Take a closer look at the squad of FF USV Jena and it would appear that the club from the German Women’s Bundesliga has something of a penchant for players from New Zealand. Following in the footsteps of Ria Percival and Amber Hearn is Abby Erceg, the third New Zealand international to sign for the Thuringian outfit.
“It’s great to already have a few Kiwis in the team. That makes it a lot easier for me,” says Erceg with a smile in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “In New Zealand there is not a lot of money for football so we have a lot of passion for the game.
"When we come over [to Germany] we work really hard, we really appreciate the game and we don’t take it for granted. We really enjoy it and we all work hard for each other,” says Erceg of the Kiwi mentality.
Under contract in Jena since August, Erceg already boasts an impressive amount of experience, despite her tender years. Her professional outposts thus far include clubs in New Zealand, Australia, Spain and now Germany, an impressive CV for a player that has just turned 24.
“In Germany they concentrate a lot on skill and what you can do with the ball. In New Zealand and Australia we are maybe not as gifted and we focus more on the physical side of the game. It's good to taste this side of the game and to build up my repertoire.” Erceg said of the differences between the styles she has experienced.
“The type of football here is different,” she continued. “I have played in Australia and physically they are slightly superior than here in Germany. But in Germany they are technically superior to the players in Australia or New Zealand. It is good for me to try to adapt this style of football and its in harmony with my career.”
As clear as the differences Erceg has noticed in the styles of football she has tasted are the goals she sets herself. “I hate that we didn’t finish as high as we might have last season, Right now we’re fifth in the table but if we can finish in the top three, that would be a big success. But if we’re still in fifth come the end of the season, we can be really proud.”
Success through hard work
Indeed it is not just on the club scene that Whangarei-born Erceg is something of a veteran; the same is true at international level as well. Making her debut for New Zealand in November 2006, she has gone on to make 89 appearances, also becoming one of the youngest players in the Football Ferns’ history to break the 50-cap mark.
“When I first came in there was not a lot of structure, we hadn’t had a lot of games, the coaches were in and out,” she recalled. “When I came in we got a new coach [John Herdman] and he tried to bring in a style of play that wasn’t familiar to us. We used to play against really good teams and not really stand a chance – but he believed in us and gave us confident to play. Now the style of football we play is really successful. We've come a long way and I am really proud of being part of this for sure.”
Erceg is convinced that women’s football in her home country is on the right track, and the national team’s most recent results would appear to support that claim. In October, they held USA - top of the current FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking - to a 1-1 draw, shortly after beating Brazil 1-0. And against current world champions Japan, Tony Readings’ charges also gave a great account of themselves, emerging with another 1-1 draw in June.
That the Football Ferns will at some point be mixing it with the biggest and best in women’s football is also something about which Erceg has no doubt. “If we carry on down the road we’re on, then it can happen, although probably not until after I’ve ended my career. It takes a while until before you earn that sort of reputation. We’re working towards it and I hope that we’ll have achieved it by the time the next generation of players is coming through.”
The road to Canada 2015
The next opportunity for Erceg and Co to prove themselves on the highest international stage is next September when qualification begins for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™.
“As soon as a World Cup finishes, you’re already thinking about the next one. You’re always thinking of the best way to prepare yourself for it and what you can do to help the team. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Erceg, who has already featured in two Women's World Cups and two Women's Olympic Football Tournaments.
“For us the difference is definitely that we could compete in Germany [in 2011], whereas in China we turned up as a young fresh-faced team at the World Cup and didn’t really know what to expect," she said, as the interview drew to a close.
"It is so good to be part of a team that has been there for both, so that you can really appreciate when you go there how much more it means. We started from the bottom in football and we've really had to fight to get where we are. I am really looking forward to it [Canada 2015]."