“When an era comes to an end you have to know when to stop,” replied Shirley Cruz when FIFA.com asked her why she left Olympique Lyon for Paris Saint-Germain last summer.
The Costa Rican midfielder had won everything with l'OL following her arrival in France in 2006: six league championships, four French Cups and two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles in 2011 and 2012. Yet though sated with silverware, Cruz remains hungry for new experiences.
“I love fresh challenges,” said the 27-year-old, “and the fact that Farid Benstiti is the coach at Paris made my mind up for me. He was at Lyon when I arrived here and he really helped me improve my game. My right knee is giving me a little trouble at the moment and he’s adapted my training programme and my role on the pitch as a result of that.”
Cruz is blossoming in that role in the heart of the PSG midfield, drawing on all her creative abilities and conjuring six assists already this season, though her sights are no longer set on dominating the domestic and continental scene: “Our goal at the start of the season was to finish runners-up in the league.”
The Parisians are on course to achieve that objective, currently lying second in the table, three points behind l'OL, who have amassed 52 points in winning every one of their 13 games so far.
“It’s going to take time for us to challenge a team that has won six French titles on the bounce and two Champions Leagues,” explained Cruz, who was powerless to prevent her former team-mates from securing a 1-0 win on their visit to the capital last November.
Having spent so many years with Lyon, Cruz knows exactly what it takes to succeed: “Lyon’s first Champions League win didn’t come about by chance. It was the result of a long building process, stage by stage. They’re making the necessary investments at Paris and they know that you have to be patient if you want to be successful.”
Though lacking the profile of the spectacular recruitment policy PSG has embarked on in putting a together its star-studded men’s first team, the women’s squad reflects the club’s ambition and is being built on solid foundations: “This is the first year in which the squad is almost entirely made up of professional players. The club is changing its structures gradually and the players need time to adjust to the new set-up.”
Having started her French career with a club that is a pioneer when it comes to professionalism in the women’s game, the Costa Rican star is well aware of the advantages she has enjoyed to date and of the challenges many of her fellow players face:
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a professional ever since I arrived in France, but I come across a lot of players who tell me how difficult it is to juggle a job and training and playing with their personal lives. Motivation comes from your passion for the game, though, and that helps you fit everything in.”
Putting Costa Rica on the map
It was that passion for football that got her noticed in her home country and has since made her one of the few Costa Rican players to earn a move abroad.
Describing her big break, she said: “I was playing for the national U-20 side and the team manager was working as a FIFA agent. He told me that a French team was interested in me and that I had to go and have a trial. I decided to go for it. I thought I’d just be training for six months, but here I am still in France.”
Though she sometimes feels homesick and spends winters longing for Costa Rica and its year-round temperatures of 25 degrees, she has no regrets about taking the plunge.
Yet while her knowledge of the language and culture of France continues to grow, she keeps a close eye on developments back home, jumping for joy when she heard the news that Costa Rica will host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2014: “We are very proud to be staging a World Cup. It’s a dream come true for everyone who has fought for women’s football over there.”
Having had to work hard to get herself noticed in a sport played mainly by the opposite sex, she is aware of the advantageous effects next year’s event is already having for her country.
“With two years to go before the competition, FIFA has set up programmes that are going to bring about some major improvements in the country, especially for young people,” she said. “An U-17 women’s league is being created, something our generation didn’t have.
“This World Cup will help change attitudes and the way people look at women’s football,” concluded Cruz, a staunch supporter of the women’s game and clearly thrilled by the success it is now enjoying.