A week before VfL Wolfsburg restart their quest for the European crown, the club dropped a bombshell today: head coach Stephan Lerch has decided against renewing his contract and the upcoming Frauen-Bundesliga season will be his last. In the official announcement, Lerch said that he “decided to take on a new challenge after the summer of 2021” and that he had been targeting this date since he last renewed his contract.
Lerch has spent the past eight years with Wolfsburg, working his way up from coaching the reserves to taking over head coaching duties in 2017 from current sporting director Ralf Kellermann. The 36-year-old Darmstadt native has led die Wölfinnen to three consecutive domestic doubles and the Champions League final in 2018. Excellent at player management, Lerch oversaw Pernille Harder’s ascent to the best player in the world and Ewa Pajor going from wunderkind to a genuine star. Depending on who Kellermann hires as replacement, Lerch’s impending departure could have some negative impact on player retention and recruitment. Current assistant, former German international, and two-time World Cup winner Ariane Hingst would be my pick to succeed Lerch to ensure stability at the club. SGS Essen head coach Markus Högner, a former Wolfsburg assistant, and Kellermann himself might be options as well.
Lerch noted that there has been no decision made on his next destination and that his focus remains on working with the “absolute top team in women’s football” for another year. If he decides to remain in women’s soccer, there are very few European clubs that would be a step up from Wolfsburg. At the international level, there are some plum openings right now with England, Australia, and Canada all looking for a new coach, but Lerch has no international experience at any age level and has not coached outside Germany; plus, he has been explicit that he would not walk away from Wolfsburg early. Or would he leverage his success in the women’s game to transition into men’s as John Herdman infamously did in 2018?
Regardless of what he decides to do next summer, Lerch should have no shortage of suitors, and Wolfsburg fans will hope that he could bring the team another European crown (or two) before he departs.