VERSUS: Mel, we have to talk about your career to date. Olympic and European Champion, U20 World Cup runner-up, league title winner with Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Have you always been a serial winner?
Melanie Leupolz: My career started really well, and everything just happened so fast! I was 19-years-old when I won the EUROS, it was my first tournament with the senior national team, so to win the whole thing was amazing. Then I moved to Munich and won the league back-to-back in my first two seasons there. And won the WSL in my first season at Chelsea last year! Winning is a big part of my career of course, but I’ve always had a good team around me. It’s never just one player that wins these things for a team, it’s always a group of people who make that happen.
The one thing those teams had in common though was you, so you obviously had a role to play! Growing up did you have that winning mentality?
Yeah! My motivation has always really been: ‘how can I get better at everything I do?’ I always wanted to be the best at school, so I worked really hard. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was born ‘talented’, I’ve always had to work to achieve the things I’ve achieved in my life. If you’re determined to succeed and work hard to make sure you do, it’s a nice feeling when things pay off. That feeling and process keeps me wanting to win!
Why did you decide to move to London and join Chelsea?
I spoke to my manager when I was at Bayern Munich and said I wanted to play football abroad. It was always a really big ambition of mine, and I’d played against Chelsea a few times – in the Champions League especially – and just liked the team! I thought the English league was really interesting too, and developing my football is always the most important thing to me. Maybe in the future, I might move to a different country to experience a different lifestyle, but at this point in my career I need to be playing in the best league possible, and that’s the English league. At the time I said I wanted to play for Chelsea, and they were also interested in signing me. A win-win situation really! I spoke to Emma (Hayes) over the phone, and we had a good conversation. She seemed really nice and honest, if that makes sense?
I just really wanted to do something completely new too. I needed a change. I didn’t know any of the girls when I moved here, and it was really interesting to come into a totally new environment. And I am so happy that I made that decision because I’ve grown so much both as a player and a person. When you move abroad, you’re confronted with so many difficult situations that you just have to get on with by yourself! Plus, our team is full of world class players which forces you to give everything in every training session and match. My football has improved so much. I can’t imagine being with a better team.
“Our team is full of world class players which forces you to give everything…My football has improved so much. I can’t imagine being with a better team.”
How have you found the transition moving from Munich to London?
I came during the first lockdown, so it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t explore much, but I did really enjoy my ‘football life’. My team welcomed me and were really nice. They helped me to settle into England quite quickly! I really like the people who live in London too, I just love the City in general to be honest. So, it’s been a fairly easy transition so far! I am looking forward to exploring the City a lot more, meeting new people outside of football and just seeing what living in London is really like!
You want to experience life as a Londoner!
What are the things you enjoy doing in London?
I don’t really like to do random ‘touristy stuff’. I mean, I have to see everything at least once, but it’s more living with the people in the city like I said. That way you get to see the ‘real’ London. Two of my favourite areas are Soho and Mayfair. Some of my favourite things to do in those areas – and everywhere else really – is eat! I love to find new restaurants to explore.
Who is the teammate you get on with the most? And you can’t say all of them!
I wanted to say that! I really like my team, but there are always players you spend more time with than others, especially when you’re not playing! I really like to spend a lot of time with Magda (Eriksson) and Pernille (Harder). Together with a few others we also have a little dinner crew. We choose a restaurant to eat in maybe once a week or so. We spent a lot of time together in lockdown, especially with P and Magda. They live really close to me.
“Something that’s really important to me is open-mindedness. I hate to be judged, and I never try to judge others because of that. You never know what someone’s story is.
What’s been your favourite foodie ‘spots’ so far?
There are so many in London! I like Asian food. Novikov is really good, Hakkasan. Roka, Koya…
Oh wow! You’re being serious, I thought you were going to name a couple of restaurants…
Sushi Samba, Sticks N Sushi are good too. We are serious about our food!
What matters to you most in the world outside of football and Asian food?
Of course my family and friends. They’ve been with me every step of the way, and they’re always ready to help me if and when I need it.
Besides them, something that’s really important to me is open-mindedness. I hate to be judged, and I never try to judge others because of that. I think that everyone should just be able to do what they want to do, and be themselves. You never know what someone’s story is. If everyone would think like that, we’d live in a better world.
What has been your best experience with Chelsea so far?
Oh wow, there are so many. The whole of last year was so amazing. Of course you always have ‘ups and downs’ in a season, but I just enjoyed every single game. We got to the Champions League final, and that was a huge step for us. Yes, we didn’t win and that was really painful, but we learnt so much from that game and I hope we can do better this season. It’s a big goal of ours to go one step further and win the Champions League.
I couldn’t have imagined to be so successful in my first year with the club. We won every domestic title possible. And are in the FA Cup final from last year, so we can still win the Treble. I think that is so cool! I can’t give you just one experience!
How have you found the difference between playing in the Frauen-Bundesliga and the WSL?
The WSL is more physical and you have more games. Everything is faster and ‘straighter’ if that makes sense? Sometimes you’ll have a long pass just beyond the line, so everyone is running. Always running! In Germany everything is a lot more tactical and slow. I really like the game in England because it feels more interesting for fans to watch and players to play. I think so anyway! Everything is just so quick like I said, and if you’re playing against a smaller team, they could score against you because the game is moving at such speed. It can make things more ‘open’.
The league is really interesting too because you have four or five teams fighting for the title, whereas in Germany you only really have two, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg. I also really like the stadiums we get to play in. Plus the English fans are so supportive, they sing our songs for the whole 90 minutes! The crowd is always bigger here compared to Germany too.
“The more we invest in women’s football now – that includes the support of men’s teams – the better it’ll be for the future of the women’s game.”
It’s becoming more common that women’s football is played in ‘men’s stadiums’. Is that something you experienced in Germany when playing?
We definitely didn’t play in the Allianz Arena in Munich, we played in a stadium that held 12,000 people though. So, bigger than our home ground but nowhere near as big as somewhere like the Emirates for example. It’s something that I really like about playing in England, playing at big venues. I think one of the reasons we have the opportunity to do that is because we have the support of our men’s teams.
They have to spend quite a lot of money to open up a stadium like Stamford Bridge, and the Club might not earn that much from our ticket sales because they’re a lot cheaper than the men’s. Plus fewer people come to our games. But, I think the more we invest in women’s football now – that includes the support of men’s teams – the better it’ll be for the future of the women’s game. Right now, we do need the support of our male players, but in a few years time it’d be great to not need their support at all. I think that should be a big goal for women’s football in the next few years.
We need to build our own crowd and show people how great the women’s game is. Hopefully, we’ll then have more people attending games, we’ll sell more tickets and we won’t always need support. I think it’s great that quite a few clubs in England do support their women’s teams though, it happens in other countries too of course! When we played against Juventus in the Champions League we played at the Allianz in Turin. I think maybe 18,000 people came to that game. In Italy, women’s football seems to be growing really quickly. One of the reasons is because of the support of their men’s teams.
What does it feel like to play in those stadiums?
It’s amazing. You come out of the changing rooms and fans are cheering for you. It is crazy how many emotions football can give a player and the audience. It is what I really like about the game, the emotional side of it. When you score and everyone is screaming at you, it feels unbelievable. But to be honest, when I am playing I can’t really see or hear anyone in the stands because I am just so focused! You do take a moment at half-time or when the game is finished to take it all in though. That’s when you realise how incredible it is.
When you told me that you didn’t really support a team or watch much football, I thought to myself: how did you even get into it, if you weren’t really a fan of the game!
Everything started when I was in Primary school. I grew up in a really small town, and all of my friends at that age were boys. And one day, they took me along to a training session and I just fell in love with playing football. We spent so much time on the pitch after school.
Nobody in my family plays football, so maybe it is a bit weird that I do play! I do have to say, I enjoy watching football when I know some of the players who are playing. Plus, I don’t really like to sit on the couch watching TV! If I can go and watch a match at a stadium, then I love watching football. And I love it because of the emotion I spoke about earlier. I love that type of environment.
What do you hope for the future of women’s football?
First of all I hope that it gets more professional. There are still a lot of players in Germany that need to work full-time while playing football. They train in the afternoons or evenings, and if you’re doing that you can’t bring your best performance. You’re so tired, and you just can’t focus 100% on football. In England it’s a different story, and I hope that Germany sees that and understands how valuable it is for the game’s development.
Like I said, the support of men’s teams right now in women’s football is invaluable. We need to make sure our foundations are really strong moving forward so then we eventually don’t need their support. But, I would encourage as many men’s teams as possible to support their women’s teams. So we can get to that point where we can stand on our own two feet fully.
I think next year will be big for women’s football. Countries from all over Europe will travel to England to play in the Euros, they’ll see the stadiums, the fans, the coverage we have in this country. And that might make them think: ‘we should be doing this too!’ Being on TV every week – with the Sky and BBC deal – you don’t have anything like that in Germany. You can stream games, but you have to pay for them. They don’t have anything like the FA Player.
We just need to show the world how great women’s football is! If we can do that, I think a lot of growth will happen organically.
“Changing and playing in another league is so helpful because you learn a new style of football…I highly recommend playing abroad. I do not regret it at all.”
Do you think there are any parts of the women’s game that the men’s game can learn from?
That’s hard to say! I think the women’s game is friendlier and feels more ‘honest’, if that makes sense? But I also think that women’s football is changing because of the growth.
There will be more money in the women’s game over time, and I think that will maybe make it more similar to the men’s. And I think the more money there is in the game, maybe that friendliness and honesty might disappear. I hope it doesn’t! Because I really love that about the women’s game. After games we can interact with our fans really easily. We love to sign autographs and take pictures with them, we are a lot closer to our fans because of that. I understand they can’t take pictures with everyone in the men’s game because there are so many people! But right now, with the size of the women’s game it’s something that we can still do. I hope that doesn’t ever really go away to be honest.
I hope that the women’s game doesn’t lose that vibe either. The women’s game is so much more inclusive than the men’s too.
I really hope we can keep it up too when everything gets more professional.
What do you miss the most about Germany? I heard it was the bread…I mean, you’re laughing, so that must be true!
That is true! But I have found a few good places where I can get good sourdough bread, so that’s been really helpful for someone that misses German bread. But I really miss the pretzel! The Bavarian pretzel.