Germany has become a breeding ground for young, enthusiastic, progressive coaching—Borussia Dortmund’s last two managers Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann, Germany’s U-20 Women’s national coach Maren Meinert are a few that spring to mind—and Anouschka Bernhard is no exception.
A defender in her playing days, Bernhard is part of the Class of ’95, the German side that made it all the way to the final at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Sweden 1995. Every single head coach in the current German national team women’s programme was on the pitch that June afternoon in Solna, when Germany fell at the final hurdle to Norway 2-0. And there’s a reason for that: Gero Bisanz.
One of the enduring photographs from Sweden 1995 is one of Bisanz, Germany’s coach, in an adidas grey sweatshirt with his arm around Silvia Neid after the final loss. There’s a lesson that can be seen in the way he consoles and comforts Neid: Football’s not everything. Get back on your feet. Be proud. Neid, of course, went on to coach the German national team to the 2007 Women’s World Cup title and won FIFA Women’s Football Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2013.
Current head coach of the Germany U-17 women’s team, Bernhard tells FIFA.com that it was Bisanz who inspired her to coach.
“He was my first national coach and he was an outstanding coach, in my opinion,” Bernhard said. “I was a young player and looked up to him and I thought, ‘Wow, I want to become a coach like him.’ He was a kind of idol for me. I started studying to become a teacher. At one point it was totally clear I’d become a coach. It was a process that started very early, even during my playing career.”
When asked how much pleasure she gets seeing players that come through the U-17 programme who go on to make it at the highest level on the full national team, a wide smile forms on her face.
“I’m proud! I’m really proud that I get to be a part of their development, only if it’s for one year. It’s not because of me that they are as good as they are, but I’m part of their development and when I see them making their first appearance with the A team, I’m proud.”
Journey to Jordan
The Germany U-17 team are currently in Austria as they embark on the elite round of UEFA U-17 qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016. They are in a tough group with Switzerland, Russia and Austria. If they are successful, they will progress to the final round, in Belarus from 4 to 16 May, where eight teams will compete for three available places at Jordan 2016. Although she knows qualification will be no walk in the park, Bernhard remains confident in her side’s abilities.
“At the moment, we feel comfortable,” Bernhard said. “We have four younger players, born in 2000, because they are really good and they bring a lot to the team. The pool of players is at a high quality, but the other nations are working very hard and are improving and developing their players.”
As someone who played at the highest level, Bernhard is the perfect person to help the girls navigate games that hold a high amount of expectation, with a shot at a first World Cup participation for the girls on the line.
“It’s the first time in their career that they have all-or-nothing games, and this is a lot of pressure for them. They know about the tradition of the Germany U-17 team. This is something we work them on to deal with the pressure. Unfortunately, there’s not a formula for this! We don’t talk about the importance of the games in qualification matches.”
They don’t talk about it because they already have. Bernhard uses friendly matches, against the likes of England and France, to bring a sense of urgency and importance to the team, so that when actual qualification is on the line, the team is already conditioned to perform. Which begs the question: how important is a U-17 World Cup for development?
“It’s amazing. It’s an outstanding chance for the girls,” Bernhard said. “The experience they make, it’s very important for their development in a different aspect. You have a lot of matches at a very high level. The matches are broadcasted live on television, so it’s amazing. The other aspect is the long period of preparation and the World Cup itself is a long time so you learn to deal with the experience. Maybe you don’t play or you’re a substitute or you don’t win. When you’re together for three to four weeks, it’s a challenge. All of it combines to make a World Cup an important experience for young players.”
Bisanz passed away aged 78 on 17 October 2014. There is no doubt he is looking down at Bernhard, seeing the determination she has to journey alongside and help young footballers in their development, smiling.