by Kieran Thievam
FFC Frankfurt head coach Colin Bell has said retaining their Champions League title this year will be a big task due to the investment in talent from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Bell, who became the first English coach in the men’s or women’s game to win the main European title following victory over Paris St Germain in Berlin last season, will be looking to try and replicate their form of the last campaign, but without some of their star players.
The current holders suffered a crushing blow before the season had even kicked off when UEFA Best Player in Europe Award winner, and top scorer at the Canada World Cup, Celia Sasic, announced her retirement at just 27 years of age.
Spanish maestro Veronica Boquete joined rivals Bayern Munich, while Wales international Jess Fishlock, a player Bell described as “one of the most complete players I’ve worked with,” decided not to return on loan.
In addition, Bell revealed that majestic playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan, one of the most gifted number 10s you will find in the women’s game, is unlikely to feature until after Christmas.
“We have a core of about 13 or 14 players who when fit, are a match for anyone in this competition,” said Bell.
“But when you look at the squads of the likes of Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich and Lyon, they have financial power to add even more top players and will be very strong this year.
“All those teams have big support from their men’s club, and we don’t have that, so we’re determined to show a club not affiliated with the men’s side can go on and do well once again.”
A win against Bristol Academy in last year’s quarter-finals allowed the charismatic coach the opportunity to return home for a stint as the club went on to claim its first European title since 2007-2008, and its fourth overall – more than any other club.
This year, Frankfurt kick-off their campaign against Belgium’s Standard Liege, who themselves are having to cope with the loss of their star striker, 22-year-old Tessa Wulleart, who joined Frankfurt’s rivals Wolfsburg in the summer.
But despite his team being overwhelming favourites, Bell is taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve watched Liege the last few weeks and they are a well organised team who will look to get a result in the first leg in Belgium,” he said.
“They came to watch us against Potsdam and looked at the stadium and surroundings, so they’ve done their homework and they will be a tough challenge, but we’ll look to get our strategy right.”
A trip to Belgium at least presents a simpler journey than last year, with Frankfurt beginning their campaign out in Kazakhstan, which resulted in a number of flights and hours in the air that could have been spent on the training pitch.
“That wasn’t easy and I’m glad we can just take the bus over to Belgium because it creates less stress and we don’t spend hours in the air,” he added.
“Nonetheless, it won’t be an easy game.”
Bell has been based in Germany for over 30 years now, which included a spell working with the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp at Mainz, but still very much considers himself a proud Englishman, something he emphasised when he won the Champions League last season.
With Liverpool Ladies and Chelsea Ladies leading the English charge in this year’s competition, the former Leicester City player was quick to acknowledge the rise of the London club, and was glad to avoid them at this early stage.
He said: “I think Chelsea have improved and have built up a good side over the last two years with some high quality players, so they are definitely a team to watch.
“I was actually pleased to avoid them because they were unseeded and we could have drawn them, but I would have been disappointed to meet them this early.”
The Frankfurt coach was complimentary of Liverpool’s back to back league titles, but when asked about their chances of making an impact in Europe this year, he did raise concerns as to how the team would cope moving forward without manager Matt Beard, who recently announced he was leaving to join the NWSL in America, and how a poor league season would affect their confidence.
“Matt’s departure will affect them and it will be interesting to see how they manage with that,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a tough time for Liverpool, but it will be interesting to see how they fair.”
With giants such as Frankfurt and Lyon entering the competition at the round of 32, the league phase of the competition has already passed, which means clubs enter straight into a knockout competition, much like the former men’s European Cup.
Bell outlined his enthusiasm for the competition to be reformed in the future, so the tournament mirrors its male counterparts, offering even more competition to those that qualify.
“I’m not sure if the financial power is there yet, but it’s certainly something I’d love to see,” he concluded.
“It’s called Champions League, but it’s mostly knockout, so I’d like to see groups of four and see how we can make the competition more attractive.”
The UEFA Women’s Champions League first legs kick off this week with both Chelsea Ladies and Liverpool Ladies in action on Thursday.
Chelsea host Scottish Champions Glasgow City FC, who were knocked out by eventual finalists PSG at the quarter-final stage last year, while Liverpool travel to a Italy to face Brescia hoping to improve on their last 32 exit to Swedish side Linkoping.