Lea Schüller: Win against Barcelona my Christmas wish
There’s a highlight to end the year at the Allianz Arena on 7 December, as FC Bayern Women take on FC Barcelona in the Champions League group stage (kick-off 21:00 CET). Around 20,000 tickets have already been sold for the crunch clash, meaning it will be a record attendance. We spoke to Lea Schüller, who as German Women’s Footballer of the Year for 2022 can look back on a remarkable 12 months. For the interview we went on a special boat journey with her partner Lara Vadlau, a multiple world and European champion sailor. A talk with two women who have wind in their sails:
Interview with Lea Schüller and Lara Vadlau
We’re sailing for this unique interview, but we’ll start with a football expression: how do you both like the saying “Es schüllert”?
Lea Schüller: “It’s pretty cool. You don’t really ever get special phrases like that in women’s football. Obviously it’s been copied - or let’s say borrowed - from the men, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t mind copying something from Gerd Müller or Thomas Müller. (grins)"
Lara Vadlau: “I think it’s great – the phrase totally suits Lea.”
In November you signed a contract extension at FC Bayern. So we’ll be seeing more of Müller and Schüller in Munich…
LS: “I don’t want it to stop because of me. I still have big ambitions with Bayern. In my first two years we ‘only’ won one trophy with the championship in 2021 - we can achieve much more in the coming years. With Essen I reached two cup finals, so it’s about time I finally lifted the cup. I’d also like to win the Champions League, that’s my big dream. I think our team are capable of that at some point.”
On 7 December there’s a big match to end the first half of the season - what are you expecting from the Champions League match against Barcelona at the Allianz Arena?
LS: “I’m really looking forward to the game, even though it’s of course a very tough task. For me, Barcelona are the strongest team in the world at the moment. But if I could make a wish for Christmas, it would be a win against Barcelona, hopefully in front of a big crowd at the Allianz Arena. If I could also score, that would make it even nicer. Thomas Müller is also a nemesis for Barcelona, if I recall correctly. But I’d be super happy with just a home win, regardless of who scores.”
In general, it’s “geschüllert” a lot this year. You were named Germany’s Women’s Footballer of the Year, you were top goalscorer in the Bundesliga and a runner-up at the European Championship. Has it been a perfect year for you?
LS: “More a year with a lot of highs and lows. The first half of the year in particular wasn’t easy for me. I wasn’t playing as regularly, and even though I was scoring, I didn’t score as many goals as would normally be enough for the top scorer crown. Nevertheless, I’m obviously really happy that I won the prize. I was delighted with the award of Women’s Footballer of the Year. When I found out about it, I’d just finished my coronavirus isolation at the EURO. That gave me a mega push.“
As you just alluded to, the EURO was also an emotional roller coaster for you.
LS: “Yes. I went into the tournament as a first-choice player and had a good first game too. Then came coronavirus. I’d avoided it for two and a half years, and then at the EURO of all times - that was really galling. I’m very pleased with the last few months and the first half of the season so far with Bayern, though. I haven’t scored that many goals yet, but that will come. We have a new coach in Alexander Straus and we need to get used to a new system as a team. That takes time but we’re on the right path.“
How are you dealing with your new popularity?
LS: “It’s absolutely great. We were recently in the city and bought some pots. A girl came up and asked me for an autograph, which was sweet. Directly after the EURO it was extreme, I was being recognised and spoken to very often. It’s reduced again a bit since then, but that’s completely fine.”
Lara, how much attention do you get as a sailor?
LV: “It depends what country we’re talking about. New Zealand and Australia, for example, are big sailing nations. I get recognised there. When Lea walks through Munich, she gets recognised, not me - in New Zealand it would be the other way round.”
What’s it like being in a relationship when both are elite-level athletes?
LV: “I find it really helpful because both of us understand what you have to do for your sport, that you’re away a lot and don’t see each other that often. Otherwise it would be really hard.“
LS: “On the other hand, if I wasn’t a sportswoman we could see each other a lot more often. Lara’s just been away for two weeks, then I’m with the national team for 10 days, then she’s back on her travels… We often only see each other for three to five days at a time. It’s a bit like a long-distance relationship. Not because we live in different places - we live together in Munich - it’s just one of us is always away.”
When sailing, Lara is on the boat with a partner. Can you learn something from this for your partnership?
LS: “(laughs) Better not!”
LV: “At sailing I’m the boss because I steer. They do what I say. Two captains doesn’t work.”
LS: “Certainly in a relationship. When Lara comes home after two weeks of sailing, you can tell she’s been in charge there. It takes her a day to get back to being herself again (grins).”
Next year you’ll both be competing in world championships in the summer.
LV: “Unfortunately at exactly the same time. It’s a shame: Lea is in Australia and New Zealand, and I’m in Holland. We’ll be rooting for each other from a distance. For me, the World Cup is also about qualification for the Olympics. That’s my highest goal because I’m still missing an Olympic medal.”
Lea, you come from Krefeld, where there’s nothing to do with sailing. How do you feel on a boat?
LS: “I’ve been sailing with Lara a few times now. And when she asks me on the boat to quickly do this or that, I feel quite insecure. All the technical terms alone! But I still enjoy sailing. Most of the time we go out on the boat at Lara's house on Lake Wörthersee, and when the sun is shining... wonderful!”
LV: “I just see how she moves and know she can do it, which is why I always trust her more than she trusts herself - even if she gets really annoyed with me at first and claims I explain everything so badly. But in the evening, when it's all over, she beams and says: ‘That was quite fun.’”