Sammer: High hopes for Germany

After the FIFA World Cup™ reaches its conclusion in July, the eyes of the footballing world will again turn to Germany. Four years on from staging a thrilling men’s showpiece in 2006, the European nation will play host to the world’s best young women players at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2010 from 13 July to 1 August. The group matches will be played in Augsburg, Bielefeld, Bochum and Dresden.

Matthias Sammer rates as one of Dresden’s most famous sons. The former world-class libero and ex-Borussia Dortmund and Stuttgart coach became German FA (DFB) director of sport on 1 April 2006, and is responsible for all junior national teams up to U-21 level. spoke to the UEFA EURO 1996 winner about his home town, the women’s game, and Germany’s chances at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. What is the significance of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in terms of promoting the city of Dresden?
Matthias Sammer:
Dresden has a rich sporting history and is a passionate footballing city, so the people of Dresden are thoroughly looking forward to the Women’s World Cup 2011. The U-20 Women’s World Cup will serve as a more than useful dress rehearsal, and it’s another excellent opportunity for Dresden to introduce itself to the world as a modern metropolis.

Dynamo Dresden enjoyed glory days in the past, but the club currently play in the German third division. How much are the people of Dresden looking forward to seeing international football again at the U-20 tournament and the FIFA Women’s World Cup?
Dynamo Dresden is a big name to all football fans in Germany. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, things are hardly rosy in the club’s garden right now. The two World Cups offer the people of the region a chance to watch football at a world-class level. No-one should pass up the chance. There’s huge enthusiasm.

Two World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic bronze medals in the last decade is quite a haul, and we wouldn’t have minded that for our men’s team, that’s for sure.
Matthias Sammer on the German women's team's achievements

Why are Germany so successful at women’s football? And where do you see women’s football going in the future?
No-one has done more for women’s football than the German FA under our president Dr. Theo Zwanziger. Our success is based on decisive action and superbly thought-through programmes. The DFB views the World Cups not merely as organisational tasks, but also as community projects. And we intend this effort and success to be sustainable. Our goal is to continue the boom in girls’ and women’s football beyond the year 2011. There’s huge potential in the women’s game. The fact the DFB has more than a million female members merely underlines that.

Who’s the best women’s player in the world, in your opinion?
When you look back on our successes in recent years, you automatically think of Birgit Prinz. She had a major hand in the World Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2007, five European Championship wins, and three Olympic bronze medals. She’s been named World Player of the Year three times, and fully deserved it too. Her achievements are unique. I hope the Women’s World Cup 2011 ends up as the crowning glory of her career.

Do you think Germany can defend the world title on home soil?
I’m impressed by the consistency with which our women maintain their position at the top of the world game. Silvia Neid, her coaching staff, the back-room team and the players have been a model of reliability and elite sporting achievement for many years now. Just like her predecessor Tina Theune, who’s now deploying her vast expertise on behalf of the DFB, Neid consistently succeeds in combining experience and ambitious youth into a successful unit. I’m certain they’ll have an outstanding tournament, and they’ll obviously have the passionate German crowds right behind them. You always need a bit of luck at a tournament, but our women have the experience of making it to the top in tight situations. We can be optimistic.

What could the men’s team learn from the women in terms of international success?
Two World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic bronze medals in the last decade is quite a haul, and we wouldn’t have minded that for our men’s team, that’s for sure. But seriously, I refuse to make comparisons between women’s and men’s football. In my opinion, both forms of the game are very attractive, although they start from completely different going-in positions. Obviously, maintaining the drive for increased professionalism in the women’s Bundesliga would be very desirable, in areas such as marketing and TV presence. That would impact on the sustainable development of women’s football.

How would you rate Germany’s chances at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa?
The important thing for Germany will be good preparation, and to be in peak shape right from the start, both physically and mentally. If we succeed in that, we’ll come through the group. If the effort is truly focused from the off, and the team grows in strength and starts dominating opponents, we could go a long way – potentially as far as winning it.

What atmosphere are you expecting at the first FIFA World Cup in Africa?
Africa is a proud continent with a huge amount to offer culturally. I know South Africa will do everything possible to stage a peaceful, harmonious and thrilling festival of football.

Which is more inspiring: being out on the training ground, or sitting behind a desk?
I’m DFB director of sport, a job which came up at exactly the right time. I sense that it’s right for me and that I can get a lot done in the job. I might remain as director of sport for a long time yet, but I might feel moved to take up another coaching position at some point. When you’ve spent as long as I have out on the pitch, you never really lose the urge to get out there again!

What’s your fondest memory from your time as a player, and why?
Naturally, my happiest memories are of games we won, or the moments at the end of a competition where I laid hands on the trophy. EURO 1996 was one of those, but so was winning the Bundesliga with Stuttgart and Dortmund, and of course winning the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 1997. That’s what spontaneously comes to mind when I’m asked this question. But aside from my successes as a professional, a defining moment was winning the 1986 U-18 European championship in Yugoslavia with the GDR. That laid the foundation for the rest of my career. I hope our U-20 internationals benefit from the same experience at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, and that it helps them as their careers unfold.