FC Zurich have signed off for the winter break in the Swiss Women's National League A in top spot, seven points clear of chief pursuers SC Kriens. German international pair Sonja Fuss and Inka Grings, who stunned the women's footballing world by joining the Alpine nation's most successful club last summer, have made a major contribution to the team's dominant position.
Centre-back Fuss leads a rock-solid defensive line, and ruthless finisher Grings has scored no fewer than ten goals in 480 playing minutes. FIFA.com met the pair in Zurich for an exclusive chat about their reasons for taking up a fresh challenge, and their first six months in a new country.
“When you leave the German Bundesliga and move within Europe, you're basically stepping down a level, because the German league is definitely one of the strongest," Fuss freely admitted. “But I've been surprised by the standards and the level of commitment in the Swiss league, and especially the resources made available by FC Zurich, the training conditions, and the quality in the team. It's a lot of fun, and we've been very well received." Grings, sitting next to her team-mate, nodded in agreement.
The striker, with 96 Germany caps to her name, spent fully 16 seasons with Bundesliga club FCR Duisburg. Fuss was her team-mate in the Ruhr Valley towards the end, but the pair took a joint decision to move on and head for the mountains, a decision which left many observers puzzled at best.
Aiming high in Switzerland
“To be completely honest, my priority was the attraction of moving abroad," explained Fuss. “We talked about it well in advance, and agreed it would be a nice idea to go abroad together. It came down to a choice between just two teams, either [Russian club] Rossiyanka or Zurich. And to be honest, I then left the decision to Inka, because I’d have enjoyed the experience wherever we went. But at the end of the day, I'm delighted Inka chose Zurich, because it would have been my preference too."
The home-loving Grings was swayed by the relative proximity to Germany, and the fact the language would not be a barrier. Crucially, FCZ also offered a fascinating opportunity and real prospects. “I’m convinced we can build and grow something here. Right from the start, I was impressed by the quality in the team. I’m certain we can achieve great things with this group,” the prolific scorer declared.
Mixed feelings after World Cup
The pair are slowly but surely putting the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ behind them, although it is clear that the pain caused by Germany's shock quarter-final exit still persists. “It was the absolute low point of my career, because I've never won the World Cup. It was always my dream, and it's the reason I even played football, to be a world champion just once. Fortunately, I've won the European championship, but winning the World Cup is the icing on the cake of any team sport," confessed Grings, although she immediately turned to the future: “But life goes on, and sport carries on as well. You derive strength from defeat, and it’s also the best way to learn. I've emerged much stronger mentally from the whole business."
Fuss also suffered a severe career disappointment this year, as she failed to feature at all at the global showdown: she was one of the five members of Germany's preliminary squad not to make the cut for the final 23. Despite it all, the 33-year-old recalls the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 in a positive light. “It was one of the best women’s World Cups ever. The perfect organisation and the huge crowd appeal were obviously things I took on board. I think Germany, and probably the whole of the women's footballing world, won't forget the tournament in a hurry."
Sowing the seeds
The pair have represented their country on a total of 164 occasions, scoring 67 goals between them, although 64 of those came from Grings. The deadly striker finished as top scorer in the Bundesliga six times, and is comfortably Duisburg's all-time leading scorer. The likeable pair unquestionably rate as vastly experienced, as they have played their football at the top levels during a period of explosive growth in the women's game.
“I think it's been incredibly important for women's football to become established as a grass-roots sport,” said Fuss, “it means lots and lots of girls overcome their reticence and play, and more and more girls use the sport to take time for themselves and time together with others, having fun and growing as human beings. The more young girls take up football, the greater the chance of quality youngsters coming through. That in turn leads to more demand and higher quality. You start enjoying real selection options, but that’s always going to take five to ten years. But the seeds have been sown, if that’s the right expression!" the defender concluded with a broad smile.
Good resolutions for 2012
Grings and Fuss agree on one thing above all else, the futility of making comparisons between the women's and the men's game. “We simply can't measure ourselves against men's football. It's just impossible. The dimensions are completely different. In the circumstances, the high regard for women's football in Germany, and in my opinion, here in Switzerland too, is just fantastic," said Grings. “Men's football has developed across more than 100 years, but women's football has only had about 40 years. So it's impossible for the women's game to be where the men's game currently is," added Fuss.
Asked to name their resolutions for the coming year, the pair unanimously cite a league and cup double with FC Zurich, and a desire to drive the popularity of the women's game in Switzerland. Fuss has rediscovered her love for football since moving to Switzerland, a fact which she said rates as one of her happiest memories of 2011. The two world-class players appear ideally placed to turn their good resolutions into actual action once the season resumes in the New Year.