This season, Atletico follows Union Berlin, a former East German Bundesliga club that played regionally less than 20 years ago, on their maiden voyage to the Champions League for our Iron In The Blood series.
Is the Premier League still in the running for an extra Champions League place?
As the Union Berlin players slid down the tunnel and the stands of the Braga Municipal Stadium emptied to the rhythm of one last song played over the sound system, Marie-Louise Eta remained alone for a moment on the sidelines, lost in her thoughts.
Union had just won their second consecutive Champions League point away from home – that was the good news.
The bad news is that Union recklessly squandered their lead against a team that had played with 10 men for more than an hour, leaving the Bundesliga club’s hopes of finishing third in Group C and qualifying for the Europa League knockout stage. insert.
On top of that, Union’s winless run was extended to 16 matches in all competitions and the team’s mental fragility was painfully exposed after Braga’s equaliser. For a while it looked like Braga had one more player.
Eta had a lot to think about in this regard.
But there was another storyline that Eta had to try to absorb: the 32-year-old had just created history by becoming the first woman to be part of a coaching team in a men’s Champions League match.
Promoted to the role of interim assistant coach just over two weeks ago after Union and their longtime coach Urs Fischer agreed to part ways, Eta has become a trailblazer for the small but growing number of women working in football male.
Her presence on the bench alongside Nenad Bjelica, Union’s new coach, felt like a personal triumph for a woman who has been obsessed with soccer since she was a child, and a seminal moment for the sport.
“It is not a conscious decision (to nominate) a woman. That almost discredits this decision,” said Dirk Zingler, president of the Union. “She IS a fully qualified football coach and that’s exactly how I see her, whether she is a woman or a man.”
Promoting Eta to work with the Union first team was simple in Zingler’s eyes. Marco Grote, the club’s Under-19 coach, had been brought in to temporarily manage the first team following Fischer’s exit after five years at the helm, and Eta was Grote’s assistant.
Logic dictated that Eta, who has held a UEFA Pro license since April and has coached the youth teams of Werder Bremen and the German Football Association since retiring from the game at the age of 26, would take a step forward with Grote.
Except it soon became clear that not everyone outside the Union saw it that way.
It was telling that when Kicker magazine posted the story of Eta’s new role on their Facebook page, they turned off comments.
Old school opinions (sometimes that’s a polite way of putting it) still make a lot of noise in football, particularly on social media, where some people feel he should be the best man for the interim assistant coach role at Union , rather than the best person.
Maik Barthel, CEO of the Eurosportsmanagement agency and former representative of Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski, also shares this opinion.
In a social media post that led one of his major clients to end her relationship with him, Barthel accused Union Berlin of making German football “look ridiculous” by giving Eta, who won the Champions League with Turbine Potsdam when he played, a role with the first team
Responding to Union’s Eta announcement on Twitter, Barthel posted: “Does an assistant coach need to be in the Union dressing room? Please don’t make German football sound ridiculous. “It was enough that the team hierarchy was completely destroyed with the transfers.”
It turned out that Barthel was out of touch with how his players felt, leaving Zingler and Union Berlin’s opinions aside.
Although Barthel later deleted the message due to the backlash and posted another: “I have to rephrase this. Making a co-manager a problem will not help the Union put the broken team’s hierarchy back in order” – the damage has been done.
Kevin Schade, the 22-year-old German international and Brentford striker, has terminated his agreement with Barthel with immediate effect.
“I parted ways with my agent because I absolutely do not share his attitude and opinions,” Schade said. “I am for openness, equality and diversity. And that’s how I want to feel represented.”
Barthel has since apologized and said it was never “my goal to make Ms. Eta the focus of my message or to discredit her.” However, in an interview with Kicker, he went on to state that he believed Union was trying to “generate good press and distract attention from their mistakes.” In other words, promoting ETA was something of a publicity stunt.
This week, it emerges that Barthel has lost another client: Maximilian Beier, the talented Hoffenheim striker and Germany Under-21 international. Beier didn’t talk about the reasons why he changed agents, but the dots will be joined.
It is no surprise that last night the Union was inundated with interview requests for ETA. It is also unsurprising that Eta are unwilling to say anything at this time, pointing out to club officials that assistant coaches would not normally speak to the media.
Instead, Eta quietly went about his work on the training pitch and on match days – he oversaw ball-related work in the warm-up against Braga and gave tactical advice to Kevin Volland during a break in play in the first half – while leaving have others answer questions on your behalf.
“The collaboration with Marie-Louise Eta is on equal footing,” Grote said ahead of Saturday’s Bundesliga match against Augsburg, when Volland scored an 88th-minute equalizer to lift Union from the bottom of the table and ending a run of nine consecutive league defeats. . “There are no big differences. “We split it completely.”
When asked what gender means, Grote responded: “In the coach’s booth, it’s all about human adaptation. If someone is a little taller, maybe he has a bigger belly or what shirt he wears, long hair, short hair, I don’t give a damn.
That Augsburg match was a milestone for the ETA and the Bundesliga.
“The day has finally come for us to see a woman in the male domain of football,” said Julia Simic, a television commentator and former German international. “You definitely have the experience to fill this role.”
Although Grote returned to his place in the Under-19s following Bjelica’s appointment on Sunday, Union announced that Eta will continue to work with the first team until assistant coach Sebastian Bonig, who has been granted a extended leave period for personal reasons, will not return to his post.
Women have already held senior positions in men’s teams, although they generally operate at a lower professional or semi-professional level.
When my colleague Oliver Kay wrote about League Two Forest Green Rovers’ decision to promote Hannah Dingley to interim manager last summer, he listed several similar examples dating back to the last two decades, including the case of Imke Wubbenhorst.
In 2018, BV Cloppenburg, then struggling in the German fifth division, appointed Wubbenhorst as head coach. He had previously played on the club’s women’s team where, coincidentally, Eta was one of his teammates.
In this sense, Wubbenhorst has a vision not only of Eta as a person (“very calm”) and player (“very intelligent”), but also of the world she is entering – a place that may raise some strange questions for everyone. times.
In Cloppenburg, Wubbenhorst was once asked whether players are forced to cover up when he enters the dressing room. She replied sarcastically, “Of course not. I’m a professional. “I choose the team based on penis size.”
Speaking more recently, in an interview with Deutsche Welle last week, Wubbenhorst was candid about the challenges women like Eta face in men’s football.
She described how players are “unimpressed with your career from the start” when you are a female coach, spoke about football being “a man’s game” in Europe and said significant change will take time.
“When you’re the first person to do something, it’s hard because the media watches every word you say… but when you’re the second or third, it’s going to be a lot easier,” Wubbenhorst explained. “The club management needs to see that it works. So (then) they will decide more often to choose a woman for this position.”
Eta’s journey was not easy. “I’ve noticed that some people treat me differently than before, and that’s not always comfortable,” she told UEFA in an interview last month, before her promotion to Union, about her coaching journey .
“But I always tried not to think about it and focus on the important things. I have always tried not to emphasize the fact that I am a woman. “It’s not a question of women or men, or whether a man is good for a women’s team, it’s always a question of diversity.”
According to Grote, Eta was quickly accepted by Union’s Under-19 players when she arrived in the summer, and it is said to have been no different with the club’s first team.
Perhaps the more relevant question, given the broader reaction, is whether Germany is ready to welcome a female coach operating at this level.
“Germany is certainly ready,” says Stephan Uersfeld, journalist for ntv.de. “You have to put aside all the things you see on social media. We’ve had female coaches in the minor leagues before – they haven’t been successful. But she (Eta) has all the skills, she has done all the courses that male coaches do.
“If you talk to people at the club, they are convinced that he can do it. And it’s a club like Union Berlin, which is exactly the opposite of what the international media reported: it’s a rather conservative club. So if they say it’s ready, you have to trust them. And why shouldn’t you entrust this job to a woman?
“The culture is changing. You see it on TV: Now we have female experts everywhere. Football is opening up. There are two final barriers: women coaching in men’s football and gay players still remaining silent. “These are the last obstacles preventing football from arriving in the 21st century.”
(Photo: Getty Images; graphics: Sam Richardson)