If you are looking for natural-born winners in women's football, look no further than Maren Meinert. Her long and comprehensive track record of success reached its zenith in 2003 with Germany's thrilling triumph at the FIFA Women's World Cup. Meinert, at once a creative inspiration and tireless worker in midfield, played an immensely important role in that success.
It was a fitting end to a career which included a long run of achievement in the Bundesliga, before a switch to the women's pro league in the USA from 2001 onwards. She sealed a permanent place in the all-time women's footballing hall of fame when she was named most valuable player in 2003. After claiming the world title with Germany the same year, Meinert hung up her boots, but it was in no sense the end of her passionate affair with the game, a fact of which the German FA (DFB) was only too well aware. After collecting all the necessary coaching badges, Meinert returned to the big stage in 2005, tasked with supervising the most talented of the up-and-coming starlets within the national set-up, just as the women's game was entering a period of sustained and steady growth. A few years down the line, Meinert and her charges are now approaching a metaphorical home straight. The finishing line in this case is the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2010 in Germany, a challenge to be accepted with relish by a seasoned campaigner like Maren Meinert.
The Germany U-20 women's coach spoke to FIFA.com about her targets and expectations, a year in advance of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
FIFA.com: At the UEFA European Women's U-19 championship in Belarus earlier this year, your team surprisingly missed out on the semi-finals despite a thumping 9-0 victory over the hosts in your final group fixture. Your initial reaction afterwards was "You don't forget something like this". What are you not going to forget? What did you learn, especially with the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Germany just a year away?
Maren Meinert: I've not forgotten the feeling of helplessness. That there's nothing else you can do as a coach in that situation, just watch as you're knocked out.
You're referring to the scenario you found yourself in, where your U-19 team fell to a surprisingly clear-cut defeat against Switzerland in their first match, lost control of their own destiny, and were left dependant on results elsewhere for a place in the semi-finals.
Yes. No-one would ever believe what happened to us.
What conclusions did you draw?
It was a learning experience for all of us. More and more nations have caught up in international terms. That'll be a continuing trend. We need utterly determined players with the unshakeable belief they can win tournaments. We need the ability to show it in every game and turn it into action. We need to be constantly aware that, no matter how good the overall performance, a single slip-up can bring the whole thing crashing down.
Sounds like you're already thinking ahead to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Germany...
Naturally. Everybody needs to understand what it means to have the two World Cups here in Germany, namely the U-20 in 2010 and the Women's World Cup a year later. It's both fascinating and challenging. It's a chance we have to take, for the sake of the women's game here. We'll be the centre of public attention, starting in 2010.
Given the previous record of success for German women's football, expectations in 2010 will be running high. If the U-20 only do modestly well, do you think it could impact on the appeal of the Women's World Cup the following year?
No, I don't see it quite as black and white as that. My conviction is that the U-20 World Cup will be a successful event, firstly because our team will rise to the occasion, and secondly because of what the World Cup represents. As an event it's the best possible way to whet the appetite for players and spectators, both as a sporting spectacle and by way of putting everyone in the mood. It'll definitely increase the sense of anticipation ahead of the World Cup in 2011, both here and abroad. By the way, I'm really, really looking forward to the World Cup in our own country - something I wasn't privileged to experience as a player.
How are you and the team preparing at the moment?
The first step is for me to hold face-to-face talks with the players, and find out how they're approaching the World Cup. Then I'll tell them how I'm approaching it. I can't envisage any major changes to our squad, although they all need to be aware I'll be watching their performances at club level very closely. I have close and good contacts to everyone in positions of responsibility at club level. I'm not expecting this, but if there were to be cases of serious, negative developments, we have plenty of decent alternatives.
What kind of coach are you? Are you more of a cool customer, who gets the message across at the thinking level, or is it more of a raised-voices approach?
That's a tough one. I experienced both types of coach as a player, but I'm basically more of a calm, thoughtful character by nature. However, you have to cover the whole range as a coach - depending on the situation, and the character of the team and/or the individual in question.
In parallel to its general acceptance and growing popularity, the overall standard of German women's football is steadily increasing, and the number of girls and women registered with the DFB is growing all the time. Is all that glitters really gold, or are there still fundamental problems to be solved?
The fact is that Germany offers the best possible conditions for women and girls interested in football. It's an all-encompassing development, for which we largely have DFB President Dr. Theo Zwanziger to thank in recent times. But sitting back on our laurels would be wrong and a grave error. There are always areas for improvement, wherever you look. I'm thinking of the younger players, for example. Especially with the elite group, we repeatedly face the question of schooling and employment training, which - for all the burden of football training and tournaments - has to be the priority. In contrast to the men's game, women's football offers no means of supporting yourself once a playing career is over. This situation could definitely be accommodated much better by companies, organisations and schools. They could often show more understanding, open up perspectives and establish concrete programs. This is also something I work through intensively with my players, who are often bang in the middle of crucial phases in their education or training. However, taken as a whole, women's football is encountering growing sympathy even in this sensitive area.
Finally, back to Germany 2010. What would you most like to see?
Attractive football, and I'd like us go as far as we can. It would be nice if we were still there right at the end.