Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United for now 25 years is hailed by many as the greatest or as one of the greatest managers in recent football history. This is justified by the time he is in the job by the number of trophies he has won in that position and certainly the press are right, he is one of the greatest managers. No other team have won more Premier League titles (12) since the inception in 1992; there are in total 37 trophies which would be too long a list to place here, or 1,48 trophies per season. Players like Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs are just a few of the names that were discovered by Ferguson or had their most successful period in their careers at Old Trafford. There is the staggering number of over 1000 managers that have been sacked since November 1986 in English club football.
This however, will not be another hagiographic piece about the Scotsman in charge at Old Trafford, rather it will be a comparison between Ferguson and an unsung hero in German football: Bernd Schröder, coach and for a short period manager of SV Turbine Potsdam, East Germany’s oldest and best female football team. Half a year younger than Ferguson, Schröder enjoyed his 40th year in charge this year in March. His teams have not won as many trophies as Man United but they had to face a far sterner test: they had to play against a male dominated sport; a domination that went further than the playing field but mostly was to be found in the mindset of many sports politicians. Even in the GDR that claimed that everybody was free to do what they liked as long as the party was not offended, it was difficult for the women to play. There is only one international played by the GDR women’s team, in 1989 against the Czechoslovakia which was lost 3-0. Football was not the sport that attracted a lot of support from the state as it was not deemed to bring a lot of medals at the Olympics and the tournaments like the World Cup and the EUROs were seen as suspicious events as most athletes competing were professionals, which officially none of the East German athletes were.
Bernd Schröder had to face much more problems than Sir Alex when coaching his team. Football in England was is and will always be part of the nation’s identity whereas women’s football was outlawed in Germany until the early 1970s. And yet, Schröder appeared to have only been recognized as a pioneer of female football in Germany when his team won the Champions League last year and when Germany hosted the Women’s World Cup Finals last summer. Sir Alex Ferguson is a truly great football manager, no doubt but the fact of the matter is that, that his fate was there for him for the taking, it may not have been easy for him but certainly easier than for Bernd Schröder.