Melanie Leupolz will take to the field with her FC Bayern München teammates on Sunday as the race for Champions League qualification goes to the final day. The match against Essen will be the National player’s third in a row after a long injury break. In all, Leupoly was sidelines ligament damage in her right knee for over half a year and had to watch as Bayern went out of the DFB Pokal and the Champions League. In an interview with DFB, the Olympic champion spoke to us about her comeback, Bayern’s trophyless season and her upcoming aims and goals.
DFB.de: The last matchday is all about qualifying for the Champions League for Bayern. Do you feel under pressure or particularly motivated?
Melanie Leupolz: It’s very motivating for myself, although of course there is pressure. Such games on the last day are the kind of matches we train for and we love the most. It would be huge If we could be part of the Champions League next season. We are looking forward to playing for that chance.
DFB.de: Potsdam play promoted team Duisburg while Bayern meet Essen, so matchpoint Bayern?
Leupolz: We have the weaker opponent, no doubt but wer are only focusing on us. Essen is no easy team to play and they have a lot of talented and young players who like playing good football. They recently beat Leverkusen 7-1 and that was very impressive. They are not playing for anything but it will mean everything to us. We must be motivated from the off and give 100%. If we give any less that we did in Potsdam it will be tough.
DFB.de: You showed desire and a will to win in the 4-0 victory in Potsdam, something that has been missing at times in the second half of the season. How much confidence has that win given you for this showdown.
Leupolz: The win showed us what we are capable of. The two title winning years saw us show these types of performances a lot. We had not shown a lot of fight and passion in the previous few weeks but we found our form again in Potsdam. It’s all or nothing - Champions League or no Champions League. We must take this All-or-Nothing mentality and show it again against Essen on Sunday.
DFB.de: It’s strange that from six duels against the top teams Wolfsburg, Frankfzrt and Potsdam, Bayern have only won two times. Did Potsdam let you know that you could be there when it mattered?
Leupolz: Ultimately it should always be about turning up, and not just when it matters. We have not always shown that this season and that’s part of the reason we could not defend our title and we would have loved to do that. But Potsdam was a sign that we are making progress with our development.
DFB.de: You had to watch a lot of games from the stand because of injury, but got the chance to watch your team from the outside. Why did a third straight title not come about this season?
Leupolz: It seems fairly simple to say, but we just need to make sure we win our second balls and be more creative and up for the game on the day. We lost a bit of fluency too much at times this season. The competition have been desperate to take the title off us and have given 110%, because every fixture against us is the biggest game for them. We have been in unfamiliar territor and been very unfortunate with injuries of course, but I do not want to use these as excuses.
DFB.de: The arrivals of Fridoline Rölfo, Jovana Damnjanovic and Jill Roord saw three foreign national players added to the books and the strength of the team in the future improved. Youth National players like Anna Gerhardt and Sydney Lohmann have returned and a few departures have become fixed. How necessary is the break down of the squad for the ambitions of this team on an international stage.
Leupolz: That always come down the decision of the sporting directors. But I have a feeling that this breakdown as you call it will bring good things. Young palayers who love playing football will never do a team any harm but experienced players are also so crucial if we want to achieve all we can in the future. The mentality and make up of the squad is going to be pivotal. It is always down to us to fight and give everything we can. I expect to see a new level of competition in the team because new players always bring a sense of new competition. I am looking forward to that.
DFB.de: You recently celebrated your comeback in Gladbach and you were brought on against Potsdam. How happy are you to be back and how is your fitness right now?
Leupolz: I am so pleased tob e back. I found my feet against quickly and I enjoyed being back with the girls on the pitch so much. I am delighted that everything seems to be going so well right now. I’m not yet 100% but a little bit of game time should change that.
DFB.de: The bottom line is you will only compete in 10 Bundesliga games in your sixth season, the lowest tally ever for you. Was this the toughest period of your career to date?
Leupolz: Without a doubt, this was the toughest season and it was not easily mentally either. I had never been so badly injured before. The ligament tear was the first big one and then that led to the further damage I had.
DFB.de: What motivated you most every time you came back? How often did you think about Gold medal?
Leupolz: Never. I don’t look back, only forward and that’s exactly what I did during the layoff. I just wanted to be fit again as quickly as possible. I had the Champions League in my sights before the first comeback and now I am looking at the Euros.
DFB.de: What role did your boyfriend Kevin Schmidt play in all this? A Handball professional would obviously have been good to have on board, but just how good?
Leupolz: I am so happy and thankful that he is always there. He has had lots of injuries too and knows how it feels. He was spokesperson when things got difficult. He often said: “Do your excercises or go running to make sure you stay fit. Two seconds later he had my running shoes in his hand. He also knew when I needed a break, though, and was there to pick me up..
DFB.de: So he was like your personal trainer?
Leupolz: Yeah you could say that. He was my biggest form of support.
DFB.de: Your next biggest goal in the Euros in Holland. Steffi Jones has already said she has no room for free passes for those who are not 100% fit. How do you rate your chances?
Leupolz: I don’t think any of the girls want a free pass, everyone wants to prove themselves. The fact is I have not been able to reach the heights have wanted to because of my injury but there is still time before the Euros. I am feeling good and the knee is standing strong. Hopefully it will be 100% soon, but if that is enough to make the squad is down to Steffi and not me.
DFB.de: Is the goal of an Olympic Champion now to get a Euro winners‘ medal too?
Leupolz: Yeah! We are already European and Olympic Champions. Yes there has been a break up in the squad.
DFB.de: You are the face of Women’s Football in Germany and have a big following on Social Media. Behind tennis players Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber you are the third most followed German female sportswoman. How much do you like playing this role?
Leupolz: The follower numbers are not vital to me, but of course it’s nice to have this popularity. I like to keep my fans up to dare and give them an insight into my world outside of sport. It seems to be working and I enjoy doing it. Women’s football is a lot closer to the fans than men’s football.
DFB.de: Melanie Leupolz is already a brand. You have a management group behind you and you are seen as a trailblazer. In what way is such marketing a permanent fixture of the modern women’s game?
Leupolz: This field has developed hugely in the last few years and it helps that’s Women’s football is receiving more coverage and being more widely accepted that before. It’s good for us, but on the other hand it means we must remain professional at all times in the public eye, to make the most of the chances afforded to us off the field.
DFB.de: How would you like to use your role to widen the outreach of Women’s football in Germany.
Leupolz: It’s especially important for me to reach out to the younger girls, who like football and want to play football, just like I did. I would like to become a role model for these girls, showing them how much fun sport can be. I try with every post I put out to answer questions and give the younger players tips to get them really excited about German football.