For decades, Turbine Potsdam didn’t need hope – it was largely superfluous for one of Europe’s best clubs. But now hope is all Turbine has left. “If we had no hope, we would have given up. But we didn’t,” Turbine striker Sophie Weidauer told DW earlier this year.
With the Bundesliga season drawing to a close, Turbine are six points off the relegation spot with three games to go. There is not much optimism that one of the most decorated German football clubs can avoid being relegated for the first time.
While Potsdam’s impressive trophy collection has gathered a solid layer of dust in recent years, the bleak struggle for survival this season still comes as a shock. Turbine narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last season after finishing in the top four six times in a row.
Karsten Ritter-Lang, a trauma surgeon by profession, has been President of Turbine Potsdam since November 2022
During the winter break, club president Karsten Ritter-Lang spoke of an “implosion” by the team – the roots of the current turbine misery can be traced back to summer 2021 at the latest. At that time, the presidential candidacy of former player Tabea Kemme, who wanted to bring the club back to its old glory, failed and Kemme lost the election to succeed long-time president Rolf Kutzmutz.
Since then, the base of the club has collapsed. The coach at the time, Sofian Chahed, surprisingly left the club shortly after last season, Kutzmutz, who had been with the club for 22 years, followed him and thus started a dizzying personnel carousel. In addition to various board-level changes, Turbine has had five head coaches since Chahed’s departure.
Many departures, difficult integration
Not surprisingly, the turbulence at the top of the club has had an impact on the pitch. More than a dozen players, most of them regulars, also left the club last summer. “Nowadays there are many professional opportunities in women’s football. Every player decides in which environment she wants to play,” says Sophie Weidauer. “Obviously it’s a pity that so many left, even though we had an excellent season last year. But at the end of the day, every player has to decide for herself what level of professional football she wants to play at.”
Sophie Weidauer (left) is only 21, but still one of the players who has been with the club the longest
While the turmoil at board and managerial level was a distraction, the near-complete reshuffle of the squad during the off-season put enormous pressure on the players. “It was extremely difficult. There are so many players with different backgrounds, origins and languages in the squad, that can be a barrier to communication,” says Weidauer. “You need time to sort things out together on the pitch, but we don’t have time for that now.”
Tradition no longer pays off
The acute crisis this season is also due to Turbine’s failure to adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape of women’s football. “If you look at how good they were 10-15 years ago, they had a big advantage over other clubs in terms of infrastructure and tactics. But the teams caught up or even overtook them,” said former player Anja Mittag , who won two Champions League titles and a handful of national titles with Potsdam, DW.
Next to SGS Essen, Turbine is the last purely women’s football club in the Bundesliga. VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern dominate the league, while other men’s Bundesliga clubs such as Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig have also invested heavily in women’s football. These clubs have resources, infrastructure and sporting know-how that the all-women’s clubs lack.
Turbine was briefly partnered with Hertha BSC, but the three-year partnership will not be renewed after this season as Hertha decided to start their own women’s team. Potsdam and they are the only two all-women teams in the Bundesliga and it’s looking increasingly likely that Turbine’s days in the Premier League are numbered.
The beginning of the end?
“It’s very sad for me personally. It’s not easy to see the club I grew up with on the verge of relegation,” former Turbine striker Conny Pohlers told DW. She played for Potsdam from 1994 to 2007 and developed into a German national team player there. Players like Pohlers and Mittag have left a great legacy at Turbine: two Champions League trophies, six Bundesliga titles and three German Cups – the club will always have its story. The fans hope that this is not all that remains soon.
“It would be a heavy blow, especially for East German football,” said Turbine supporter Frank. “And if they’re relegated, they won’t come back to the Bundesliga. Losing such a traditional club would be bitter.” While not optimistic about the immediate future, Anja Mittag believes a shift in strategy could ensure the club’s long-term survival. “They (still) have this big name. Maybe they can change the way they recruit players and focus on scouting and developing young talent,” she says. “Probably they need to change to change things.”
And while it might be a viable option for a side with decades of know-how but limited resources to leave past glory behind and refit as a training club, the more pressing concern is the struggle to survive this season. “Of course you’re under pressure, but we knew that at the beginning of the season. I’m firmly convinced that we can do it, I believe in this team,” says Sophie Weidauer.
The text has been adapted from English.