- Stephan Lerch again on the shortlist for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach 2020
- This is his last season in charge of Wolfsburg
- “I hope there are still some more nice moments to come”
Stephan Lerch is a big believer in living in the present and making the best out of every situation. No easy task in 2020, and yet he still managed it. At the end of last season he steered VfL Wolfsburg Women to a league and couple double, while they finished as runners-up in the UEFA Women’s Champions League after losing to Olympique Lyon in the final. Despite all the challenges the 36-year-old faced, he was still able to keep his side motivated and maintain their morale.
“As a coach you don’t have much influence when you don’t see your players,” he said, going on to explain some of the difficulties the global pandemic brought about. “After all, you live from interacting with one another, and in this case we didn’t have any interaction at all. So we knew we had to find alternative methods of staying in touch. We communicated a lot through the club’s in-house platform, and we constantly tried to catch up with the players and keep them updated. We sent out the training programmes via this platform too, and we just tried to approach things in a positive way.
“In addition to all the developments on the virus itself, there were always new developments in terms of if and how we could keep playing,” he continued. “We heard all the options, ranging from cancelling the season altogether to playing it to the end. You have to try to stay calm, but at the same time still try to give the players hope. We wanted to keep playing and finish the season, which is what happened. Spreading optimism is one of the things you can take charge of as coach. It was a huge challenge to avoid losing your faith and your optimism.”
Now, another trophy could be added to an already considerable collection. The Wolfsburg tactician is on the shortlist for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach 2020 for the second time, having also been among the elite nominees in 2018. His predecessor at Wolfsburg, Ralf Kellermann, was likewise one of the candidates in 2013, and won the title the following year.
“Obviously I’m delighted to be in the running again,” said Lerch, who took on his current role in 2017. “It’s recognition of the fact that you’ve worked very well and successfully over a longer period of time. But I also have to say that I accept the honour and pass it on to the entire team behind the team. I know that the kind of performances the side showed out on the pitch are only possible if you work together. In effect, I’m just the representative receiving it. Obviously I’ve made my own contribution as well. Regardless of who wins, simply being on the shortlist is something special for me when you look all of the other candidates.”
And yet his time at Wolfsburg is slowly drawing to a close: the 2020/21 season will be his last at the club. He joined the Wolves in 2013 as coach of the women’s reserve side, and a year later became head of the youth academy, a position he held until he was promoted to his current role.
“It’s not over yet and we’ve still got a few months left,” said the amicable Darmstadt native with a smile. “I hope there are still some more nice moments to come. The absolute highlights of my career so far in these four years as head coach were of course the big Champions League finals. They leave their mark, even if we haven’t managed to win it yet.”
Matches and moments that are not part of everyday life have etched themselves in his memory, but so have countless other experiences with his team. “So many things have happened in these four years that I’ll always cherish in my heart. It’s really difficult for me to single out one thing as a highlight.
"There have been so many wonderful moments, like lifting the championship trophy for the first time as a head coach. Obviously those are special times but there are lots of other smaller moments we’ve had too. The many trips to different countries and special stadiums I never thought I’d see from the inside.”
Stephan Lerch on Pernille Harder
"In my opinion Pernille is one of the most complete players we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing, especially the attacking third, where you really attract attention by registering goals and assists. She has enormous technical quality, she’s really good in that area. The same goes for her anticipation, awareness and feel for the game.
"Knowing where you need to be, how to position yourself and in which areas you need to move so that you can get the ball in the next move, or the one after that, are exceptional qualities of hers. Obviously she’s terrific at finishing too and is very dangerous in front of goal. In terms of her character, she puts the team’s success above everything else. That’s something special too. That’s something she always did at Wolfsburg. She always wants to be as successful as possible with the team, and gives her all to achieve that – for herself and for the team.”