It had already been a majestic year. When Birgit Prinz made her debut in May for the Carolina Courage, she had won the German Cup, the German Bundesliga and the UEFA Cup with FFC Frankfurt. America, the greatest league for women’s football, represented a new frontier, but the German striker continued to conquer, shooting her team to victory in the WUSA League. The runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year 2002 award spoke to FIFA.com about her amazing year.
What does it mean to have been selected for this award?
It’s a great honour to be among the three best players. I was not really thinking about it but I am delighted nevertheless.
Of the other two women, what was so special about their performances this year?
They are both great players, who have both suffered with long-term injuries. Mia Hamm was playing great when she returned this year for Washington Freedom and was probably the reason they got to the Founders Cup final. She’s a great forward, very fast and has scored lots of goals.Sun Wen is a slightly different player. I think she is very talented and such a good passer with special vision and great control. When she has it, it’s hard to get the ball off her even though you might think you have.
Who would you have chosen as a fourth player?
It’s always hard to say. There have been a lot of good performances this year by some great players but for me Steffi Jones, who played for FFC Frankfurt and Washington Freedom, had a great year. Hege Riise was also superb.
You came to America and conquered. Was it easy?
It was not as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I was really frightened at first as I knew nothing about the team or about the coach. But I don’t think my game is just about goalscoring. I feel I help my team a lot and if there’s someone in a better position, I will play the ball to her. I never count my goals, and I don’t even know how many I’ve scored this season.
What surprised you most about playing in WUSA?
Moving to a professional league and the level of competition. Games are very even, unlike some matches in Germany which can finish 4-0 or 5-0. I didn’t feel that much pressure but I suppose the fact that I scored in my first match helped a lot.
What do you feel when you score?
It’s just a great feeling! It’s so much fun, very hard to explain. The best feeling is sometimes when you are expected to score and you do. A kind of relief of what could have happened if you had missed.
What about the Founders Cup goal (the Cup Final of the WUSA League)?
It was one of the high points of my career. It was a one-on-one situation and they’re not so easy when you’re standing alone in front of the goalkeeper. But I get the same feeling when I make assists too - it’s no different. When everything goes right and the ball moves between players, it’s a joy. Football is a team match and the greatest thing is to celebrate together – that’s really what I enjoy most.
When the scores are even, do you feel the responsibility rests with you to make the difference?
Yes. Sometimes it’s not the team that decides who wins but one person, and I always try to do it because I want to win. But if somebody else scores or makes the difference, it’s OK with me (laughs).
Is it the same with the national team?
I am one of the main players but Germany has many other players too: Bettina Wiegmann for example, who is a great midfielder. We have lots of players who can lead the team, so it’s not only my responsibility.
What are the differences between men and women’s football?
It’s like the differences in women and men’s tennis - they are just different. Women’s football is developing quickly: it is more athletic now and the technical ability is getting better. The level in WUSA is exceptional but it is also good in the German league.
Do Germany have a realistic chance of winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year in China?
I hope so. We will have a long preparation and there will be a lot of young players on the team. Sometimes we play young against old. I will be one of the veterans now, so I will have to give the new players a helping hand. But it’s difficult to predict how well Germany will do at the moment. Our young players must develop if we want to have a major role.
Who are the favourites for the FIFA Women’s World Cup?
USA, China, Sweden, Norway and Brazil perhaps. I would be disappointed if Germany didn’t reach the semi-finals.
Why have China and the USA been so dominant in women’s football?
They have an athletic advantage and they are countries with huge populations where, especially in the USA, women’s soccer is on the same level as the men’s. In Europe I think we are technically as good, if not better, but there is still that gap in strength.
Where did your love for football begin?
It was a long time ago. When I was young, I was playing with many other kids in the school playground and started at a club when I was eight. At the breaks everybody was playing so it was fun. But when I was a kid, I was also doing athletics and trampoline.
Are your parents interested in sports?
My Dad is interested in soccer and played with friends. Later he coached our youth team between ten and 14.
Was that difficult for you?
Sometimes it was a little difficult. He was very critical of me, but I think overall it was good he was my coach.
And how did your game compare to now?
In my youth, I played in midfield. I didn’t start as forward until I was 16 when I played for a regional team. And then I signed for FFC Frankfurt as a striker. Now I prefer to play striker, although normally someone is marking me closely all the time.
Did you have any difficulties playing football?
No, for me it was never a problem. I had no difficulties with my parents. I played with the boys at school so for me it was easy. When I started playing, the boys were too young to think about it and when they got older to think about it, I was already part of the team.
What goals do you have for the future?
To get better. There are many things to improve. I am 25, it can’t be the end.