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Women's Bundesliga: A league to leave?

January 28, 2024

In Wolfsburg's Felicitas Rauch and Bayern's Lina Magull the women's Bundesliga lost two stars in January. But what do the departures mean for the big picture?

Magull gets past Rausch as the two face one another in a Bayern Munich vs. Wolfsburg game
Magull (right) and Rausch are no longer Bundesliga players, but what does it mean for Germany's top flight?Image: Ulrich Gamel/kolbert-press/IMAGO

Felicitas Rauch's departure from Wolfsburg to join North Carolina Courage in the US was a surprise. That it came a week after Bayern Munich's Lina Magull left to join Inter Milan was a shock. Two seasoned Germany internationals have left their homeland for the chance to play abroad. But are the moves a sign of a bigger shift in women's football or just two players looking for something new?

When Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson joined Bayern Munich at the start of the season, not only did the women's Bundesliga look set for another thrilling title race but it also appeared Germany's top league was becoming a more popular place to play. Georgia Stanway had joined just in the summer before and suddenly the Women's Super League (WSL) in England was no longer just a league Bundesliga players left to join but also arrived from.

With the new media rights deal arriving this season that saw around $5.4m (€4.9m) expected per year, a 16-fold increase, the newly named Google-Pixel Frauen Bundesliga looked destined for it's biggest season yet — even if it still didn't have its own social media channels and the scheduling was a little strange.

2024: a year of change?

Fast forward to January 2024, and the picture looks a little different. Granted, the title race is still as exciting as ever but both Bayern and Wolfsburg, two clubs who remain among Europe's elite, have more going on in the departure column of their transfer business than the arrival one.

Bayern, who recently saw Maximiliane Rall leave to join the Chicago Red Stars, signing 36-year-old Swedish legend Linda Sembrant on loan was more of a necessary boost to a depleted defensive unit rather than a big splash. Wolfsburg have only made one signing, defensive prospect Diana Nemeth.

With the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) sealing a $60m (€55m) a year media rights deal in the USA (40x more than the previous one) last year, and the WSL in England on the verge of a new deal expected to be much bigger than the current one (reportedly just shy of $10m/€9m per season), the Bundesliga's new deal suddenly looks paltry in the big picture. Without the investment of men's clubs, stand-alone women's teams in Germany are having a harder job of surviving.

Furthermore, one glance at the list of the new signings in the US and the UK this January is a reminder of what even Bayern and Wolfsburg are fighing against. Just days before the league restarted after the winter break, "The Telegraph" reported that Chelsea's Jessie Fleming was set to sign for the Portland Thorns for a league record fee of nearly €300,000.

Perhaps it's also just two players who wanted something different in their career and now that women's football has finally developed enough internationally such moves are more feasible. As Rauch recently told "Kicker" in interview, "it's not just England, Barcelona or Lyon" as choices these days. The 27-year-old leaves Wolfsburg after two league titles and, following an injury, is looking to regain her form and place in the national side. Magull leaves Bayern after over 100 apperances and two league titles, and given the midfielder has played in Germany for 15 years, a change feels totally justifiable.

German football identity: Celia Sasic

But it's also hard to escape some sense of Germany's league falling behind. After Euro 2022, there was a desire for the national team's run to the final to transfer into lasting change. With the arrival of a new sponsor and more teams investing in the women's game, some of that change has already come, but the league is still playing catch up. Although greater visibility is a more pressing issue, some big-name arrivals to boost the Bundesliga's place in world football would really help, particularly after a poor World Cup showing in Australia and New Zealand. In the meantime, the league will have to hope its football can do enough talking.

Edited by: James Thorogood