This season, The Athletic Follow the link Union Berlin, a Bundesliga club from the former East Germany who were playing regional-level football less than 20 years ago, on their inaugural Champions League Iron In The Blood: A journey through our series

Go deeper

The Premier? League Still on Course for an Extra Champions League spot?

As you can see, Union Berlin’s players drifted down the tunnel and the stands in Braga’s Municipal Stadium emptied to the tune of one last song over the PA system, Marie-Louise Eta sat alone on the pitch side for a brief moment, lost to her thoughts.

Union Just a few minutes ago, the team had picked up their second consecutive point in the Champions League on the road — that was the good news.

The bad news is that Union had carelessly squandered a lead against a team that had played with 10 men for more than an hour, leaving the Bundesliga club’s hopes of finishing third in Group C and qualifying for the knockout stage of the Europa LeagueHanging by a Thread

In addition, Union’s winless run had been extended to 16 matches in all competitions and the team’s mental fragility was painfully exposed after Braga equalised. Braga seemed to have an extra player for a time.

Eta was able to think about this issue in great detail.

But there was another storyline for Eta to try to take in: the 32-year-old had just created history by becoming the first woman to be part of a coaching team in a men’s Champions League match.

A little over a month ago, I became the interim assistant coach. Union Eta and its long-serving manager Urs Fisher have agreed to part, and Eta is now a trailblazer for the small but increasing number of women working in the men’s game.

She was in the dugout with Nenad Bilica. Union’s new coach, felt like a personal triumph for a woman who has been obsessed with football ever since she was a small child, and a landmark moment for the sport.

“It’s not a conscious decision (to appoint) a woman. That almost discredits this decision,” Dirk Zingler Union’s president. “She is a fully qualified soccer coach and that’s exactly how I see her, whether it’s a woman or a man.”

Promoting Eta for work Union’s first-team squad was straightforward in the eyes of Zingler. Marco Grote, the club’s under-19 coach, had been asked to take charge of the first team on a temporary basis following Fischer’s exit after five years at the helm, and Eta was Grote’s assistant.

Eta’s logic dictated he would be the one to step in with Grote. Eta has been a UEFA Pro Licence holder since April, and he had coached Werder Bremen youth teams and the German Football Federation after retiring at age 26.

GettyImages 1821609473 scaled

Eta is a legend. Union Berlin, Wednesday (Octavio Passos/Getty Images).

But it became obvious that not all outsiders were on the same page. Union It was a good idea.

It felt telling that when Kicker magazine ran the story about Eta’s new role on their Facebook page, they turned off comments.

Old-school opinions (that’s a polite way of putting it at times) still make a lot of noise in football, particularly on social media, where some people felt that it should be the best man for the role of interim assistant coach at UnionIt is better to choose the person who you think will be most helpful than the best.

Maik Barthel was a former agent of Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski and the head of Eurosportsmanagement.

Barthel has accused a leading client of terminating their relationship because of a post on social media. Union Berlin of German football “look ridiculous” Eta was given to a woman who was an a Champions League In her playing days with Turbine, Potsdam, she was a winner. She played in the first team.

Retweeting on Twitter is a great way to respond. Union’s announcement about Eta, Barthel posted: “An assistant coach has to be in the locker room Union? Please don’t make German football look ridiculous. It was already enough that the team’s hierarchy was completely destroyed with transfers.”

Barthel’s lack of understanding of Zingler, his players and even their own feelings was evident. Union Berlin.

Although Barthel subsequently deleted the message because of the backlash and posted another — “I have to rephrase it. Making a co-coach an issue will not help Union to put the destroyed team hierarchy back in order” — the damage was done.

Kevin Schade (22-year-old Germany International and Brentford forward) terminated immediately his contract with Barthel.

“I parted ways with my agent because I absolutely do not share his attitude and views,” Schade said. “I stand for openness, equality and diversity. And that’s how I want to feel represented.”

Barthel has now apologized for the incident and claimed that it never happened. “my aim to make Ms Eta the focus of my message or to discredit her”. In an interview with Kicker, he did say that he was convinced. Union They were trying to “generate good press and distract attention from their own mistakes”. Eta’s promotion was, in other words a form of publicity stunt.

This week, it transpired that Barthel has lost another client — Maximilian Beier, the talented Hoffenheim forward and Germany Under-21 international. Beier hasn’t spoken out about the reasons behind his decision to change agents, but many will connect the dots.

It’s no surprise that Union Eta has been bombarded with requests to interview him over the past two weeks. It is also not surprising that Eta has no desire to say anything right now, making the point to club officials that assistant coaches wouldn’t normally speak to the media.

Instead, Eta has quietly gone about her work on the training pitch and on matchdays — she oversaw the ball-related work in the warm-up against Braga and was giving tactical advice to Kevin Volland during a break in play in the first half — while leaving others to answer questions on her behalf.


Eta takes Union Berlin’s warm-up (Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

“The collaboration with Marie-Louise Eta is on an equal footing,” Grote said before Saturday’s Bundesliga match against Augsburg, when Volland scored an 88th-minute equaliser to lift Union The team will be able to move off the bottom half of the table, and stop a streak of nine successive league losses. “There are no big differences. We divide it up completely.”

Grote’s response to the question of gender significance was: “In the coaching booth, it’s all about a human fit. Whether someone is a little taller, maybe has a bigger belly or what T-shirt they wear, long hair, short hair — I don’t give a damn.”

This Augsburg match marked a significant moment for Eta and Bundesliga.

“The day has finally come for us to see a woman in the male domain of football, “said Julia Simic, the TV pundit and former Germany international. “She definitely has the expertise to fill this role.”

Although Grote returned to his under-19 position following Bjelica’s appointment on Sunday, Union Eta was announced to continue working with the team until Sebastian Bonig returned from his extended personal leave.

Women have held senior positions in men’s teams before, albeit generally operating at a lower professional, or semi-professional, level.

Oliver Kay has written about League Two Forest Green Rovers’ decision to promote Hannah Dingley to interim head coach last summer, he listed several similar examples going back over the last couple of decades, including the case of Imke Wubbenhorst.

In 2018, BV Cloppenburg, then struggling in Germany’s fifth tier, appointed Wubbenhorst as their head coach. She had previously played for the club’s women’s team where, coincidentally, Eta was one of her team-mates.

Wubbenhorst, in this sense, has an understanding of Eta the person.“very calm”The player (“very intelligent”) but also the world that she is stepping into — a place that can throw up some strange questions at times.

Wubbenhorst once was asked at Cloppenburg if the players had to cover their faces when she entered the dressing rooms. She replied in a sarcastic way: “Of course not. I’m a professional. I pick the team on penis size.”

Speaking more recently, in an interview with Deutsche Welle last week, Wubbenhorst was candid about the challenges that women such as Eta are confronted with in the men’s game.

She describes how players behave “are not impressed with your career from the beginning” You can talk about women’s football when you’re a coach. “a man’s game” Significant change in Europe will take some time, according to the European Commission.

“When you are the first person to do something, it’s hard because the media look at every word you say… but when you are the second or third, it will be so much easier,” Wubbenhorst explained. “The management of the clubs have to see that it works. So they will (then) decide more often to choose a woman for this position.”

Eta’s own path has not been straightforward. “I noticed that some people treated me differently compared to before, and that is not always comfortable,” In an interview conducted last month before her promotion, she said to UEFA UnionAbout her coaching journey.

“But I’ve always tried not to think about that and to focus on the important things. I’ve always tried not to put the focus on the fact that I am a woman. It’s not about women or men, or whether a man is good for a women’s team, it’s always about diversity.”

GettyImages 1813253251 scaled

Marie-Louise Eta with interim head coach Marco Grote. (Boris Streubel/Getty Images).

According to Grote Eta was accepted quickly by Union’s under-19 players when she arrived in the summer, and the word is that it has been no different with the club’s first-team squad.

The more pertinent question is, based on some of the reactions, whether Germany is prepared to accept a woman coach at this level.

“Definitely Germany is ready,” Stephan Uersfeld reports for “You have to brush aside all the stuff you see on social media. We’ve had female coaches in the minor leagues before — they weren’t successful. But she (Eta) has got all the skills, she’s done all the courses that male coaches do.

“If you speak to the people at the club, they are convinced she can do it. And it’s a club like Union Berlin, which is quite the opposite of what has been mostly reported in the international media — it’s quite a conservative club. So if they say she’s ready, you’ve got to trust them. And why shouldn’t you trust a woman with this job?

“The culture is changing. You see it on TV — we’ve got female pundits everywhere now. Football is opening up. There are two final barriers — women coaching in the men’s game and the homosexual players who still remain silent. Those are the final barriers to fall to see football arrive in the 21st century.”

(Photo: Getty Images, graphic: Sam Richardson).