Following a glittering but in some ways arduous journey, Germany’s Ariane Hingst is now enjoying the twilight of her 15 years in top-level football as much as ever. A lengthy list of honours during a 174-game international career – the third-highest on the national team’s honour board – in a period which straddled a golden era, even by Germany’s lofty standards, has Hingst sitting amongst the pantheon of greats.
For many female footballers, a career at the top level can often mean squeezing in study, part-time work or travel. Finding some extra time away from the game can, however, be one of the upsides in comparison to the workload of their male counterparts.
Retirement from international football means the 32-year-old has the chance to follow a path tracked by many of her compatriots – an unhurried summery meander around Australia’s coastal highlights. Unlike most, however, Hingst had the opportunity to combine a holiday – one which had been over a decade in its gestation – with her passion for football.
A defender-stroke-defensive midfielder by trade, Hingst was marked out for greatness from an early age, and immediately found herself fast-tracked into the international arena. At the age of just 19, the Berlin-born Hingst featured in each of Germany's matches at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup™, despite being the youngest player in the squad. A year later, Hingst helped Germany to a bronze medal at the Olympic Women’s Football Tournament in Sydney, where a seed was sown deep into her consciousness.
“I got a nice impression at the 2000 Olympics and had an amazing time so I decided that one day I wanted to go back to Australia,” said Hingst, who recently fulfilled that desire by turning out in the colours of W-League side Newcastle Jets. “As a footballer you really only get to see hotels and stadiums, so you only experience small impressions. Having said that, if it wasn’t for football I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to make it to Australia. It is a great opportunity I have been given, and I really appreciate it.”
Hingst provides an unequivocal response in the affirmative when asked if she is living her dream. “It’s really great that I can travel around and also play,” Hingst told FIFA.com, as the sound of waves from one of Newcastle’s many pristine beaches pound the sand in the background. “At some point I will have to go home and find a decent job and start a new life. I worked hard for the last 15 or 20 years so it is time to really enjoy life and see some of the world.
“It is great to live in a different country and learn a different culture,” added Hingst, who also enjoyed two seasons in Sweden with Djugardens. “There are different ways of training and tactics so you always learning while travelling.”
With two FIFA Women’s World Cup wins, four European crowns, three Olympic bronze medals, plus a host of top honours with firstly Turbine Potsdam, and then FFC Frankfurt, it is hard to find a black mark in Hingst’s resume. Rarely though are fairy tales fulfilled. The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil is of course a rare, albeit significant, blip for Hingst. Despite massive support at home, or partly because of it, according to the veteran defender, the reigning world champions crashed at the quarter-final stage against eventual champions Japan.
“We had so many high expectations, and that was probably the biggest problem,” said Hingst. “We knew we had a lot of pressure but the biggest pressure came from ourselves. I think deep in our heads we thought ’we have to show something special’, which hindered us a little, and we never reached our potential. On one hand, we had big crowds at training and we had people constantly recognising us in the street, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the other hand, it was hard to even leave the hotel so there was little chance for privacy. That whole experience is perhaps something we struggled with.”
Japan had won just three of their 16 matches on the world stage prior to Germany 2011, but their run to the world crown is in some ways a metaphor for the rapidly changing nature of the women’s game. With four FIFA Women’s World Cups' worth of experience Hingst is as well placed to see that shift as much as anyone.
“You can see from World Cup to World Cup that the nations are becoming closer,” she says. “Now you can easily name ten teams amongst the contenders, whereas before it was maybe three, or maximum four. Physically too, women footballers are getting faster and stronger. In 2003 we thought we played fast, but compare that to 2007, and then to 2011, you can see that the pace increased incredibly.”
Germany 2011 may have not ended positively for the hosts but for one of the national team’s most-loyal servants, the passage of time has provided a healing process. “Having a home World Cup will always be a special memory,” said Hingst. “Now as time goes by the positive memories are getting stronger, more so than the disappointment. Not everything can be perfect and such experiences are important for your character, so now I look back and appreciate that I was able to be part of it.”