Hoffenheim’s soccer players challenge FC Barcelona in the Champions League. National players, trainers Gabor Gallai and Ralf Zwanziger as leaders, work with perseverance and meticulousness to achieve success from the performance center in St. Leon-Rot.
In everyday life, the footballers at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are separated by more than 20 kilometers. Points of contact between the training centers in St. Leon-Rot and Zuzenhausen: rather few. But when the women face the reigning Champions League winner, the men’s Bundesliga coach will probably stop by for the first time.
“A gift” to play against the defending champion
“It may well be that I will watch the game against FC Barcelona. I have been observing the development of the team for a long time and am always impressed by the professionalism and ambition,” says Sebastian Hoeneß. Then maybe he will get to know his colleague Gabor Gallai personally. The 42-year-old has long since formed the Hoffenheim team into a top team and has led them into the newly introduced group stage of the premier class this season.
After a 5-0 win against HB Køge’s Danes and a 4-0 win at Arsenal Women FC, there are now two highlights in the club’s history: TSG will first call on the defending champions on Wednesday in Barcelona and exactly one week later (6.45 p.m. each time) at home out. “I’m happy that we can play against such an opponent, it’s a gift,” said Nicole Billa.
Nicole Billa: Instead of a job in kindergarten, only English weeks
The Austrian was the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season and is Germany’s “Footballer of the Year”. Billa not only stands for the success of TSG, but also for the professionalisation of the club among its women, who train almost close to the A5 near the Walldorf motorway junction. The 25-year-old is actually a kindergarten teacher, but only rarely works as a jumper in the daycare or kindergarten: “We only have English weeks, there is hardly any time.”
Billa feels – apart from the fact that she misses “Buchteln with vanilla sauce, a Sacher, how to make them right or Zillertaler Krapfen” from her home in Tyrol – totally at ease in her place of residence in Heidelberg. Many TSG male professionals such as goal scorer Andrej Kramaric also live there. Billa knows them from photo shoots or marketing campaigns: “Of course you’ve already chatted with one or the other.”
She and her colleagues sometimes use the medical and technical facilities as well as the performance diagnostics in Zuzenhausen. The TSG women are co-financed by the Hoffenheim company’s Fußball-Spielbetriebs GmbH. The 46 women from Hoffenheim’s first division and second division teams as well as around 80 girls play in the performance center in St. Leon-Rot, which emerged from the “Anpfiff ins Leben” association of billionaire Dietmar Hopp. The goal: to train young women holistically.
When Ralf Zwanziger started there, the women were still playing in the national league. Many would have ridiculed him at the time, says the long-time head of the girls and women football support center and son of the former DFB President Theo Zwanziger. “Right from the start it was always about looking at the perspective: where can we go? That was the exciting thing. The development is not over yet – and it’s still great fun,” explains the 48-year-old.
National players outgrow the performance center
The Hoffenheim team not only finished third in the Bundesliga last season. They also bring out national players again and again, but some of them – like Tabea Waßmuth to VfL Wolfsburg – have migrated. Perhaps the greatest talent in this country at the moment is the just 19-year-old striker Jule Brand, who has become an indispensable part of the DFB selection.
This is what Gabor Gallai says, who tortured long-time coach Jürgen Ehrmann in 2020 “Our path should be to shorten the distance to the clubs that are still ahead of us. This enables us to show the girls the best possible alternatives – and also that they don’t necessarily have to move to Wolfsburg or FC Bayern. ”
Not a video analyst, but Birgit Prinz as a psychologist
And if they go, then at best abroad. That won’t happen today or tomorrow, but it is a medium-term goal. Gallai often watches a Bundesliga game of his “girls” two or three times on video. His coaching team is well set up, record national player Birgit Prinz is even there as a psychologist on a fee basis – but the Hoffenheimers do not (yet) have an extra video analyst.
Since recently a full-time greenkeeper has been added. The men’s full-time staff also help with the handling of the Champions League games. What drives Gallai? “I train a professional women’s team at the highest level.” The ambition of his players that they want to get the most out of themselves is the “drive that I want to offer the girls exactly the same.”
The games against Barcelona will be perhaps Gallai’s greatest challenge. “The goal is to reach the knockout phase, we’re still in the race. We still have Arsenal at home. We won’t hide from anyone and we won’t hoist the white flag either.” Against the Champions League winner, the coach is hoping for a sold out Dietmar Hopp stadium in Hoffenheim with 3,000 spectators.
Trainer Gallai misses public interest
Of course, like all those responsible in the women’s Bundesliga, he misses a broader public interest. “You should show the women a different appreciation, just look at a game and get your own picture.” Incidentally, the busy father of a little boy can understand only too well that his club colleague Sebastian Hoeneß doesn’t visit his team more often: “It’s difficult because everyone is happy when they can spend time with the family.”