Nora Häuptle: "Of Course We Want to Win"
The Swiss U-19 women are dreaming of winning the title at the European Championship at home in July. An interview with national coach Nora Häuptle about her philosophy, the team's strengths, and why it's well worth attending a match.
You're part of the modern generation of coaches who are taking the helm in men's football too. What is distinctive about your generation?
We're tactically very adept and have clear ideas about our own game, but can also be systemically flexible in the way we coach our principles. It's also crucial that you can handle people. Today's players are no longer satisfied with simple answers. They are very demanding, and quite rightly ask good questions to which you must have appropriate answers.
Are you more like a general or a buddy?
As a coach, you're the boss and people also want you to make the decisions. You can never keep everyone happy. At the same time, I try to treat the players as individuals. There are hierarchies, and characters of every type. Treating everyone the same doesn't work in elite sport. And finally I try to move my team emotionally. For me, it's important that they realize that football isn't just a business, but is our greatest passion.
You refer to yourself as being very ambitious. Are you unbearable after a defeat?
No, I become rather introspective and start the analysis straight away. I try to make it clear what went wrong and then to draw the right conclusions. The important thing is not to be fixated on the result: Even when you win, things often go a bit wrong.
Since you retired as an international player in 2010, women's football in Switzerland has made tremendous progress. What are the reasons for this?
In Switzerland, we have to work very effectively and efficiently with the few licensed players we have. For more than 20 years, the SFV has been developing a common approach in its training philosophy and has well trained coaches. Career paths are shorter than in big associations and so we can adapt our training more quickly to the needs of modern football. Our Swissness also stands out: We are meticulous in our work, both in the clubs and the association, and we live by our philosophy with pride and passion.
How important is the Credit Suisse Academy in Bienne in this?
Very important, as a glance at the national teams will show. Many of the best national-team players were there, from Ramona Bachmann to Lia Wälti and Géraldine Reuteler. And more than half of the current U-19 squad were trained there. The Pre-Training Center for talented players between the ages of 13 and 15 lays the technical foundation and is particularly important for players from regions where there are no major clubs, because they can combine their education and sport there and be trained by professional coaches. Consideration is being given to whether there is a need for another center for 16- to 18-year-olds. A Centre Formation where the focus is on athletic and tactical training.
Each team has its own character. What in particular is distinctive about the current U-19s, who will compete in the European Championship in July?
The players are incredibly reflective. They are already very knowledgeable in the tactical area and sometimes give almost too much thought to football. And so I have to watch out that they don't lose their naturalness and can be a bit cheeky in their play. It's also a very young team with some superbly talented players.
Which players are the ones to watch?
We have an excellent central axis, ranging from the goalkeeper Elvira Herzog to the "Footura" players Julia Schassberger, Rahel Tschopp, and Malin Gut, and the two strikers Alisha Lehmann and Géraldine Reuteler, who are already established in the senior national team. But we have a lot of strength on the flanks too, so there are no positions that we cannot fill perfectly.
Géraldine Reuteler, who is moving to the top German club FFC Frankfurt in the summer, is regarded as an exceptional talent. What sets her apart?
She's an incredibly complete player: very dynamic, but also very advanced both technically and tactically. She's a goal-getter, but also an assister and motivator. And she has the necessary audacity to do something unexpected. That's why she's one of the rare players who can regularly decide a match. She will have a great international career – there's no doubt.
As a team leader, there's a lot of pressure on her. Maybe too much?
I'm not worried about that. She already has lots of experience despite her age. She took part in the U-19 European Championship two years ago as a 17-year-old and scored important goals. Even in the senior national team she's been relaxed about the pressure, and scored two goals in her second international match. Also, she's not the only team leader, because the players I've already mentioned all take responsibility, and are important components of this team.
Are you concerned that the build-up to the European Championship was a bit challenging in terms of results?
Not at all. Reuteler and Lehmann were away on senior team duty, and for a while we had ten injured players, including some of the high achievers. Fortunately, it looks as if they'll all be back on their feet by the time the tournament starts. But I would like to emphasize that I'm satisfied with the preparation in terms of performance. The development is right: The ones who've been fit have developed and improved continuously.
You're a qualified fitness coach: Will your team be the fittest at the European Championship?
We have indeed been working hard on our physical shape for years. Most players are in the "Footura" program for prospective senior national players, and are given individual training programs, which we monitor together with the clubs. Our best players are at an incredible level physically, and will be very well prepared. The best example is Alisha Lehmann: In terms of explosive power, she ranks among the best international players.
Do you give the team rules of conduct for the tournament, like Jogi Löw with the German national team?
Almost all the players are 18, and I treat them accordingly. As responsible, young adults, they know how to behave properly in the team. If something concerns me, then I'll tell the relevant person directly and clear the problem out of the way. We don't need an etiquette guide for the European Championship. Maybe women are a bit different in this regard.
Are the players just as addicted to their PlayStations as the boys?
I don't see them playing computer games very much. Many of them are often studying for school as they have to catch up on the material because they are absent so much. And they have other hobbies, and enjoy reading books. Some enjoy making music and bring their instruments with them, others go longboarding in their spare time. Apart from that, we love going out to eat. We all enjoy a nice piece of meat and we regularly try to indulge in culinary treats.
When you took up your post you said: "I want to become European Champion in the next three years, by the home European Championship in 2018."
I stand by that. I'm confident that we have good players in the squad with whom we can develop our ideas for playing, and can compete at all levels at the same time. We must always assume the maximum is achievable, which is what I tell the team too. It's obvious that we want to win a tournament when we take part in one. That's why we're athletes. And anyone who claims otherwise isn't telling the truth. Now we're busy setting our milestones in such a way that we can make our dream come true in small steps.
Can you give me three reasons why the Swiss women will become European Champions?
First, you need very good players, and that's what we have. Second, you need a good atmosphere among the staff and in the team, and that's the case with us too. And third, we have a very clear tactical concept. We have a plan for all eventualities. Nothing will surprise us at this European Championship. All of these things will help us to go far.
Can your team handle the weight of expectation for the home European Championship?
Of course we discuss this with the players, and we involve their families here too. We don't see this as pressure; rather, we take the trust and support of our families and friends out onto the pitch with us as positive energy. I'm convinced that the home crowd will be an advantage for us, and we'll be playing 11 plus 1.
Why is it worth the fans attending a match at the home European Championship?
Because true footballing passion is being celebrated here, where the focus is not on money but just on people's love of the game. Because attractive football at the highest technical level will be on show and some of the most talented players in Europe can be admired, who will soon be leaving their mark on women's football. And because there's a very special family atmosphere with us. People really should come and watch, and be inspired.
What's the most important advice you would give to young girls who dream of becoming footballers?
I grew up as a street footballer, as a child who played in the schoolyard. You just go outside because you adore playing. You must never lose that passion. Even if you're in your mid-thirties like me and have played hundreds of matches. What's most important is to go out onto the pitch every day and feel a deep sense of pleasure and appreciation of the game. Of course it takes a certain talent, and you have to put up with a lot for football and go without other things. Only when you get through the lows will you learn to appreciate the value of the highs. It's a school of life with all its facets that shapes our personalities and never ends. But enjoying what you do – that's the really important thing.