Germany's women: 'We don't have balls, but we know how to use them'

Ahead of the World Cup in France, Germany's women's national team have hit back against stereotypes with a powerful campaign. The hard-hitting video has received widespread praise for its message of female empowerment.

Germany's women's national football team — two-time World Cup winners and eight-time European champions — are still fighting against stereotypes and clichés in 2019.

Ahead of the World Cup in France, which kicks off on June 7, head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenberg and members of her 23-woman squad featured in a provocative ad made by the team's main sponsor, Commerzbank. 

"We've been proud sponsors for 10 years," Uwe Hellmann, head of brand management at Commerzbank, told DW on Friday. "It's the third ad campaign we've done with the women's national team, and we've built up a lot of trust in our relationship. So when we went to their training camp to pitch the idea, they thought it was fantastic."

They agreed immediately, Hellmann said, in large part because of the kinds of issues the campaign deals with: "What moves Germany's female footballers? And what are the topics affecting them in the lead up to such a big tournament like the World Cup?

"Those are exactly the topics — the reservations, the prejudices that they face — which are in such stark contrast to the performances they produce. What they have achieved is remarkable, and it's not common knowledge. We wanted to capture that and support them because it felt like the right time to be blunt about this."

Eggs and ponytails

The 90-second video tackles the issues facing female footballers head-on, with frank remarks, cheeky wordplay and a thought-provoking message of female empowerment.

"Since we started out, we haven't just fought against opponents, we've fought against prejudice ... but you know what? We don't have balls, but we know how to use them." 

The direct translation would have been "we don't need balls, we have ponytails," but in that, the wordplay involving the double entendre associated with the German word "tail" is lost.

The video, which has more than 1.3 million views, also pokes fun at the fact that after their first title triumph, at the 1989 European Championship, the women's national team didn't receive any monetary rewards, but had to settle for tea sets(!) instead. It was a minor detail recognizing how far they've come, underlining a poignant point without taking themselves too seriously.

Kathrin Hendrich (l.), head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg (c.) and Almuth Schult (r.) sip from tea cups as a throwback to the national team's prize for winning EURO 1989.

"I'm completely blown away by the ad campaign – it was done with self-confidence, irony, a wink and a clear message," said Voss-Tecklenburg, who features in the video. 

The campaign has received praise from all corners for the way it was executed at a time when women's football is just starting to receive the recognition it's been battling for.

"The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive," continued Hellmann. "We thought it would be well received because we've tried to capture an incredibly authentic topic. We've seen a reaction the world over, in Germany and internationally. They have received recognition for their self-confidence, how brazen they were, but they nevertheless did it with a smile and their smarts.

"That self-awareness was understood and seen in an extremely positive light. The amazing thing about it is that's what the team are really like. That was what was so fascinating about the process, what made it so much fun and what we've been delighted about since, because we've managed to hit our targets in order to support this team, who we think are brilliant. We're delighted with the end product and incredibly proud."

Time for change

While the video and the reaction it has garnered is progress that could add to the snowball affect currently being seen in women's football, the off-pitch battle continues – with France's summer showpiece in mind.

Ballon d'Or Feminin winner Ada Hegerberg, who has helped Lyon to three consecutive trebles, will not feature for Norway due to an ongoing battle for equality.

Since she announced her decision to step back from international football in 2017, the Norwegian FA have reached an equal-pay agreement, but for Hegerberg "it's not always about the money. It's about preparing, taking action, professionalism."

Money is, however, the source of a dispute involving the US women's national team (USWNT), who will be looking to defend their world title in France. The USWNT filed a lawsuit against US Soccer in March over "institutionalized gender discrimination" as they seek equal pay to what their male counterparts earn. 

To enact change pioneers are needed and in women's football, there is a growing sense that now is the time. On Friday, UEFA launched the first-ever "women's football strategy" #TimeforAction – a five-year plan aimed at doubling the number of female players in Europe by 2024 while at the same time changing perceptions.

As the best-ranked European team in the FIFA rankings – second overall only to the USWNT – Germany's women have used their platform to convey an important message in their viral video. Now they will be looking to use the World Cup as a springboard as they seek to continue to make progress towards a more equitable future in the game. 

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Goalkeeper: Almuth Schult

The 28-year-old has been first-choice goalkeeper at Germany's most successful women's team, Wolfsburg, for the past six seasons. Since 2015 she has also been wearing the No. 1 shirt for the national team. In 2016 she was part of the team that won gold at the Rio Olympics. With 58 caps she is one of the most experienced players on the German team.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Goalkeeper: Merle Frohms

Frohms, 24,plays her club football for SC Freiburg and is the backup to Schult in the national team setup. For years she tried unsuccessfully to emerge from Schult's shadow in Wolfsburg, before moving to Freiburg in 2018. She has made four appearances forher country.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Goalkeeper: Laura Benkarth

The 26-year-old Bayern Munich shot stopper is another who already has a gold medal in her collection, though Benkarth wasn't used in Rio 2016, with Schult preffered for all six games. Benkarth missed a huge chunk of the season just gone with a cruciate ligament injury, only making her first appearance in April.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh

Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh was born in Cologne to an Iranian father and a Turkish mother and forms part of the backline at the current winners of the women's double in Germany, Wolfsburg. Since making her debut for the black, red and gold in March 2016, the 27-year-old has made 24 international appearances.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Johanna Elsig

Elsig has been playing for Turbine Potsdam since 2012, who she joined from Bayer Leverkusen. Elsig's career has been plagued by injuries, particularly two cruciate ligament tears which both resulted in long spells on the sidelines. Despite those, the 26-year-old has been part of the German setup since 2017, and has won 12 caps.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Lena Goessling

At 33, Goessling is the oldest and most experienced played in the Germany squad. Also capable of playing in midfield, she has already won 104 caps for her country though missed the cut on two major tournaments early in her career. Another Rio Olympic champion, Goessling has won just about every honor in the club game with Wolfsburg.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Marina Hegering

A late bloomer, Hegering only won her first Germany cap in April, at the age of 28. Another versatile player most comfortbale in more defensive roles, Hegering won plys her trade for SGS Essen in the women's Bundesliga and has done well to largely overcome a stubborn heel injury.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Leonie Maier

Despite her relatively tender age of 26, Maier has been part of the national set up for more than six years and became a European champion at 19. Though defensively-minded, Maier has racked up 10 goals in her 68 caps. After six successful years with Bayern Munich, Maier will be on the hunt for a new club after the World Cup.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Kathrin Hendrich

Born in Eupen, in the German-speaking part of Belgium, 27-year-old Hendrich is another vastly experienced defender. She made her international debut in 2014 and made the move from FFC Frankfurt to Bayern Munich last year. She has made 29 appearances on the international stage.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender: Carolin Simon

With six clubs already under her belt, Simon should be at home at the World Cup as she currently plays in France for all-conquering Lyon. The 26-year-old made her bow for Germany three years ago and has won 15 caps. But before she can concentrate on international affairs, she has the small matter of a Champions League final against Barcelona, in Budapest on May 18, to contend with.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Defender/midfielder: Giulia Gwinn

The 19-year-old is one of three Freiburg players to have made the World Cup squad. Gwinn made her Germany debut in November 2017 and has since won a further six caps, scoring her first, and so far only, international goal against Italy in a friendly last November.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfielder: Linda Dallmann

After more than 150 games for SGS Essen, Dallman will soon move to Bundesliga runners-up Bayern Munich. "I have been playing the Bundesliga for eight years now," she said. "And now I want to win the title and hold the trophy up." Since her international bow in 2016, she's won 20 caps and scored five goals.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfielder: Turid Knaak

The creative midfielder didn't enjoy the best of starts to her international career. Just five days after her first call up in 2015, Knaak broke her shin and fibula in training. She had to wait until April 2018 to finally win her first cap and will be hoping to make up for lost time in France.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfield: Melanie Leupolz

Another of the Bayern contingent, Leupolz joined the Bavarian club from Freiburg in 2014. A year before that, she made her international debut in a 1-0 win over Canada and has since become a regular fixture in the Germany squad, winning 57 caps and scoring eight goals along the way.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfield: Lina Magull

Yet another German player to have followed the well trodden path from Freiburg to Bayern. The Dortmund-born midfielder won a number of caps at various youth levels before making her debut for the senior side in 2015. Her 30 caps since have brought seven goals while an earlier spell at Wolfsburg saw Magull win two Champions League titles.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfielder: Dzsenifer Marozsan

Born in Hungary, Marozsan and her parents moved to Germany when she was just four-years-old and the gifted playmaker has become one of the country's standout players. The 27-year-old has won a staggering amount, both in terms of individual awards and team trophies, including Olympic gold and two Champions Leagues with current club Lyon.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfielder: Lena Sophie Oberdorf

A precocious talent, Oberdorf will be one of the tournament's youngest players at just 17. She's the youngest in the Germany squad by some distance. After making a debut last April, the SGS Essen starlet will be hoping to translate her impressive scoring record from midfield at club level on to the world stage.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfield: Verena Schweers

By comparison to her predececssor on this list, Schweers is a seasoned veteran at just shy of 30. Another to have played for Freiburg and Wolfsburg before joining current club Bayern, Schweers is a holding midfielder also capable of playing further back.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfielder: Sarah Däbritz

Däbritz may be keener than most to pick up a bit of French during the World Cup, as the 24-year-old will be moving to Paris Saint-Germain from Bayern Munich after the tournament. The attack-minded player has scored ten goals in her 59 Germany appearances.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Midfielder/forward: Klara Bühl

Another of the young guns hoping to make their mark in France, Bühl currently has just a couple of minutes of international experience, having debuted as a late substitute against France in February. Bühl came through the ranks at Freiburg, where she still plays her club football.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Forward: Alexandra Popp

One of the key figures for coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the Wolfsburg striker has twice been named German Footballer of the Year and has 45 international goals in just 95 games. Popp has just completed another domestic double with the Wolves, taking her to five Bundesliga titles and six German Cups. She also won the Champions League in 2010, 2013 and 2014. A World Cup still eludes her though.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Forward: Lea Schüller

The SGS Essen striker has made a bright start to her international career with eight goals in 12 games since making her debut in 2017. That includes an impressive four goal haul against the Czech Republic in qualifying. Can she take that form in to the tournament?

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: The German squad

Forward: Svenja Huth

Another member of the Germany squad who'll be playing for a new club next season, Huth, 28, will soon join several of her national team colleagues at Bayern, ending four years at traditional powerhouses Turbine Potsdam. Since making her debut eight years ago, Huth has won 43 caps and scored 11 goals.