VAVEL UK sits down with Elise Kellond-Knight

The Australian midfielder is happy in Germany, despite the lack of surfing.

VAVEL UK sits down with Elise Kellond-Knight
Credit: Getty

Whilst she was out in Portugal with the Matildas, we spoke to Australian international, Elise Kellond-Knight about the difficulties with playing in a league so far from home, leading the Frauen Bundesliga over the winter break and what’s next for the Aussies.

Beginnings

Having played form a young age, Kellond-Knight’s love of the game was first piqued by her brother, “Like the majority of female footballers, through my brother – he played from a young age so I followed in his footsteps.”

Whilst defensive midfield in a key area on the pitch and the role requires a great deal of understanding and balance, it’s not the most glamourous of positons. As one of the most recognised and respected defensive mid’s in the game, Kellond-Knight didn’t start life out in a defensive vein, “It hasn’t always been my position, when I was younger I played in the middle – not as a defensive midfielder, just part of a two in midfield. Then I moved to left-back and then a couple of years ago I came in as a defensive midfielder; I enjoy it because you get to be behind the ball and start attacks, I don’t necessarily like to run with the ball so it’s good for me and when you have passing game I think it’s suits your style of play.

Although one game is never like another and people talk in terms of “90 minutes”, game day starts far earlier than the kick-off and having grown over the years the Matilda has finally found the right way to ease herself into game day,

Throughout my career – I think I have a lot of experience now – so I don’t have the same routine but I like to stay pretty relaxed, I like to do a bit of active moment early in the morning. It depends when the game is, what time you eat is critical so the amount of food you take in during the day is really important, you want to feel good, you want to feel energised, you don’t want to feel too sluggish. So I’ve got a good routine I’m happy with but it has taken a few years to perfect.

When I play for Potsdam my job is very different from when I come in for Australia and for me that’s very had to adapt to. But at Potsdam, I’m more of a composed person on the ball so I think I bring a calming element to the team, try and keep possession, try and control the game – and lately I’ve taken the job of set-pieces, so that’s a really important part of my game.

Beyond Oz

At 20, Kellond-Knight ventured overseas for the first time, opting to join 3f Liga side, Fortuna Hjørring,

“It was my first overseas club, after the World Cup I wanted to go overseas and experience different things and Fortuna was a good opportunity because there were three other Australians going to the club at the same time and when you’re younger you want to feel comfortable. Unfortunately, I had an ACL injury whilst I was there and since then I’ve gone to Japan and now I’m in Germany.”

After her brief spell in Denmark, the midfielder gave herself a new challenge with a move to Japanese side Iga F.C. Kunoichi, her time in Japan affecting her both on and off the pitch,

It was an unbelievable experience, not just football wise but a life experience, I learnt a lot of things, a lot of things about myself because it’s quite isolating being in an Asian culture by yourself. In terms of the football it was good to develop the technical part of my game, lots of touches on the ball lots of small possession games. I think it was just a good learning experience overall.

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Having balanced spells in Denmark and Japan with stints back in Australia with Brisbane Roar, Kellond-Knight opted to say goodbye to the W-League and return to Europe. Former heavyweights of the Frauen Bundesliga, Turbine Potsdam and her club, but what has the midfielder learnt [so far] in Germany?

Many things, it’s been a very steep learning curve, in terms of football, the speed of the game, I’m playing with a lot o high-level footballers at the moment so even the training sessions I’m learning, I’m seeing what they’re doing and I’m be2ing able to adapt and bring that into my game. I think I’m starting to learn to play at a higher speed. Many things off of the field, I’m learning another language so I’m in German school at the moment and that’s really important for me, the first season I was there I didn’t chose to learn the language at a fast pace, I was only doing one lesson a week and it was too slow and too hard to adapt and fit in. But now I’m in school five days a week and it’s really helping and I’m starting to understand and starting to fit in a lot easier.

Over nine thousand miles (or 14,000km) from her home in Australia, there’s no question the move hasn’t been an easy one for Kellond-Knight especially during her first season in Germany,

It’s very hard, the first season for me was mentally very hard for me, you’re away from all your support network, away from all your family and friends. Really all you have in football over there and when things aren’t going well on the pitch – and things didn’t in my first season – it can be quite hard and challenging, but I stuck it out and thankfully things have turned around and it’s a really positive feeling at Potsdam right now.

I think you’ve got to have a certain type of personality to be able to move to the other side of the world, it’s nine hours’ time difference from home so even to stay in contact with family it’s extremely hard. I only call home once a week because of the time difference, when my parents are home I’m at school or at training and it just gets really hard. The only time is a Saturday morning and often on a Saturday morning we’re travelling or we’re training so it’s really tough. Friends you fall out of contact with but good friends you keep, when I go home they’re always there so yeah, it does become very hard.

Auf geht's!

After a checkered few years, the team west of Berlin are finally back on the rise and are flying high under new manager Matthias Rudolph, the mood a stark contrast from that of last season,

I think the happiness, the better training methods, tactical approach to the game it all combines and all makes the team have a better harmony. Under [BerndSchröder there was a lot of angst and I think players were unhappy, we were doing training routines that didn’t suit us, the training load was too high; people were tired constantly and we all know it’s really hard to perform when you’re absolutely exhausted. With the changes it’s really freshened up the team, the personnel isn’t that different, a few players have left us but the key group has stayed together and when you look at that it has to come down to the management of the team.

Currently top of the league, having only dropped five points from thirteen games, no one at Turbine is getting ahead of themselves, a recent draw against Frankfurt a frustrating result but taking one game at a time is paying dividends,

We definitively just take it one game at a time, and I think that’s the approach you have to have. We can’t get ahead of ourselves, every three points is vital, dropping points last month to Frankfurt was disappointing to us but we were in a difficult position having Tabea [Kemme] and Svenja [Huth] out with injuries; your two key strikers, obviously when you lose them it’s a bit of a deficit in the team. But we’ve got a good squad and we’re able to pull together so as we come into the next few rounds as long as we’re able to focus and take it one game at a time we should be able to get the three points every time.

With Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich hot on their heels, Kellond-Knight doesn’t feel like her side at being chased down but rather just going along at their own pace, trying to produce their best on the pitch week in, week out, “I don’t think we feel much pressure in the team, we can keep a pretty relaxed atmosphere and it doesn’t feel like everyone’s chasing us, we’re just going out there and trying to prove that we’re the top team. It doesn’t feel like a pressure, looking at our result last season, it’s not as if we’re defending champions, we’re just going out one game at a time and trying to do the best we can.

The midfielder’s goal in football a straightforward one, “To win. Throughout my career I’ve been to many big tournaments and participated in many tournaments but I don’t have many medals to wear around my neck; for me it’s about winning at this point of my career. So to be Bundesliga champions, to potentially get a World Cup or Olympic medal, they’re definitely in my sights for what I want in my career.

With a modest looking trophy cabinet, Kellond-Knight’s proudest moment wasn’t a recent one, but remains the most important, “The one major thing we’ve won and that was the 2010 Asia Cup. To be part of that winning team was fantastic and knowing that we were then going to the World Cup because of it, that’s definitely the high-light.

The best and the worst

Not known for her goals, the Turbine has still managed to catch the eye of late with her set pieces, her favourite goal a dead-ball screamer, “The free-kick against Freiburg, the far post curler.

In terms of toughest opponents there’s a long list for Kellond-Knight to choose from, but a certain European team have provided a stumbling block on more than one occasion, “Many, many. Being a defensive midfielder I play against the best strikers in the world and they’re all very clever, very technically good but for some reason it always seems to be Sweden. I’ve just got bad memories of playing Sweden; they knocked us out of the World Cup, they beat us the first game of this [Algarve Cup] tournament, it’s almost like having a mental fear against them now… not a fear, but a weariness because we’ve got so much history and not a good history, we never seem to get results against them.

As a professional footballer, there are a number of challenging aspects to life, but keeping her love for the game and finding the right balance is key to the Matilda, “Finding balance, the game is so fun and it’s something I’ve played since I was five but it’s about keeping that spark when you play every day or sometimes twice a day, I find that quite challenging. So I try and keep it fresh, try and keep learning, when you become a professional you’re at a certain level so it’s hard to keep critiquing and trying to perfect everything, that’s the biggest challenge I find.”  

But the best part? “Being able to do a job where you get to be active and travel and be with friends, those are the best parts.

Not known for loudly going about her job on the pitch, the defensive midfielder had to think about what her super-power would be before setting, “To be invisible.”

Happy in Germany, there is nowhere else Kellond-Knight would rather be playing, “At this point in my career, I think I’m playing in the best league in the world – I really think the Bundesliga is the best female league out there, the highest quality, the tightest competition. Maybe not the best resources but the best level of football and I’m content with that, I think if I was to go somewhere else it would just be to experience a new culture, a new country and living in Europe I think I get that. Being so far from Australia I don’t really have a desire to really be any further away.

With Berlin a far cry from Queensland, the lack of surfing a bigger problem than some might assume, “Surfing. That’s probably the one thing that kills me in Germany; no surf. It’s usually my mental release, I’m a very active person so for me when I have time off I like to do something active and in Germany it’s hard, I can’t find that release, what is there, to walk in a park or ride your bike? In Germany there’s just football; football, football, football so it’s a bit limiting.

Bright futures 

Only one of two Australian internationals currently playing in Europe, Kellond-Knight’s advice for her countrywomen thinking of testing themselves overseas is, do it, “Get into the Bundesliga, if you get an opportunity, go. You develop as a person, you develop as a person. Just looking at my teammate, Emily van Egmond, her character has developed so much in the short-time she’s been overseas, she’s developed so much as a person – and I think that’s really important in our team because we need to mature and we need to mature really fast.

With most of the Matildas (and many Americans) splitting their time between the W-League and NWSL, it’s not as straight-forward for other Europeans to get into the league in Australia, the calendar not lending well to those in the leading leagues in Europe. However, the level in the W-League is clearly on the rise, with more and more internationals being lured down under and there’s no reason, in time, the league can’t become one of the best in the world for women’s football,

I think in the FFA’s model they want to develop a world class league that attracts the best players in the world and recently they’ve made steps to improve conditions in the league and that’s a great starting point. We of course want to attract the best players but with the timing of the league it’s difficult, many players that have an interest to go to Australia – not just for the land but because they’ve head the league is good. There’s a lot of potential, definitely from hearing some people’s opinions there’s definitely a lot of interest and people want to go.

With a good number of new faces in the Australia squad for the Algarve, Kellond-Knight is always part of the Welcome Wagon,  “We’ve got a lot of young players coming in and I love it, I actually go straight to the younger players because I like hanging out with them, I like meeting new people, I like new faces coming into the squad because it really keeps stuff fresh. When you’re seeing the same people all the time things can get a little stale so to keep a little spark in the team is nice and as a senior player it’s just about trying to make them feel comfortable, relaxed and welcome. The worst thing you want is for a player to feel isolated within the team, so just giving them those feelings of confidence so they feel like they can perform on the pitch, that’s really what I want to do as a senior player.

Despite a shoot-out loss to Denmark that demoted Australia from third place to fourth at the Algarve Cup, the football played by Oz was their own particular brand of attack and flair, the team unquestionable one of the best in the world. Even with a current FIFA world ranking of sixth, there’s still much more to come from the Matildas, “We want to become a world top three team, we want to be the best, we want to be contending for medals, that’s our goal. And that means being able to beat any team on any day and we’re working towards that, I think we’ve taken good strides towards that, our world ranking has recently improved under Staj’. So as long as we keep moving forward and keep that momentum, I think it will eventually happen.” 

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