Well known to Munich fans as one of Bayern’s longest serving players we caught up with Austria captain Viktoria Schnaderbeck whilst she was on international duty at the Cyprus Cup to talk about her start in Bavaria and her memories of Euro 2017.
Just over the border
Encouraged to play with her brother by her cousins when they were still young, Schnaderbeck spent her early years playing with boys, forced to raise her game to have the physical and mental fortitude to compete.
“I think it helped because I had to compete in a boys team, you have to be physically and mentally strong, you’re not always in comfortable situations. Physically because with girls you’re on the same physical level but with boys you really have to be at the highest level to still be able to compete.”
After a short spell with LUV Graz, the defender was given the chance to move to Bavaria with teammate Carina Wenninger, one which she gladly took.
“When I was 16 I realised in Austria that the level is not that high and I had the choice to continue or make a change. I went with Carina, to Bayern in Germany, it was quite tough because we hadn’t finished school yet and we had to get used to a different school and I think that was tougher than actually playing football in another country.”
Whilst both her and Wenninger are still at Munich, the team has seen many other players through the doors over the years, including a healthy number of fellow Austrians. The defensive duo the two longest serving players left in Bavaria.
“I think it’s something that’s changed in women’s football because I remember ten years ago it wasn’t like you had so many different teams where you had the facilities but now it’s a different financial situation. Secondly, I’m not the type of person who changes their club every two years because loyalty is very important to me and I want to be part of a team, not just part of a team but of a team culture of what a club is about.”
Easily recognisable in her red Munich kit, the Austria captain having worn #25 for her tenure, the defender laughs off the idea that the number carries any specific meaning for her.
“Absolutely not, when I joined the first team it was just the number that was free and now I’m used to it and I feel good in it but it’s not like other players needing to wear #10 or something, I’m not like that.”
Euros in jeopardy
Lost in a turbulent 2016-17 season, Schnaderbeck consistently struggled with injuries, unable to string a solid run together the defender picked up another knock ahead of the Euros, her place in the Netherlands in jeopardy at the eleventh hour.
“When I got injured two or three weeks before the Euros, it was really unclear for me, if it was going to work or not and in the end I practiced with the team just one day before the first game against Switzerland so thinking about it now I’m really grateful for the fact that I got so many games to play.”
Whilst her international teammates were able to focus on the football as well as the thrills and spills of Austria’s first ever major tournament, the 27-year-old consistently found herself preoccupied with her own fitness.
“For me, it was really emotional because I had so many ups and downs. I remember other girls were preparing for the Euros and were having lots of fun and just had this kind of spirt but for me it was, “Are you getting fit? Are you able to play?” So I never had the chance to enjoy the situation and just let go and when it was the moment I got fit again, there was another injury in the France game so it was really the situation of “Are you getting fit again?” I never had those continuous moments where I could just enjoy the experience, it was after the Spain game when I really went, now we’re in the semi-finals and didn’t have problems so it was the first moment of the Euros when I felt free and without worries.”
After four and five failed attempts at reaching the World Cup and European Championships respectively, 2017 marked the first major tournament outing for the Austrian women’s team. A superb run in the group stage saw the team surpass all expectations and finish top of a group containing France, Switzerland and Iceland, the success the best of any Austrian senior team at a Euros. A quarter-final shoot-out win over Spain saw Austria reach the semi-finals, a loss to Denmark enough to see them fall at the penultimate hurdle though the finish was the best in the history of the country since Walter Nausch’s team fell at the same stage of the 1954 World Cup.
Having written their own page in the sporting history of the country, Schnaderbeck and her teammates were blown away by the reception they received when they returned to Vienna, the country of just under nine million brought together by football,
“I think so, not just because of the success we had but because of what we reached in the society, it was unbelievable for us to see when we got back to Austria to see how many people got into the game. And not just the game itself but it was more about being together and feeling close to each other even old women who didn’t know anything about women’s football were just enthusiastic. I think that was, for me, the more important part because you could see you didn’t just influence the sports people but those outside of it and that’s what’s because of our success but also because of the way we played.”
In a story that’s familiar in other parts of the world, the Austrian public has previously been roused into support of their national team once they’ve reached a major tournament before growing disinterested after poor performances. Quietly going about their business in the Netherlands, away from the public sphere at home, Austria’s progression was something caught fire at home,
“It’s hard to say because we had a positive moment when the men qualified for the Euros in France but after when they didn’t have much success it was really like, “Okay, we don’t support you, we don’t believe in you.” But then there was us and we did something different and I think it’s this kind of mentality that made women’s football something different to other sports maybe.”
Having been deployed in midfield as well as defence, the Austrian captain knows where she’s most at home on the pitch,
“I think right now I’d prefer to play centre back because it’s the position I’ve played the last games and years and I got used to this position and I would prefer to play there.”
In a world where more and more midfielder are being converted into centre backs, Schnaderbeck took the more traditional route into the defence, given time to learn the ropes,
“I think it was the coach who really made me go with the tactical things especially in the club because we really had more time to work so first he trusted in me and second I just had time to compete in the position and to grow – to make mistakes but to learn game by game. I’m a player who is quite flexible and I’m quite good with tactics.”
From the land of snow and mountains, Schnaderbeck is [unsurprisingly] an avid skier, though maybe not quite on par with fellow Austrian Marcel Hirscher, the defender hopes that she can return to the slopes when she hangs up her boots,
“I really enjoyed skiing but after my injuries I just couldn’t, maybe after my soccer career I’ll start again but there’s something in the winter, we have our girls group and we go rodelling – that’s something I can have a lot of fun with.”
Despite Austria’s sterling run at the Euros and Munich’s back-to-back title wins, the Bavarian’s proudest moments are more about persevering and overcoming,
“I wouldn’t count one moment, I always felt the moments when I came back from injuries were my biggest ones because I didn’t just feel proud of myself but also when my family was there, I felt a strong gratefulness.”
In a world where football has become more of a business, Schnaderbeck’s most disliked part of the game is something most can agree with,
“I wish the money wasn’t so much into the game, especially in men’s but I think it’s something that changes the game itself.”
No stranger to moments when she’s wanted to the ground to open up and swallow her whole, Schnaderbeck’s preferred superpower stems from all those little moments of mortification,
“Maybe to disappear when I really feel embarrassed…”