Exclusive | Benfica’s Lena Pauels discusses playing in the Champions League and the boom of women’s football

In an exclusive interview with Get German Football News, Benfica, and former Werder Bremen goalkeeper, Lena Pauels (25) discusses the development and boom of women’s football, moving abroad at a young age and playing in the Champions League.

Congratulations on Benfica’s 1-0 win against Frankfurt – It was the first ever women’s Champions League game at the Estádio da Luz, what was the experience like?

“First of all, thank you. It was a great experience, both for me and for the whole Benfica team and women’s football. It was the women’s team’s first international game played at the Estádio da Luz, and being a part of this historic moment makes me very proud. The atmosphere was excellent and the fans helped us win. In general, the fans’ identification with the club is huge, so the atmosphere at all the home games is very good. With over 10,000 Benfica fans in the stadium, you can’t hardly understand your own words, but I had goosebumps at times. All the better that we were able to celebrate the victory together with our fans. The Game was one of the best moments of my career.”

We’ve seen Atletico Madrid Feminino sell-out 50k+ against Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano and Arsenal Women sell-out at the Emirates, just how exciting is it to see the women’s game continue to grow?

“It’s great to see how women’s football continues to grow and how we can present ourselves on the big stage. For me is doesn’t come naturally to play in front of a five-figure audience. Seeing little girls and boys in the stands wearing our jerseys and cheering for us fills me with pride. It’s nice to be a part of the development of women’s football. I think we’re far from finished and that there’s still a lot of development in women’s football, but the boom in recent years shows what potential women’s football has and that our football is attracting more and more people to the stadium.”

What do you think can be done further to raise the profile of women’s football?

“I believe that the games in the big stadiums contribute to a large part to this. In addition, more and more television providers are offering a platform on which our games can be followed. I think that women’s football in general needs to be more personalised, but the path and development so far is correct.”

Who was your role model growing up? And how important is it for young girls to have a role model when working their way up through the youth teams?

“I never had an exact role model. Of course, I tried to learn from various goalkeepers who play at the highest level, but I can’t name an exact player. I think it’s important to have role models, not just in sport, but you should also always find out to some extend what kind of player you are and how you want to play, and what values you represent.”

You’ve played most of your career in Germany, how much are you looking forward to returning and what can you expect from the return fixture against Frankfurt?

“I’m really looking forward to the game in Frankfurt. It’s a special game for me on many levels. Firstly, the fact that it’s a Champions League game. It means a lot to me to take part in this competition as it has been my goal for a long time. Furthermore, it’s a groundbreaking game for the group stage. The fact that the game is now taking place in Frankfurt and therefore on German soil makes it very special. Many friends and my family will come to watch the game live. I think that the game will be similar to Lisbon. Frankfurt is a very good and offensive team. It will be a duel of equals and hopefully an exciting game for all spectators.”

You made the switch to Benfica this summer, how have you settled to life in Portugal?

“I have settled in very well. The team and everyone around is very helpful and open, which made it a lot easier for me to get started. Benfica is a top international club and you notice that straight away. The conditions are very professional and the support from the fans is huge. It’s incredibly fun to play for Benfica, especially with this team. I believe that Benfica will also be one of the top teams internationally in women’s football in the future. A lot has been build here over the last six years and the club is far from finished with its development. It’s nice to be a part of it and it fills me with pride.”

What’s the most difficult thing about living and playing abroad, and how have your new teammates helped you?

“For me the language is the most difficult thing. However, we are getting a lot of help in this area. Our assistant coach translates everything into English and we receive lessons from the club. The team is also very helpful and tries to teach us more and more words and sentences. In general, you naturally encounter a different mentality and an unfamiliar environment abroad, but I have to say that it does me a lot of good and I feel comfortable. I think I’ve adapted and settled in very quickly.”

Lastly, what’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self that perhaps girls wanting to play football at a high level can take on board?

“That you should never give up. That you have to fight for what you want to achieve. It’s not always the easiest way, but I think that those who put their heart into it and invest a lot will make their way. I can only speak from experience that hard work pays off. I’m very grateful to be where I am now. It fills me with pride and I really enjoy playing football at the highest level. But success never comes overnight and you have to invest a lot and improve every day in order to be able to play at the highest level for a longer period of time, but that hard work is worth it.”

GGFN | Daniel Pinder

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