A certain elegance and grace filled each and every stadium around the world where Renate Lingor worked her magic with the ball. The former Germany international sticks in the memory as the last true playmaker in global women's football. A FIFA Women's World Cup winner in 2003 and 2007, Lingor finished on 149 appearances for her country, and earned a glowing reputation based on creativity and killer final passes. However, her down-to-earth personality and refreshing honesty off the field made her one of the most appealing characters of her generation.
The Karlsruhe native is now 37 and hung up her boots in 2008, before joining the German FA (DFB) staff. She sat down with FIFA.com for an absorbing and comprehensive chat about the latest developments in the women's game, her assessment of the current German generation, and what she expects from the eagerly-awaited FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2012, to be held on 7 January 2013 at Zürich's Congress House.
FIFA.com: Renate, we've enjoyed another host of highlights in women's football over recent months. What are your fondest memories?
Renate Lingor: Obviously, the absolute highlight was the Olympic Football Tournament, with the glorious conclusion of a rerun of the 2011 World Cup Final. Having Japan face USA in the final watched by an 80,000 crowd at Wembley in London was sensational. And the fact that USA prevailed this time simply proves there’s absolutely nothing to choose between the world elite these days. It's a question of form on the day, and that’s superb! On top of that, the U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan was a terrific experience for me personally. I was there as Germany team manager. The atmosphere was magnificent, especially as we went into the last few matches. I really enjoyed it.
Germany missed out on the Women's Olympic Football Tournament this year. Was that a major setback?
Obviously, it was agonising. But I still think we're on a par with the top nations at the moment, namely USA and Japan. Let's not forget we were knocked out in the quarter-finals on home soil in 2011 by the eventual winners. We’ve just played USA twice in friendlies, and both games finished as draws. That proves we're operating at the very highest level. However, it's a young team with a lot of potential still to be exploited. We're heading in the right direction, but the likes of Sweden and France will be exceptionally strong at the EURO.
What was the biggest surprise of 2012 for you?
[After thinking long and hard] Perhaps it was Canada winning bronze at the Olympics. On the other hand, the Canadians were never true underdogs, and from time to time, they've always shown they’re rightly considered one of the big names. They have a great team at the moment, and it's come together at just the right time, because what they achieved in London will give them a real boost for what will definitely be a magnificent Women's World Cup when they host it in 2015.
It's not long now until the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala. You were there yourself on one occasion, when you finished third in the Women's Player of the Year vote for 2006.
Oh yes, I have fantastic memories of that! I was already an experienced player by then and I'd seen and done quite a few things, but I was still nervous and excited on the day. The Gala includes unforgettable moments. For those who take part, it's something you're very happy to look back on after you finish playing. It's also a great chance to meet up with other players and coaches, and our male counterparts too. Naturally, you’re extremely proud, even if I always say football is a team sport. Without Birgit Prinz, who converted my passes into goals, I'd never have looked so good, because my passes would probably have trickled off into no-man's land otherwise. But you're still bursting with pride. Let’s not forget you've been recognised by the captains and coaches, another reason it's so special.
Who do you think deserves to be named FIFA Women's Player of the Year 2012?
To be honest I'm thinking of Abby Wambach! She's been there or thereabouts often enough, and a true member of the elite for years. Abby is one of those players you think has disappeared for 85 minutes, but suddenly pops up and scores. And her goals are usually crucial, especially in big matches, in finals.
And who do you think could be the Women's Coach of the Year?
Obviously the first name up is Pia Sundhage, who's led USA to another Olympic gold medal. And what about John Herdman, taking Canada to third place. But I reckon you've got to include Norio Sasaki as well. He’s shaped and guided Japan for years and formed them into a world-class team. That's a remarkable achievement, I think.
Do you think the latest German generation includes any players who could yet go on to become FIFA World Player of the Year?
First of all, I'd mention our goalkeeper, who isn't part of the new generation. Nadine Angerer has been on consistently peak form for years. I have her as one of the best keepers in the world, and she would certainly deserve the award in my opinion. Otherwise, we have Dzsenifer Marozsan coming through. Just a short time ago, she proved her quality by winning the adidas Golden Ball for best player at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2012. However, we should give her the time she needs and not put her under too much pressure. Celia [Okoyino da Mbabi] definitely has the potential. She's come on fantastically well and is one of the German team's true leaders now.
Who do you think deserves to be named winner of the FIFA Ballon d'Or in the men's game?
Obviously, all the talk is about Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi… but if you're forcing me to answer, I'm a fan of the little guy. Not exactly a huge physical presence, but what skill on the ball, so it's obvious why he'd be my favourite. It's the way I tried to play too, because I'm not exactly tall myself.
You were one of that rare but prized breed, a genuine playmaker. So our final question is this: do we still have the classic ‘No10’ any more?
Let me correct you here! I was only a playmaker at the start of my career. The position disappeared soon afterwards. Later on, I moved back to what you might call a ‘number six’, a holding midfielder. I recall it very well: our coach Tina Theune approached me one day and said: ‘If you don't want to end up as an unfulfilled talent, you'll have to learn about hard work in football.’ Fortunately, I worked that one out a little while later. We basically don't have these old-fashioned playmakers nowadays, but there are a few central midfielders who incorporate the skills and the quality - Homare Sawa more than anyone else, of course.