It’s been 12 months since Leitzig first put on a Leicester City shirt, and since then, has gone from strength to strength, reinforcing LCFC Women’s defensive line to become a fan favourite among the Foxes’ faithful.
The 24-year-old goalkeeper joined City in January of this year on a six-month loan period from German heavyweights Bayern Munich, but her heroic performances in between the sticks made the Club eager to retain the shining shot-stopper.
Penning a permanent deal in the summer, Leitzig continued where she left off, and has kept six clean sheets in Leicester blue, winning the heart of her team-mates and fanbase alike.
Sitting down for an exclusive interview in the Lancaster Arms in Desford, the ‘keeper explained what it was like growing up in Western Germany, and how a love for sport has been prevalent since a young age.
“My first five years I lived in Wuppertal, because my dad had a job there,” Leitzig explained. “I have really good memories of living there. We lived on the same street as a swimming pool, so in the summer we were always there.
The German goalkeeper told her story at the Lancaster Arms this winter.
“It was outside the city, so I have good memories playing football with my neighbour – that’s how it started. When I was five, we moved to my parents’ hometown, and that’s where I went to school; it was just a little village in Germany where everyone knew everyone.
“I had so much energy as a child, sometimes it was a little bit intense for my parents, especially for my older sister as well because I was easily bored and would ask her to play sports with me. But she liked reading, so I think it got on her nerves a little bit!
“My family are very sporty, my dad and sister played volleyball, and a lot of my family came from athletics, so I played a few sports: athletics, volleyball and football. It was every day, and was quite a lot, but I loved to be active.
“In the summer break, we still play beach volleyball, which I enjoy, but it was never a decision for me – I loved football and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Standing at six feet tall, a career in sport always looked possible for Leitzig, but she had to carve her way into football, waiting for her opportunity to impress in a boys’ team, where she started as an outfield player, dreaming of being a goalkeeper like many other German children.
She continued: “I’ve always been tall. When I was younger, I played a lot as an outfield player, but then I needed to decide if I wanted to stick with that, or become a goalkeeper, and they told me I had more potential in goal because I was so tall.
Born in Wuppertal, her career began as a teenager with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
“It’s not always easy, when you’re tall, my coordination wasn’t as quick, so sometimes it was a disadvantage, but I’m happy to have that height because it helped in other areas of the game.
“In my boys’ team, everyone wanted to be in goal, it was always just so much fun. One game, the two boy goalkeepers were ill, so I had my chance, and I think I impressed even though they came back in goal for the next game again!”
Her first professional club was TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, and being within an hour’s distance of her hometown, it meant that she could stay close to family and friends, without disrupting their everyday lives to fulfil her footballing schedule.
Joining a club which has been a frontrunner in dedicating effort, and money, into the women’s game, Leitzig felt at home in Hoffenheim, where a decade-long stay enabled her to develop her skillset as well as learn the value of family.
“My first bigger club came when I was 11-years-old when I joined Hoffenheim,” Leitzig voiced. “It was only an hour away from where I lived so it was quite easy for my parents to drive to. I was lucky because they had one of the first girl’s academies in Germany.
“We had our own building at the training ground and were separated from the boys, so I was lucky that the facilities were really good, and it combined well with my schooling.
“It was professional at Hoffenheim, and even as you got older, it was the same people that grew up with you. It felt like home to me, which helped with my development.
A dream move to Bayern Munich came in 2021.
“I spent 12 years at Hoffenheim, and I left at 22-years-old, but it was a special time. I could grow there, while living at home and staying near my friends. It was a good time in my career.”
The most well-known club in Germany, Bayern Munich, came in with a contract offer for the goalkeeper, who had a difficult choice to make. Stay at Hoffenheim, or transition away from home to follow her dream.
Keen to continue learning the trade, and a family filled with supporters of the Bavarians, excitement began to build, and a decision to move to the big city was made.
“I always was a Bayern Munich fan,” Leitzig stated. “My grandad supported them, and I always had Bayern gloves and pillows in my room as a kid. When I got offered the contract, I had to take it. I remember when I told my grandparents the news, and I’ll never forgot that moment.
“They’ve been so proud of me, and when I got the chance to turn up on my first day, seeing the badge outside and then wear the trainingwear was crazy. It was a special time, and I’m happy I made that move.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t that emotional, because I was tempted to stay at Hoffenheim where I would play more, but things changed, and it got more real. They gave me a good feeling and when I signed it, my parents organised a surprise celebration party for me. In this night, I could see how proud my family were and that meant a great deal for me."
One of her earliest games for Bayern came as a bit of a surprise to the German, who was named in the squad for a UEFA Women’s Champions League match against Swedish outfit Häcken. Claiming a 5-1 win, a clean sheet was denied by now Arsenal striker, Stina Blackstenius.
Leitzig has six clean sheets in 27 appearances for the Foxes.
Becoming part of an impressive goalkeeper union, it certainly was a challenge to gain minutes in a Bayern team who aimed for nothing less than success, but with it, came great learnings.
“Making my debut in the Champions League was quite spontaneous and I remember it snowing and being really cold,” Leitzig reminisced. “But it was a good game and winning 5-1 made it really special.
“When I was at Hoffenheim, I remember saying to my parents how excited I would be to have my first training session and compete with the likes of Laura Benkarth and Maria Luisa Grohs, and whether they would be much better or similar to me.
“I had a good start to Munich life, and really enjoyed it, and you could see that on the pitch. It was good competition, but of course I could also learn a lot from the other ‘keepers. Benkarth was older than me and played a few games more, but you can always learn from other players.
“It was a nice environment between us. You know there’s always competition between goalkeepers because there is only one on the pitch, but they were nice to me, and we had a good togetherness.”
A love for travelling, exemplified by her answer in a Bayern Munich questionnaire which stated she’d love to ask Neil Armstrong what the moon was like, has guided her throughout many decisions in her life, including a move to Leicestershire.
“I love travelling, my parents are always laughing because I’m always planning where I can go next,” the footballer said smiling. “I have a map at home where I can scratch off countries that I’ve been too. As a kid I wanted to visit every country in the world; I’m not sure if this is possible but it’s a dream I still have!
Feeling comfortable in Leicestershire.
“Seeing other cultures has always been an interest for me, and with football, you get the chance to see so many things. In the youth national team, we went to Jordan and Belarus, and these are places I never would’ve gone to without football.
“I always wanted to play in England because I believe the WSL is the best league in Europe. I had a hard time in Munich, so when there was an offer to come to England, I thought it would be a new adventure.
“You have the chance to learn the language as well, so I was really excited when I first came here. It was spontaneous, but that matches my personality as well, so it was a good fit."
It was a dream start to Leicester life, claiming a 3-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at King Power Stadium, but the three points and clean sheet would mean much more to the Club than Leitzig could’ve imagined.
A first win, and first points, of the 2022/23 season, kickstarted a dramatic comeback from City who escaped the clutches of relegation on the final day in May against Brighton once more.
“I remember the first game against Brighton,” Leitzig announced. “It was strange, because I came from Munich where it is normal to win, and you’re disappointed if you lose or draw, and I think I still had this feeling in me for that match.
“I was confident; I saw the team in training and even though I didn’t know how good Brighton would be, I was positive heading into the game.
The shot-stopper believes in the project on Filbert Way.
“We won 3-0 and it was a really good feeling. I was happy that everything went well, it was also great to start with a clean sheet, but I saw the reaction of the other players and saw what a big moment it was for the Club.
“But at the same time, I saw how confident everyone was on the first day, so I wasn’t surprised that we won.
“You always want to play football, and it’s frustrating if you don’t. That’s how I felt in my last month at Bayern, so I was excited for a new chance in a new country, and the fact those first six months went so well was perfect.
“I had fun both on and off the pitch, and the fact I won both Player of the Season awards was nice, and you feel that appreciation from the fans and the other players.”
The German youth international had made a serious effect on English football, making the second-most amount of saves in the WSL, despite missing the first half of the campaign, and went on to win both the end of season awards.
City’s fans made their opinions clear on the final day at Broadfield Stadium, bellowing ‘Janina Leitzig, we want you to stay’ from the away end. They would have to wait two months, but their wishes were granted when the Club announced her return in July.
Looking towards a promising future with the Foxes.
Amid interest from other suitors, Leitzig had found her match on Filbert Way, and was excited to get to work on a new chapter with the Foxes. With many more memories sure to be made, the kid from Wuppertal is keen to keep working.
“The Club has huge potential,” Leitzig finalised. “The conversations with Willie [Kirk] made me see that they fought for me and again I felt that appreciation. For me, it’s important that I have my place in the team, and I had a good feeling about Leicester that we could build something, and I wanted to be part of the journey.
“You work hard every single day, and football happens so quickly. One day you’re playing and the next you could be on the bench, so you need to keep fighting. Finding my place at Leicester was ideal for me.
“I had similar ambitions as the Club, which helped massively in making the decision to come back. I felt welcomed, I felt at home and it’s where I want to be.
“The team-mates are always really important. At Hoffenheim and Bayern, I wasn’t too far from home, whereas now I’m in another country, speaking another language so it’s even more important.
“As a player, there’s huge potential with Leicester and that’s what I want to be part of, and I’m sure we’ll get there in the next few years, but for me being part of the journey is the best part of the adventure.”
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