Beats & Rhymes FC

Mandy Islacker interview: ‘The one who is always learning’ – Germany striker’s happy belated hit parade

Photo: Carlotta Erler/Courtesy of 1.FFC Frankfurt

 

For years, Mandy Islacker featured high on the Frauen-Bundesliga scoring charts for various teams, although it is perhaps only now that the 2015 UEFA Women’s Champions League match-winning hero is having her talents projected to the audience she deserves, as the 1.FFC Frankfurt and Germany striker chases top speed on the international track.

Scorer of a dramatic winning goal in a Champions League final, top of the goal charts in the Frauen-Bundesliga, and owner of an Olympic gold medal from Rio, just to top it off. Mandy Islacker’s reputation had been moving steadily along, albeit under the radar, for some time, but in less than two years it has all started to catch fire in spectacular fashion.

In truth, she wasn’t one of the internationally-renowned names in the Frankfurt team that earned the club its fourth European title in Berlin in May 2015. However, it was indeed the Essen native – at the time still uncapped by the German national team – who came up with the golden moment to finish off Paris Saint-Germain that evening.

Having entered as a 66th-minute substitute, the ex-FC Bayern Munich forward found the bottom corner of Katarzyna Kiedrzynek’s goal in stoppage time to clinch glory, and further chapters of triumph have continued to arrive since. Currently sitting at the top of the Bundesliga’s scoring tree with ten goals as the league takes its annual winter break, she had previously been sharpening her striker’s craft at the likes of FCR Duisburg and BV Cloppenburg before her breakthrough came so emphatically.

First capped by her country in October 2015, Mandy was among the German party that grabbed gold at the Olympic Games in Brazil last summer. The way in which her talents have come to light is not all that dissimilar to a great song that had existed for a little while before it was finally unearthed in a wider sense for many more people to see its sparkle.

Interestingly enough, Mandy was surrounded by a track of that very nature not too long ago, as it took a firmer place within the Frankfurt team culture with every play it received.

“Last season, we had a favourite song which was played in a continuous loop,” she explained. “It was ‘Die Immer Lacht’ by Kerstin Ott; German schlager music.”

That song was written by Kerstin Ott over a decade ago, while she was sitting at the kitchen table. It became a huge hit as a house track remixed by Stereoact, and enabled Ott, who had been a painter and decorator / part-time DJ, to pursue music fully.

The lyrics roughly translate to ‘the one who is always laughing’, as the song’s narrator sings about a girl she is asking to show her true feelings to the world. Though their paths are of course very different, like Ott, Mandy hit a big moment and has been pursuing her chances as a result.

It was Mandy’s move to her current employers that paved the way for her recent personal and team glories, as she arrived at Frankfurt off the back of a 2013/14 season in which she’d scored 12 league goals for a Cloppenburg team who couldn’t stave off relegation. The Englishman who signed her was a music/football interviewee in his own right on here a year ago, and Mandy recalls how the avid Gary Numan and Rammstein fan in question provided the pre-season platform for her to take the stage herself.

“Oh yes, I have (had to sing). When Colin Bell was head coach at 1. FFC Frankfurt, every new player had to sing karaoke in the summer training camp in Bad Hersfeld.

“I was happy that I could sing together with Kathy Hendrich and Marith Prießen. We have sung a schlager song, but I don’t remember which one.”

The complexion of Frankfurt as a team and club has been a changing one of late. Erstwhile head coach Bell initially left for Norwegian side Avaldsnes IL 12 months ago, while retiring goal machine Célia Šašić, Spanish midfield gem Vero Boquete and long-time Germany midfield talents Simone Laudehr and Dzsenifer Marozsán are just some of those who have departed from the group that won the Champions League less than two years ago.

In their Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt, they have somebody who in November extended her contract until 2018. The 28-year-old also stepped up to offer some VIP access into her personal musical book with her interview on here in November 2015.

As well as detailing her own artist choices from at home and overseas, Mandy tells how her goal-getting teammate is keeping it consistent yet diverse as the FFC mixmaster.

“Sophie Schmidt is our team DJ and I can’t describe her music style. It’s a mixture of different genres and artists.

“It’s difficult to name genres or artists because I like different styles. So check my current playlist: you will find Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Drake, Jennifer Lopez, as well as German singers like Max Giesinger or Mark Forster.”

 

Photo: Carlotta Erler/Courtesy of 1.FFC Frankfurt

 

As her club form has continued to accelerate, Mandy has been adapting to the national team with similar assurance. Before her first cap, she had last played for Germany at Under-17 level, but she quickly showed she belonged with a debut goal in a 2-0 win against Russia, putting in the rebound after Sara Däbritz had hit the post.

Opening the scoring in another home Euro 2017 qualifier three days later against Turkey, Mandy helped Germany on their way to sealing a spot in the Netherlands this summer. In amongst the national team players to talk music on here in recent years, Dzsenifer Marozsán highlighted Wolfsburg striker Anja Mittag as the one in charge of the team’s speakers, while legendary former goalkeeper Nadine Angerer claimed she held the DJ spot herself for one game, before her ska choices got her relegated to the bench!

Not all that much has changed recently according to Mandy, with two of the more experienced heads in the locker room keeping everything in working order, as the moves continue to come out.

“Anja Mittag and Lena Goeßling are our team DJs. It’s difficult to say who likes to sing and dance the most – I don’t know a player who doesn’t like it!”

On her way up in the domestic game, Mandy was at Duisburg as they achieved two runners-up finishes in the Bundesliga, returning in 2010 for a three-season spell in which she was twice one of the league’s most lethal finishers. She has played her home games in various cities, although when it comes to music, it was a stadium in Cologne where she enjoyed her solitary live show to date.

“I have only been to a Coldplay concert; it was at the Lanxess Arena and I really enjoyed it. Who I would like to see is Philipp Poisel, a German singer-songwriter.”

There has long been a deep-lying groove about the place at Frankfurt, which was always encouraged during Colin Bell’s tenure. The song ‘Weiter’ (‘Keep Going’) by the heavy rock band Heldmaschine was the team’s goal music when they competed at a huge indoor 5-a-side tournament.

After they came up with the most goals of any team in the competition, the band heard about it and subsequently asked them to make a cameo appearance in the video for their song ‘Wer einmal lügt’, and they duly obliged. Thinking over some of her most musically-inclined teammates, Mandy highlights one of Frankfurt’s former attacking players who featured on here just recently, as well as an up-and-coming player who may just have a serious career choice to make some time in the future!

“Isabelle Linden, who plays for Birmingham now, is a great singing talent. Also, Isabelle Möller, one of our FFC youth players, is a really good singer.

“She even won a contest and recorded a CD.”

There are millions all over the world who are surrounded by football from a young age, whether they dedicate endless amounts of time to honing their skills, or just follow a team as a supporter and play the game for fun. The heritage and impact of the sport was impossible for Mandy not to be aware of, with her grandfather Franz capped by West Germany as well as also winning a domestic cup and league title with Rot-Weiss Essen in the 1950s. On top of that, her father Frank also carved out a path in the game, figuring for VfL Bochum in the top flight before injury forced his retirement at a young age.

As Mandy says herself, her father passed on the love for football to her, and she followed in his and her grandfather’s footsteps further still by making it as a forward player, just as they had. What about a soundtrack to those days growing up? Was there a first album or single she can recall having?

“Well, I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was a CD of the Backstreet Boys. That was my favourite band when I grew up.”

As shown with strikes like the one she lashed home impressively with her left foot against Duisburg in November, Mandy is pretty useful with this striking business! Nevertheless, let’s say she had to change profession, if only briefly, and she had to collaborate with someone on a cover song.

She cannot call on the Backstreet Boys here, but luckily, she can choose someone she has played alongside! Who would she recruit in those circumstances?

“I would choose Isabelle Linden and I would sing with her ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber.”

Last March, she played in two of Germany’s three games at the American-hosted inaugural SheBelieves Cup, starting in the win over England in Nashville before featuring in the deciding 2-1 loss to the U.S. in Boca Raton. With elite opposition provided – France completed the four-strong lineup – the tournament was a condensed but useful template for a major competition.

It was of course later on in 2016 that the big one took place, with Germany heading to Brazil for an Olympic farewell to the hugely successful head coach Silvia Neid, and it was an ultimately gold-plated goodbye. For Mandy, it was her introduction to such a stage, and she saw action against Canada in the group, China in the quarter-final, and the Canadians once more in the semi, before they would be the last ones standing at the prestigious Maracanã in Rio after their Sweden win.

Having been there for the national team’s first Olympic gold, Mandy goes South American in her response to the next question, with an ultra-elite choice. She was asked which player from all-time she would pick to go out on the training field with to practice shooting alongside.

“Lionel Messi – he is a really complete football player and that’s why I admire him. His shot, his skills and technique, what he is able to do with the ball – that’s really amazing.

“It would be fantastic to practice with him.”

Although Germany made it all the way to Rio, their games en route to the final at the Olympics played out in São Paulo, Brasília, Salvador and Belo Horizonte. Mandy remembers arriving with the team in Brazil and how people wanted photos with them when they went out for a park run.

She had been named in the provisional squad for the tournament but with just 18 places up for grabs, and only 16 outfielders at that, she rated her chances as relatively slim. Never truly thinking she’d play at a global event as colossal as the Olympics, Mandy did just that, and although it’s not true to say she has emerged from nowhere, her profile has very much blown up in a short space of time. She is an overnight sensation…just a decade or more in the making!

Thinking about what all these experiences in the game have taught her, as well as what the Mandy of today would say to the version who was just starting out, her messages are straightforward, but they come from a place of someone who has lived it for real.

“There is one thing I have really learned – never give up. You can succeed if you work hard and I think I’m a good example.

“My first selection for the German national team was in 2015, at the age of 27, so that would also be the advice I would give to the young Mandy.”

 

Photo: Carlotta Erler/Courtesy of 1.FFC Frankfurt

 

This season, Mandy was disrupted by sinusitis that left her out of action for a brief spell, but she has remained as lethal as ever in and around the penalty area, hitting a hat-trick for Matt Ross’ team in the 8-0 destruction of Borussia Mönchengladbach in September. Despite the way she takes on the attacking responsibility for her team, she admits she doesn’t necessarily enjoy being in the spotlight, preferring to focus on what she can do to improve for the next game rather than adding unnecessary pressure.

Behind the increasingly accomplished top-level striker she has become, ‘Mandy the regular person’ places most value on the seemingly little things in her life that really mean more than anything, when all’s said and done.

“My home is a few hundred kilometres away from Frankfurt, so when I have free time at FFC, I spend it together with my family and friends. And of course, I care about my dog Amy.”

Although it may be Steffi (Jones) not Silvia at the helm for the national team now, Mandy made sure she wound 2016 down in impressive fashion as Germany beat the Netherlands 4-2 in one of the final matches of a memorable year. In the friendly encounter in Aalen in October, she struck the first two goals of the game against the upcoming European Championship hosts and is part of an exciting if slightly transitional period for the team, with the retirements of Melanie Behringer, Annike Krahn and Saskia Bartusiak.

After Frankfurt finished 3rd in the Bundesliga last season, just a point off VfL Wolfsburg in the last Champions League qualification spot, the goal is clear as they look to return to elite continental play. Mandy, who last April signed a new contract until 2018, struck 17 goals last time around to end the campaign as the league’s top scorer and she will surely be one of the main protagonists in the next few months as the team looks to move on up from its current berth of 6th after 11 games.

Of course even for the players who get a winter break, the work doesn’t ever really grind to a complete halt. With the on-field action on hold for the moment, however, here we get an exclusive Mandy Islacker team, with a difference.

It is one that, for the time being at least, can only be found in a fantasy setting. If you close your eyes, though, you can probably see Mandy finishing a scoring chance, especially with the names she picks alongside her!

The idea is for each player who features on here to imagine themselves playing in a small-sided game, with four of their teammates from any time in their career, whether club or international, to go alongside them. Every player has different reasons for making their selections, with personal significance, friendship, memories, and of course, ability, all playing a part.

Mandy introduces the ones who made her starting team, beginning with her handing the gloves to a rather well-known U.S. international who can certainly claw out a big save or two when the pressure’s on in this 5-a-side match-up.

“For the goal, I select Ashlyn Harris – we played together at FCR 2001 Duisburg. She is very strong at the line and she has a good charisma; I think you can describe it as the typical American winner mentality.

“My current teammate Peggy Nietgen (née Kuznik) is the defender of my team. Her positional play is excellent and she has great heading skills, and of course she is my very good friend.

“Okay, midfield next. So I select Dzsenifer Marozsán – concerning her technical and shooting skills, one of the world’s best players.

“Finally, we need a forward and that will be Anja Mittag. She has very good technical skills, too, and she is very cool in front of the goal.”

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