russian Supreme Division.
“The biggest difference is the depth and breadth of quality. Women’s football in Germany is up there among the best in the world. Due to the distances involved in Russia, the infrastructure is not as well established or as widespread,” Feifel said. “In such a huge country it’s a lot more difficult to identify and develop talent than it is in Germany for example. It involves travelling inconceivable distances. Not to mention those players who live abroad.”
In the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, Russia are currently in 20th place, just behind Finland. Their last participation at a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ came in 2003 and they subsequently failed to qualify for both China 2007 and Germany 2011. With that in mind, Feifel is cautious on Russia’s chances of muscling in among the world's elite.
“In Germany the game is supported by the governing body," said the veteran coach. "When you look at what’s already being done in the youngest age categories, at how scouting is structured and organised in the different regional associations, then it’s clear that a country like Russia still has a long way to go. There are good players here too and I have some of them in my team. There’s a lot of potential in Russia and it hasn’t been exhausted yet, not by a long way. It’s a sleeping giant.”
'The spectators decide'
Feifel believes structural changes are needed in his adopted homeland in order for the women’s game to keep growing. Factors such as media presentation, marketing and public perception still have plenty of room for improvement, both in Russia and elsewhere.
“The big tournaments will only have a lasting effect when clubs start investing more energy into public relations and advertising in order to keep the sport in the public eye,” Feifel said. “At the end of the day, the spectators decide. If there are only 300 fans watching a match at the weekend, you’re probably not going to find many sponsors. Things are on the right track in Germany, but other countries are still having plenty of difficulties.”
Under Feifel’s guidance, Rossiyanka are certainly moving in the right direction. The defending champions may currently be down in second place in the domestic standings, but they have a game in hand over the leaders. Their progress in the UEFA Women’s Champions League also gives cause for encouragement, although they face a tough task against Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals.
“Wolfsburg are clear favourites. In the last few years they’ve put together a fantastic team full of international players and have quality right across the board," Feifel concluded. "But we’re not bad either. I think you always have a chance in cup games and we’ll prepare ourselves well in order to try and reach the next round.”