The first time I ever saw Lena Goeßling play was during the UEFA Women’s Champions League final in 2013. I had switched on the game to watch the famed Olympique Lyonnais featuring the likes of Lotta Schelin, Megan Rapinoe, Amandine Henry to name a few, take on a lesser known (to me) VfL Wolfsburg. My main reason for watching that final was to see a major women’s club football match played in a famed stadium, Stamford Bridge.
With Olympique Lyonnais featuring more known names, I found myself watching how the German side nullified the French champions tactically for 90 plus minutes while still finding the ability to trouble OL on the counter. At the heart of that midfield featured Nadine Keßler and Goeßling. That partnership would go on to be a crucial partnership for both Wolfsburg and Germany until Keßler’s retirement from the game but I never forgot how impressed I was by their ability and athleticism that day. Fast forward to a year later and once again, I switched on a stream to watch Wolfsburg take on a star-studded Tyresö FF at the Estádio do Restelo in Lisbon. That was the day Lena Goeßling became my favourite ever German player.
Those of us who watched that final will remember how Marta, Christen Press and Veró Boquete seemed to run the Germans ragged for the first 45 minutes but what truly stayed in our memories forever was the performance that Wolfsburg, and in particular the midfield of Goeßling and Keßler, put in during the second half.
After being completely shut out the game, and picking up a cut to the cheek that left Goeßling with a black bandage over the cut, the two midfielders turned on the jets and blow away Tyresö. With Keßler pushing forward at every opportunity to help her team win the match, Goeßling was left to marshal the midfield alone for large parts of that second half. Moving around like a boxer who caught their second wind, Goeßling would pick up the loose balls that came into Wolfsburg midfield and feed it towards her attacking teammates as the German outfit created chance after chance. There are not many midfielders in the women’s game who can take over as completely as Goeßling did that day but she did so with all the nous of a seasoned veteran who was as determined as those ahead of her on the pitch to make sure that Wolfsburg would be the champions that day. Keßler may have been the flashier of the two that day with her swashbuckling runs forward, Goeßling gave her the platform to do so, and did so with grit, determination and unbelievable ability on the ball.
When you fall in love with a player, it could be due to their tricky, or their rough and rugged defending. I fell in love with Lena Goeßling that day because I saw a version of a midfield general that I hadn’t seen since Steven Gerrard took over in Istanbul six years prior.
Although the result was one that she would not have wanted, I can never regret the opportunity I got to watch Germany live at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Montreal. That night, the German were knocked out at the semi-final stage by a surging United States but the chance to watch one of my favourite players made that night one I could never forget. Her midfield partner was different from the first time I saw her but watching Goeßling do what she does best was a privilege. After a tight and tense affair in the first half, a missed penalty gave the USWNT new life and Goeßling and her teammates were unable to stop the Americans from winning the match. I was able to rewatch that match when I got home and focused entirely on the midfield battle between the two sided as that was where the game was won and lost. Goeßling and Melanie Leupolz were overrun for most of the second half and it wasn’t quite the performance I would have expected from either of them that day but that doesn’t diminish from just how good Goeßling was, as evidenced one year later when she came on late in the game to help seal the Gold medal for Germany.
After over 100 caps for Germany and over 130 appearances for Wolfsburg, Lena Goeßling announced her retirement, leaving with an enviable trophy cabinet. An Olympic Gold medal in 2016, a Euro 2013 championship, two Champions League titles, six Frauen Bundesliga titles and eight DFB Pokal cups.
As time went on for Goeßling, she was asked to play a different role for both club and country, as a central defender. While it was something she had to learn through trial and error each match, by 2018, Goeßling had become a terrific central defender especially in a three-back where she could stride forward into midfield at will and pick out a pass that most defenders aren’t capable of. Her role was a fascinating one to watch and although it didn’t lead to more success internationally or in the Champions League, for Wolfsburg, it kept the German giants ticking in the Bundesliga and helped them win consecutive league titles.
Her role after her retirement from the national team at Wolfsburg became more and more bit part as time wore on and by the end of this last season, she was out of contract with the team.
I would have loved to see her feature somewhere else, bring all of her experience and ability to another team but Goeßling had other ideas. “I am sure that I won’t be able to have the same feeling that I have developed at VfL in 10 years for any other club.” she wrote in her statement announcing her retirement and I can respect that. She has given Wolfsburg fans everything she had from the first minute until the last and sometimes, when a player is that tied to a team, it’s hard for them to play anywhere else. And so we bid farewell to one of the greats in our generation. What her next chapter will be, we don’t know but I know that I’m grateful for the times I got to watch her ply her trade. Danke Lena, it’s been a pleasure.