Josephine Henning interview (Part Three): ‘A design for life’ – Playing from the notes that Josy wrote
As the kaleidoscope carries on turning for Josephine Henning, the 27-year-old centre-back keeps inspiring by playing to a pattern all of her own. She may be competing on the field or constructing a masterpiece off it, but it is clear that social reigns supreme in any case for the captivating German international, as we take a final tour through the creative and confidential arena of the artist informally known as Josy.
All the steady build-up is almost out of the way and we have finally arrived at another major tournament in the women’s game, with Euro 2017. The next three weeks promise plotlines, near misses, excitement and inspiration, as the Netherlands invites the continent’s international elite over for a party at the Oranje house.
The competition represents a second taste of the European Championship for Josephine Henning, who still felt able to fully immerse herself in the occasion four years ago despite not seeing game time on Germany’s way to hoisting the trophy aloft in Solna. The Lyon defender was still just 23 back then, and the World Cup and Olympics in the last two years have since given her the opportunity to properly sample such a stage, by way of minutes on the field.
After figuring in Germany’s semi-final campaign of 2015 and their gold-winning run to Rio in 2016, it would have been a touch startling not to see Josy make the cut this summer, but a few weeks ago, she received that welcome email to allay any uncertainty. This is her national team’s first sizeable voyage under the stewardship of their long-time former defender/midfielder Steffi Jones, after seven tournaments with the revered Silvia Neid as coach. There was, however, the SheBelieves Cup in the U.S. back in March, in which Germany finished runners-up to France after defeat to the hosts and a win over England, and it could be argued that a similar level of opposition awaits in their Euro opener with Sweden on July 17th.
Handed her senior debut by Neid in 2010, Josy finds it impossible to compare and contrast between her and one-time assistant Jones, although she has been feeling a huge amount of confidence in the World Cup-winning player since she took up the reins.
“I really, really like Steffi Jones – so far, a great captain of the ship!” Josy enthused. “She’s in contact with the girls all the time, whether it’s injuries, or the shape, anything.”
“She’s very good with people; she talks to people, she has a lot of social skills. This mixed with her playing a long time is good.
“She controls everything and it’s her philosophy, but she gives everyone space to put in their own ideas; we have our line but everyone can put something in. I think that’s a strength; you have power if you allow people to bring in something to your philosophy.
“When you have confidence in yourself and your planning, that goes to the players and they can feel it.”
Getting the job done is crucial when it comes to tournament play and something Germany, as a football nation overall, rarely struggle with. As Josy expressed during part one and two of this interview, though, it’s the people behind the positions who represent the true value of it all for her.
The team’s dazzling creator Dzsenifer Marozsán was a club teammate of Josy at 1. FC Saarbrücken as they had the punishing experience of losing the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) final 5-1 to 1.FFC Frankfurt in 2008. They were both just teenagers then, playing for a 20-000 crowd at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, but much happier memories would of course be constructed together in the years that followed.
Josy and ‘Maro’ (who was also a music/football interview subject on here last year) are club colleagues once again at Lyon now, and the Budapest-born midfield marvel is also Josy’s captain at international level, having followed in the footsteps of retired skippers like Nadine Angerer and Saskia Bartusiak. If Josy is an artist off the pitch, Marozsán is one on it, so since she took on the armband, what sort of leader has Josy found her friend to be?
“She leads by example, on and off the field, because football is everything for her, after family. She lives football, 100%, it’s unbelievable and an inspiration.
“I need different things in my life to be at my best level; she needs football, and family and friends. It’s not my way but it motivates you automatically.
“She’s not the one who talks and talks, or who comes to you and wants to have a chat or something like this, but you can always go to her. I think she’s very calm, which is good for our game as well, because she’s the one who holds the ball, and if we can’t go forward we stay there.
“She’s a great captain so far.”
As a sincere and effervescent character who cherishes the social side of ‘real life’ so much, our conversation turned to whether there was any reason behind why Josy hasn’t as yet joined the masses on Twitter? Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain teammates have tried to influence her in that regard and a familiar Swede and American had a hands-on role in bringing her to Instagram, though Josy explains why that’s most likely her social media limit.
“I’m just not a media person; I can’t force it, because I don’t like to put my face somewhere. I don’t know why, but I think there are so many fake things, and I don’t like it.
“You have to be careful what you put there because it can always come back to you, and I know that all the girls, they know this. You think you know someone just by following and by seeing the pictures, you think you know the person, and then you get to know them and you’re like, ‘(gasp) who the hell are you?’
“That’s something I really don’t like, but I know it works. Twitter, no – maybe I should – but I think it was Katie (McCabe) who did my Snap…how do you call it? (Snapchat)
“I don’t use it but I have it on my phone. She sends stuff and she’s like, ‘I’m not gonna send stuff any more because you’re not answering!’
“I’m like, ‘I’m sorry – you put it there!’ Kosovare Asllani, she did my Instagram account with Lindsey (Horan), together in Paris, so I didn’t even start my Instagram account and now I’m happy I have it.
“One is okay for me. I don’t have an official Facebook page, I have Instagram and this is my thing, with pictures and videos.
“If no-one tells me to stop I will just continue that!”
Together with the colourful behind-the-scenes glimpse she gives into her world as a skilled artist, Josy also showcases her musical aptitude on Instagram, as she channels her feelings into elegant piano-playing videos from time to time. Those classical pieces have been very warmly received, although there was a performance in her days as a PSG player she’s thankful a wider audience didn’t get to see!
She recalled the scene as the topic of singing initiations for new players arriving at clubs came up.
“I will continue this with the young ones because I had to do it! In Arsenal, you had to do something and I remember Sari van Veenendaal and the Dutchies.
“We were in Portugal for like a pre-season camp against Wolfsburg and (Bayern) Munich, so they did little games and it was fun. With PSG, we were in Switzerland for pre-season, so we were in the bar on the last evening I think, and we had to sing a song.
“They expected a French song, but it was me, (Caroline) Seger, maybe Lira Bajramaj, and we just sang ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ (Cyndi Lauper) – it was horrible! It was so horrible, and then I was like, ‘Maybe I could’ve just played piano,’ because no-one knew that I did.”
Assuming that Josy does stick to a more instrumental input for future performances, who could she count on to make sure a cover version with any of her current or former teammates is a much smoother effort than that PSG rendition?
“I don’t know her but I saw videos now and then, she’s from New Zealand and she plays guitar (Hannah Wilkinson). There’s not so many players who do, or maybe they just don’t post it.
“Or Erin McLeod; I think she paints a bit and also records a bit? These two, I’ve never met them, but I think it would be fun, just to get to know them and have a little session.”
A personality powered by her own instinct and imagination, which is as endearing to others as it is empowering to you, Josy speaks of having an open mind to try things but a strong one to know when something isn’t right for her. Just as any decision-making panel in the women’s game surely can’t be made up entirely of men, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense not to have those who’ve played involved in making the biggest calls.
On that thought, Josy was asked here what she thinks could be done better in the FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL) and women’s football overall in England, given her time at Arsenal. She began her response by highlighting something she’d introduce to the game in a wider sense.
“In general in women’s football, in every league, I think there’s someone missing – we should create a job for someone who is between the national team, the player and the club. There is one thing missing, because sometimes you have a good communication because the people get along with each other, and sometimes not, but you still need it.
“Let’s say a player is injured, or they need different treatment, or they have problems at home; there’s so many cases and we need someone who organises and is the medium between this one and this one. I think this is missing, because sometimes it’s the physio who talks to your federation or to your national team because they know about the treatment, but sometimes it’s not only the treatment, it’s also the athletic part, the athletic trainer.
“There’s so many things and I think the connection between them is missing. I think (in England) the federation invested a bit, that’s what I heard from the players, I think that’s great.
“I think it would be nice if not only the big clubs, like Manchester (City) – they invest the money because there is a good men’s club – it would be nice if women’s soccer could stand on its own feet but it’s not possible right now. So, what we have to do is, the part I don’t like, which is the media; I think this is the only step to get the rights and the TV, to have the good times, the prime time.
“I think that’s something we just have to work and work and work for. In Germany, I think for the Euros it’s quite good; we have like the good channels, prime time.
“That’s my wish for every country, but other than that, I think it’s progressing. The only thing we have to watch out for is that we don’t stand still by not checking what we can do; just the communication to keep that rolling, I think that’s important.”
In the German side that finished third at the 2008 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Chile, Josy played for a former national team star in Maren Meinert, while the two aforementioned bosses from her years at senior level also led highly impressive international careers. She has had world-class teachers around, both as teammates and as coaches, but she finds it tricky to pinpoint any specific advice that has stuck with her from such esteemed people, shedding further light on her personality as she explains why that is.
“I don’t really have an idol; I wanna do it on my own, maybe sometimes too much. It’s just like this, but I have someone who told me something and I wrote it on a little sticker – it said ‘play with a smile.’
“I like that, and so now when it’s hard in training or something, I always get it out of the bag and look at it.”
Even for the most established players it’s never guaranteed that you’ll be selected for a tournament, with such limited squad space and the many factors that can come into a coach’s thinking at key times around selection. Knowing for sure that you’re in the final 23 is huge; it allows plans to be made properly, for you and anyone else who can come along to support and share in the occasion.
Josy’s team travelling over the German/Dutch border this month makes up a pretty sizeable entourage!
“It’s cool that it’s not so far, and it’s the first time we have a base camp instead of going to different hotels, which I think is great. My dad is coming with his wife and I think he’s going to try it ‘classic’ with the caravan, but we’ll see!
“My mom’s coming, my brother, a few friends from my hometown in Trier, a few girls from the Bundesliga, also some of my student friends.”
If any of us were to turn the clock back four years it would almost certainly bring about a few changes in what we were surrounded by and what populated our thoughts. Josy is no different in that regard, although she approaches Euro 2017 off the back of winning a club treble, just as she did when Euro 2013 came around, after success with Wolfsburg.
Germany hope and believe the celebrations will be there once again in August, although it’s not only conceding penalties (both saved by Nadine Angerer) that they might want to eliminate from the day of the final this time, should they get there! A young forward in that 2013 squad and currently at Birmingham City, Isabelle Linden revealed on here in January that the changing-room ceiling felt the full force of the dancing from an unnamed player (because she apparently couldn’t remember who…) after the 1-0 win over Norway.
It seems only fair to ask Josy as well if she has any recollections of that one!
“(Laughs) Well, I don’t want to say ‘no comment’…but I remember a lot of crazy things! (Laughing again) There could be someone who couldn’t control their dance moves!”
Regardless of the odd structural tremble now and again, that fun can never be totally lost when Josy and her teammates are around. As the three parts to this interview have tried to illustrate, football has been responsible for some of the greatest things in her life, but it is also just one of the pillars to who she is.
“When I’m not training with the girls, or training on my own and doing stuff for me – which is also a big part because I like it, it’s sport, it’s in my heart – then I’m probably painting. If I’m not painting, I’m playing piano or I’m with my family.
“I played in a lot of clubs, so my friends are in every city you can imagine. I’m not the person who is on the phone the whole time, or chatting or writing; I pick up the phone, I speak for maybe three hours with someone and then maybe not again for two months, but then it’s still the same feeling.
“If I’m friends with someone then it’s for life; that’s my kind of friendship.”
Coils of film sit in the camera ready to seal more picture-book moments in time this summer, while Josy is surely the type of mind we need to keep in the women’s game long after she’s played her last game. With Champions Leagues, Bundesligas, Olympic gold and all the rest, Josy has more medals than most of us have socks.
Despite a trophy haul of a true top-level veteran, she is still just 27 years old. Apart from the people it has projected onto the silver screen of her story, she pauses a few moments to think of what football has given to her in terms of learning, about herself and the grandest picture, of life.
“This is where I agree with Steffi: you shouldn’t pretend you are something you’re not, but you should try things to know if that’s you, or if that fits your character or not. I think you get a lot of self-confidence (in football), because you get a lot of feedback.
“You know, you’re in your second or third country and people are saying the same thing about you, so you think, ‘Oh, maybe that’s my thing, maybe I am like this.’ Maybe you like it or you don’t like it, but usually you don’t get so much feedback from your friends at home.
“I would never ask ‘what do you think of me?’ Same thing when I posted my pictures; that’s something very private, but at some point I felt like, ‘Yeah, I wanna do that, so why shouldn’t I?’
“There were some friends who said I should, and it was the third or fourth time in another club, so I thought maybe I should. So, I learned a lot about me, but it’s not finished.
“You progress, you change, but it’s always – and that’s something which is so important – it’s always about the people, everywhere.”
Unlike her story, this one is almost all over, but like any great tournament team, there’s always the possibility of something saved for stoppage time. In this case, the last say comes from Josy, who puts her own sparkling signature over the question that has ended hundreds of interviews on here in the last few years.
The setting is made of fantasy, with the interviewee put into a small-sided team of five and asked for four current or former teammates they would have with them. Josy started with the intention of filling the team instead with players she doesn’t know personally, although she eventually had to bring some in that she did, as, for once at least, the inspiration deserted her slightly!
So, like her interests, her music taste, her career and life – this is a happy mix of culture and character.
“Okay, usually I would pick my friends, my besties, but I’m not going to do that because as I said, I always want to meet new people. I would probably choose people I’ve never played with, together, and I always want to get to know them.
“I would pick Mia Hamm, just because she’s the old generation and kind of like starting women’s soccer, so it would be nice to hear her stories. Only female? (Told we can put male players on the bench)
“Then I put (ex-Arsenal winger) Serge (Gnabry) on the bench. He’s gone to (Bayern) Munich and he’s going to have a great career.
“I’m going to put him on the bench because I want to get to know him better, and I think he’s a funny guy. I think I would choose maybe (Homare) Sawa, because I never got the chance to meet her.
“I think she had an amazing career. Let’s pick…I’m sorry, I’m so bad at this!
“I’ll take a German goalkeeper, Lisa Weiß, because she’s funny. Then I take Tabea Kemme.
“(Because of her ability? Her character?) No…because I still have to meet her to give her something!”
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Josephine Henning interview (Part One)