Birgit Prinz is without a doubt one of the greatest players in the history of women's football. In about two months' time, the Germany captain will be attempting to crown her glittering career with a third straight FIFA Women's World Cup™ title on home turf.
Fittingly, the stage is set for Prinz to potentially realise her ultimate dream in her home city of Frankfurt, the venue for the Final of Germany 2011. Naturally the FIFA Women's World Cup all-time record goalscorer is inspired by the prospect: "I'm getting more enthusiastic by the day," she told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: You've long been recognised as one of the greatest women footballers on the planet. How did you first come into contact with the sport?
Birgit Prinz: It was pretty simple really. I always played with the boys on the playground and with my sister against the neighbours. At some point I realised I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to join a club. I'd tried out a few other sports, but I enjoyed football the most so I stuck with it.
When did you realise that football could become your profession?
I never really planned it. When I was young, football wasn't really a viable career option. I just enjoyed playing. Of course I realised I was quite good because I was often selected for the various national youth squads. I knew then that something might be possible, but to be honest I never really thought about becoming professional.
Since then you've become the most successful German player ever, not to mention an idol to many young girls. How do you handle that role?
I just try to promote good values and not pretend I'm anything special to the younger players. That's what I've always done and always will. I make a point of being there for the younger players and working with the youth department.
What advice do you have for young players who want to follow in your footsteps?
I think the most important thing is to enjoy what you're doing. That makes it easier to commit the time and effort to training that's needed to perform at the highest level. You also need plenty of drive and motivation.
Are those all character traits of Birgit Prinz, or would you describe yourself differently?
Of course it's always been my ambition to give my best, but I think a lot of other players have that same drive. I was fortunate to be around at the right time, but I was always very motivated and wanted to take on responsibility too.
You come across as very modest and reserved in public. How proud are you of all your achievements?
Pride is a difficult term for me, I struggle with it. I'm satisfied with what I've achieved. When I look back on my career, I can see that what's happened has been pretty special.
You've been a part of the sport for a long time now. How has women's football changed over the years?
Football has developed in all areas, so it's difficult to highlight individual things. The environment surrounding football has changed dramatically. The women's game enjoys far more recognition these days and it's completely normal for girls to play. Players take part in organised training from an earlier age and the facilities are constantly improving for young girls. Improved training means improved performances.
The FIFA Women's World Cup is taking place in Germany in June and July. Which is greater: your enthusiasm ahead of the tournament or the pressure to win another title?
My enthusiasm is growing constantly. Obviously we're favourites, but really it's a win-win situation for us. We've got nothing to lose and just want to play good football. I can't wait for the World Cup!
Since your FIFA World Cup success in 2007 the team has changed somewhat. How would you compare today's squad with that of four years ago?
I think it's too early to say. The team still needs to find its feet. In 2007 we functioned very well as a team and the various pillars of the side just fitted together perfectly. We had some great individual players and were well-organised tactically. We'll have to see what happens in 2011. Once again we're in with a great chance, but we need to grow together as a team and function as a unit.
Is team spirit the key to your success?
I think you can have differences of opinion, but it's very important to trust one another and know that you can rely on your team-mates. Only then can you be successful.
What's the relationship like between the more experienced members of the squad and the younger players coming through?
We all get along well and we all live for the German national team. The focus isn't on one or two players. Obviously there is some form of hierarchy, but that's the same whether you're one of the more experienced players or one of the younger ones.
There are a few players breaking through who won the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup last year. Who do you think has what it takes to become the next Birgit Prinz?
It's not about becoming the next Birgit Prinz. I think we've got some great talents in Germany who will make their way to the top. Every player has to find their own path, though.
Is there a particular player who you feel could take over your role as captain of the national team and all its responsibilities?
I think there are a few players who come into the question. Of course some are more well-known, like Alexandra Popp, but we also have players like Babett Peter, who plays a very important role in defence and is already one of the leaders in the team. Fortunately we have a few players, like Kim Kulig in midfield, who are keen to take on responsibility and they'll be the players who lead the team when some of the older players are no longer around.
Finally, you've said that you'll be stepping down from the international stage after Germany 2011. Do you feel a little sad when you contemplate international retirement?
Basically I'm just looking forward to the World Cup, that's the focus. My announcement to retire from the national team after the World Cup was nothing out of the blue for me. It was something I'd thought about over the past few years. I'd known for a while that the World Cup would be the end of my international career, so I'm not too worried about whatever happens next.