While 2011 was a year of near-misses for Abby Wambach, 2012 was without doubt one of the most successful in her career. After helping USA to victory over Japan in the Women's Olympic Football Tournament final in London, the 32-year-old took home the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year trophy.
"2012 was a lot better than the year of second places in 2011," a smiling Wambach told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "Whenever you get to win, you feel the satisfaction of all of your hard work, all the sacrifices, all the blood, sweat and tears,” she said. “It feels right and makes you realise that you are really doing the right thing."
It is exactly that never-say-die attitude, the unwavering self-belief and the will to constantly improve that set both Wambach and the USA team apart as among the best in the game. Rather than knocking them down, defeat in the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™ final against Japan served as a motivation to do better next time.
Desire for success
"Whenever you start a year, you start goal-setting, and 2012 was all about winning, not about getting redemption on Japan," Wambach said. "It was about fulfilling a goal that all of us had in mind. The 2011 World Cup stirred up a fire inside all of us and we really held on to that. The common aim brought us together and we were able to succeed. I couldn’t be more happy and proud of my team because it wasn’t easy if you look at all the matches at the Olympics. We had to be on our game every single time we stepped on to the pitch. A little bit of luck gets involved at the end too."
That togetherness was not only visible during their on-field encounters, but also away from the action too. Wambach and Co's sense of humour was evident in the Party in the USA video they created, which went on to become an internet sensation. "We made a silly video that went viral just before the Olympics. That's kind of how we wanted to promote ourselves and let the world see who we are,” Wambach explained, smiling. “On the pitch we are totally competitive and we’re all business. But we have to let loose and have fun in the other aspects of our lives," the easy-going star said.
However, Wambach is also aware that triumph at a major tournament can bring its own difficulties. “We’re gold medallists and the irony with that is being on top means you have to work even harder,” the striker said. “You reset your goals right away. The minute you step off that podium is the minute you start preparing for the next world championship. That’s kind of how I work. You celebrate for a brief moment then you move on.”
Season of change
Yet before battling for supremacy at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, there are plenty of challenges ahead in 2013. After two years without a club, Wambach will lead the line for Western New York Flash in the newly-founded National Women’s Soccer League.
“I'm looking forward starting the new League,” Wambach said. “We know that we can do it, it just has to be done in the right way. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from the last couple of weeks and we’re trying to take advice from successful leagues around the world. I’m privileged to hopefully start a league that lasts for many, many years in the US.”
Life in the national team also promises a fresh start for Wambach. Following Pia Sundhage’s announcement that she was stepping down as coach barely three weeks after the Olympic triumph in London, Tom Sermanni took over the reins earlier this month. Wambach met the new coach shortly before Christmas and is optimistic about the team’s future prospects.
“I think he’s going to be great,” said the 198-time international. “I can’t tell you exactly how or what, because we haven’t started training yet, but having somebody new is always good, something fresh and something different. As a competitor I want to continue to keep turning the chapters and keep challenging myself.
“Sometimes if you have a coach or team-mates for too long, you get caught in certain routines,” Wambach continued. “I think it’s good to shake up things a little bit. It’ll be good for an older player like me to re-motivate myself in terms of staying fitter and more committed. You’re not as comfortable with a new coach, you have to prove yourself again. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
A veteran of the game she may be, but Wambach’s youthful enthusiasm shows no sign of abating as she approaches the next stage in her long-standing career.