Rahel Tschopp: The Next General
Watching her train on this frosty spring afternoon, you can't help but think of Lara Dickenmann, the most successful Swiss female football player of all time. They have the same blond, windblown hair, the same upright posture, the same fine technique. Rahel Tschopp moves on the field like a general, her head always held high, her eye always on the game. The ball seems glued to her foot when she zig-zags at high speed toward her opponent and tricks her with an elegant body swerve.
There's no doubt about it - Rahel Tschopp has a serious chance of making it as a professional. That is the goal the 15-year old is working on. Just like the other 18 girls completing the intensive training.
Ideal Combination of School and Sports
Welcome to the Credit Suisse Football Academy, the national training center for girls between 13 and 15. Here, around ten talents per year benefit from an ideal combination of school and sports for two years. They stay with host families. In addition to school and tutoring, they train at least once a day under the supervision of national coaches. On the weekends, the talented young footballers go home, where they play championship matches with their home clubs.
The Credit Suisse Football Academy is a central component of the successful young talent concept of the Swiss Football Association (SFV). It was opened in 2004 in Huttwil; since 2013, it has been located in Biel. A simple look at the current national team is enough to assess its contribution to the rise of women's football. Seven national team players learned their football craft here, including the world-class forward, Ramona Bachmann. The local canton, the SFV, and Credit Suisse all take part in the financing. Parents pay a monthly compensation of 350 Swiss francs to the host families.
"We are working here under excellent conditions," raves Martina Voss-Tecklenburg in her office at the Tissot Arena with a view of the sports center and the southern Jura foothills. The Swiss national coach, along with U17 national coach Brigitte Steiner, is also responsible for the Academy. Indeed, the junior players have a brand new infrastructure that would be the envy of some professional clubs: three artificial turf fields, one grass field, a fitness center, and a restaurant - all in pristine condition. In addition, the Swiss Olympic Medical Center in Magglingen, with its physiotherapists and doctors, is close by.
Challenging Selection Process
To be accepted here, you have to go through a challenging selection process. The coaching team invites the best talents from the regional selections for visits. The prospects are tested on their basic techniques, coordination skills, speed, and game behavior. A medical check-up, personal interview, and parent interview round out the profile of the candidates. This is meant to ensure that the players with the best potential are promoted.
Strict Behavior Code
"I did not hesitate for a second when I got my acceptance letter," remembers Rahel Tschopp. She has just finished training and is on the way to homework hour, which also takes place in the stadium complex. "Here, sports and school are ideally balanced," she says. "My life used to be much more stressful." Growing up in Sachseln in the Canton of Obwalden, she would go to train with the local club or to the regional selections in Lucerne. Four times a week.
She speaks quietly but confidently, making a very focused impression. If you to want to hold your own here, you need discipline. The preteens and teens sign a behavior code that includes the obligation to spend evenings at home with their host families. Every evening. "You get used to it," Rahel says, evading touchy-feely questions like a pesky opponent; "I'm also lucky to be able to stay with relatives, which made the transition easier."
Importance of Inherent Motivation
According to Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the girl from Central Switzerland has the necessary inherent motivation to reach the very top: "She is never satisfied. Nor does she choose the path of least resistance; on the contrary, she tries to overcome obstacles." Accordingly, she often grabs two players after training to put in crosses so that she can improve her shooting technique. "Mentally, Rahel turned pro a long time ago."
Focus on Technique
The requirements for graduates of the Academy are high and also include theoretical football knowledge: tactical training, video analysis, career planning, and nutrition.
The focus of player training is on perfecting coordination skills and technique. "These are the key years," says Voss-Tecklenburg. "When you leave the Academy at 15, you need to have the technical ability of a Swiss National League player."
Rahel Tschopp has exceeded these requirements. National coach Voss-Tecklenburg has seen many talents over the course of her long career. Including many who failed. She is accordingly cautious with forecasts. However, when it comes to Tschopp, she has this to say: "Rahel joined the Academy at twelve. Three weeks later, I went home and told my husband: The new girl will be a national team player one day." She is an exceptional talent with many strengths: "Ball control under pressure, explosiveness, skills with both feet, and an incredible sense of space and situation." She is also selfless and "gives everything for the team."
Only Girl among Boys
Thanks to these qualities, the midfield strategist did something no one has managed before: being the only girl playing in the national U15 championship for boys during weekends. The speed is brutal and the game very physical there, she says. "Growing up with two football-crazy brothers, who never spared me, helps." To avoid tackles, she learned to anticipate the game even better and play the ball even faster. And she isn't falling behind - on the contrary. "We are getting excellent feedback from FC Lucerne. She is often one of the best," says Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.
U17 instead of U16
As often happens with gifted people, the career of Rahel Tschopp is progressing at an accelerated pace. Instead of the U16 national team, she was directly integrated into the U17 team and, in March, went to Austria for the European Championship elite qualification round. The Swiss may have been eliminated with three points from three games, but the youngest member managed to distinguish herself. "She kept up very nicely at this level and showed her playing ability," says U17 national coach Brigitte Steiner.
Departure from the Academy
In summer, Rahel Tschopp will complete secondary school. This also marks the end of her training at the Credit Suisse Football Academy. Her next step will be returning home to her family and attending a sports high school. The industry leader FC Zurich has already contacted her, but left empty-handed. The sought-after player has chosen FC Lucerne, where Women's Sports Director Andy Egli already wants to integrate her into the senior team at National League level. It doesn't take much imagination to guess that she will make her mark there in record time. History seems to be repeating itself. 16 years ago, a young girl also made a splash in Central Switzerland - at the DFC Sursee club, from which the women's section of FC Lucerne was created. Her name: Lara Dickenmann.