When France clinched the FIFA World Cup™ title on 12 July 1998, key midfielder Christian Karembeu was able to celebrate accomplishing the dream of a lifetime. It was an intensely emotional moment for the players, and the euphoria spread to the stands as well, where Karembeu’s then girlfriend, the Slovakian model Adriana Sklenarikova, got swept up in the excitement despite her limited association with the game.
Now, 12 years on from that famous day, she and Christian are married and football remains a central part of their lives. Although her husband has hung up his boots, having amassed an impressive haul of medals, it is Adriana who is increasingly immersing herself in the sport. A women’s football ambassador as well as a patron of the French women’s team, it was in recognition of her active role that she was invited to take part in the Official Draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ in Frankfurt on 29 November.
FIFA.com caught up with the beautiful game’s most glamorous standard-bearer to talk about women’s football, France’s ambitions and much more besides.
FIFA.com: How did it feel to have the destiny of 16 teams in your hands?
Adriana Karembeu: It’s an incredible feeling. My husband had already taken part in draws and I felt nervous for him each time. Then all of a sudden it was my turn! But I love moments like these. It’s exciting; it’s the moment where everything gets decided. The whole world is watching and getting restless. I’m happy to have taken part in the event and decided the fate of the teams.
What are your ties with women’s football exactly?
I became an ambassador and I immediately felt passionate about it. I admit that I didn’t know much about women’s football before, and I didn’t realise it wasn’t particularly developed in France compared to Germany or the United States. It’s a bit of a shame. It’s been around for 40 years and lots of people have fought hard to promote it, but it’s still not enough. This year, we’ve launched an ambitious publicity campaign and the reaction to that has been very good. We’re becoming more and more visible, getting lots of people visiting our websites and more and more girls are joining clubs. I hope that’ll continue and that my own small contribution will count for something.
With a few months to go before the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, what are your thoughts on the standard of the France team?
I know there are teams to avoid, like Germany, USA and Brazil, but France did well in qualifying, with 11 wins from 12 games. That’s a superb record. The girls have learnt a lot since 2003. We didn’t qualify in 2007, but since then several female players have been through Clairefontaine [France’s national technical centre] where they’ve picked up a lot in terms of tactics and technique. That bore fruit during the qualifiers and now, with Bruno Bini in charge of the side, we’re aiming very high.
Will you be travelling to Germany to watch any FIFA Women’s World Cup games?
There’s a good chance, yes. I can’t wait because France will be involved in some big games. The girls are ready after all the important matches they’ve already contested. Technically and physically, they’re among the best around. I can’t wait to see how we perform in a big tournament.
You are Slovakian but when you refer to the France team, you say “we”. Are you fully in the French camp now?
(Laughs) Of course. I’m their patron and I feel very involved. They’re like my own daughters, so I say “we” because we’re a family in a sense.
Moving from one France team to another, what did you make of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?
It’s still a fairly painful episode for me, as it is for every France supporter. From a French point of view, everyone has very bad memories of that competition. We mustn’t forget what happened in South Africa because we often learn from our mistakes and difficult moments, but we have to move forward and look ahead. Given what we experienced in 1998 and 2010, it’s fair to say that the France team can provide both highs and lows. France loves football and loves its national team. We need to tell ourselves that these things happen. It happened to us, we’ll learn from it, we’ll grow and we hope to live through what we experienced in 1998 all over again.
Now that your husband has retired, who is your favourite footballer?
It’s not the same from a personal point of view any more. Watching football when Christian was on the pitch was like watching a hero, a warrior. I’m not capable of having that same feeling and admiration for another player, but that doesn’t stop me from recognising how talented the great players are. There are lots of them, but I’d have to put Lionel Messi a little bit above all of them. He’s got incredible talent and makes everything he does look easy, plus I’m convinced he’s very nice as a person.
What is it like being married to a professional footballer?
I never really noticed the difference between the life of a footballer’s wife and the life of a woman married to someone doing pretty much any other job. Aside from a few technicalities, such as not being able to go away for weekends – although, with my job, I couldn’t really do that either – I never really noticed that my husband was a footballer. He didn’t bring football home with him. He practically never spoke about it and I appreciated that. He didn’t put his work at the heart of our life together. That’s important in a family. I had my job, he had his, and our private lives were more about family than work. I was never his assistant, nurse or physio. I was just his wife.
Nowadays, he’s no longer playing while you have taken an active role in football. How has he reacted to that? Is he worried you might become more famous in the game than him?
(Laughs) It’s incredible; I didn’t plan on this at all. I really don’t know what he thinks about the situation. It all happened so quickly that we didn’t have time to really discuss it. I can only think back to one day, when he saw me at the French Football Federation and said: “What are you doing here?” It was very funny. It happened quickly but it hasn’t really changed anything in our daily lives. I’m surrounded by people I’ve been close to since 1998, so they’re a family, really. He can rest easy though, because I don’t think there’s much danger of me stealing his place as a football star!