He is arguably the expert in women's football: Gero Bisanz. Coach of the German women's team since 1982, he has led them to victory in the European championship three times. But after the Olympic Games in the USA he is quitting the job. In an interview with FIFA Magazine, he looks back on his 14 years of training women footballers.
FIFA Magazine: Gero Bisanz, you plan to retire after the Olympic Games in the USA. What's led you to this decision?
Gero Bisanz: Perhaps I'd better start by telling you how I got the job in the first place. In 1982 the German Football Association (DFB) asked me to build up a women's national team. Women had been playing football since 1975, and it was thought to be time to integrate them into the DFB and form a national team. In 1981 the men's national B team which I was coaching was disbanded and replaced by the Olympic side. So I had no team to train alongside my involvement as head of the coaching programme.
And what made you decide to accept the job?
I had asked for a week to think about the situation. At the start I was not all that keen - nor was my wife. But at that stage I thought I was looking at a three to four year commitment at the most
And it turned out to be 14 years; you even received an honour at the end of April for "Services to women's sport".
Yes, that was a surprise, especially when I looked back to my lack of enthusiasm at the start.
So why did the three to four years become a lot more?
At the beginning, I found out pretty quickly that it wouldn't be possible to build up a solid structure within this time span. Everything I started had effects in other areas. I began by making an intensive effort with the younger players and kept on only a few of the older ones. And then I saw that things were slowly getting better, the attitude of the players improved and we got our first taste of success.
So why are you packing it in now?
Looking back, I feel that my objectives for those three to four years were pretty well achieved. Now, after three European titles, a second place in the World Cup in 1995 and hopefully a successful Olympics, I think it is time to make way for someone else.
What did you get out of your involvement in women's football?
Once I got involved, I found my attitude towards women's sport changed completely, because it became clear to me that there was no reason why women should not play football. It doesn't have be a tough guys' game. When men play, it's often closer to brutality than a healthy hard game. I have learned to support anyone in sport in any way I can and where possible to get them involved in competition.
And how did you find the interaction?
I got a lot of satisfaction from the job, because women are eager to find things out. They want to learn. In the men's game I have sometimes noticed that this desire was lacking. Women are also prepared to make personal sacrifices and to train just as hard without any financial rewards. That's not a problem with women, so it was quite relaxing for me in a way.
So what has been more rewarding for you, working with men or with women?
Satisfaction always depends on success. If you work hard but don't succeed it can be very frustrating. In 1981 I played six matches with the men's B team and we won them all, which was very rewarding, since I could see my ideas being put into practice. Success is one thing, but there ought also to be something attractive about the game that will generate some enthusiasm. I've enjoyed that too, in both the men's and women's game.
If you compare the early years with the position today, what strikes you?
At the beginning, the women's game was characterised by the desire to copy the men's game as far as possible and that's what happened, whether it was training methods or going down to the pub for a beer and a cigarette afterwards. Women's football was just a pastime. But when the creation of a national team started people thinking about improving performance, things began to change. Club teams used to train once or twice a week, but now it's at least three times and the national team have an extra session or two on top of that. With more training time, everything has improved.
People always like to compare men and women. Is that possible here?
No, it's not appropriate. You can't talk about results, only the different elements of the game. A women's game can be better than a Bundesliga match in that sense. The problem is that men have 1/3 greater strength potential than women - they can run faster, jump higher, shoot harder.
Could women compete at all in the men's game?
The best and the physically strongest, yes; for example Michelle Akers, the American striker, would be able to keep up with the men in the third or fourth highest division in Germany.
You've trained men as well as women for many years. Is there any difference in the work?
My approach to training women has not been different from what I use with men in any way, not in terms of content nor style. Even working with women I growl at them on the training pitch if I have to. The kinds of skills practised and the intensity - taking into consideration the physical limitations - are the same. The relative effort demanded of women is just as high. They too have to train at full match tempo. But there are the obvious external differences. You can give a man an encouraging slap on the chest, you can't do that with the women; you put your arm round them.
And their behaviour is not quite the same?
No, there are differences for sure. Women are perhaps a bit more sensitive, perhaps a bit more ambitious too, and therefore more touched by criticism. In terms of team behaviour, women are easier to deal with than men. If I say lights out at half past ten, I don't have to go and check. I probably would with men.
Tina Theune-Meyer, your assistant for many years, will take over from you. Is the time ripe for women to become trainers?
That's a hard one to answer. The DFB wanted set an example with this decision. Frau Meyer has been in the business for ten years and she knows all about it. She will certainly grow into the job. By choosing Silvia Neid as her assistant the DFB is also sending out another signal. It is certainly unique for there to be a full-time trainer and a full-time assistant. This should help women's football, and it's a step in the right direction, for the ultimate aim should be for the women's game to look after itself.
What do you see as the overall future of women's football?
Let's take Italy as an example. For years they had a good women's team, but there are no younger players coming through. The women's game will continue to develop positively if junior teams get the right attention and coaching. As far as the professional game goes, the standard will have to be right, and then the TV companies, sponsors etc. will come along of their own accord. I would like to see clubs trying to get more support so that players have more time and better conditions for training. And I will also propose again that women trainers should have at least an A-licence. Only with better trainers and much more training will the standard of play improve.
The final question: who is your favourite for the Olympics?
If you look at the conditions that the teams have had, then the USA are probably the top favourites. They have been getting ready in training camps since December, under professional conditions. They will be top fit and really attuned to each other.