There have been few, if any, more popular and well-known players in the history of women’s football than former USA forward Mia Hamm. A genuine icon of the game, there is little that the now 39-year-old did not achieve in a sparking 17-year international career. Two FIFA Women’s World Cup™ titles (1991 and 1999) and two Women's Olympic Football Tournament golds (1996 and 2004) sit proudly at the top of her resume.
On a personal level, Hamm hit the back of the net on more occasions than any other male or female USA international, and is second behind only Kristine Lilly in terms of appearances. Such is the Selma, Alabama native's status in her homeland, the USA women’s national league (Women’s Professional Soccer) features a silhouette of Hamm on their logo.
FIFA.com caught up with her during her busy television schedule in Germany to chat about the changing face of the game, its rapid development and the tournament in general.
FIFA.com: Mia, what are your general thoughts on Germany 2011?
Mia Hamm: The tournament has been great. I think the level of play has been outstanding and there has been lots of excitement. The investment that FIFA and the LOC have made for this tournament has been tremendous. This tournament has also shown that the technical and tactical level is rising.
Could this tournament potentially be seen as a turning point in the growth of the women’s game?
I think so. Firstly, the fact that we had two new teams competing for the first time. And I think that anyone that saw either Equatorial Guinea or Colombia play didn’t walk away saying they way were light years behind. Both were physically and technically there, they had personalities in their group and were committed to playing attractive soccer.
So do you see the move to 24 teams for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada as a positive one?
I definitely think so. Not only does it create more opportunities, it motivates other countries to invest in women’s football, especially at a young level. You can see the benefits with the likes of USA, Germany, England, France and [others] really investing. All these things are positive for the game, so if we continue to create a greater movement for women’s football to grow, I think that is important.
What major differences do you see between now and when you were appearing on the world stage?
There is greater parity between nations. The skill level of players and quality of coaches has become better. In the US, we always had some great coaching, but now we see it right across the board. Coaches are really investing in learning the women’s game and I think that is important.
Would you say there has been a tactical improvement across the last few FIFA Women’s World Cups?
I do, across the board. We have seen teams trying new systems, we saw Brazil with a very different defensive system. France play a 4-5-1 but it turns into three up top very quickly and is very positive.
Are there any players that you have particularly stood out for you?
Watching Marta is always a thrill. She has re-emphasised what makes her so dangerous, which is that she just needs a small amount of space. We have seen her game progress even further. She not only attracts a lot of attention, but she is able to play-make as well. It is one thing to have players that are free, but she has the ability to find them. The French squad have been fantastic and are a fun team to watch play. We saw flashes of excellence with Germany. I like some of their young players such as [Alexandra] Popp, and [Kim] Kulig, who I really like.
What have you made of USA’s performances throughout the tournament?
The game against Brazil was by far their best performance, defensively for sure. They have improved throughout the tournament, which is what you want. They had that hiccup against Sweden, when it seemed to me that Sweden were much more motivated, but they have managed to right the ship.
You were very much a role-model for young players. Is seeing a new breed of players performing that role something you have enjoyed?
I think anything that inspires young girls, not just in football but in any pursuit, is a great thing. I was blessed with supportive parents and family, and I found such confidence through sport, so I think anything that helps girls find confidence means so much.
Do you believe, then, that football can contribute to personal development?
Absolutely. The majority of things learned in football can be used for the rest of your life. I’m talking about things such as communication, time-management, team-work and dealing with adversity.
You have worked as a panellist on American television during the tournament. How have you enjoyed being on the other side of the camera?
I have learned a lot. It has been great, and it is a great group to work with. First and foremost for me, as a former player and fan of the game, is the commitment that ESPN has made, which is televising every match. I’m so grateful for it because I didn’t have that when I was young. Now young girls across the country can watch any game they wish to.
Finally, has being here at Germany 2011 made you want to pull the boots on again?
(Laughs) The first game I said that, but after watching everyone run all over the field for 90 minutes I remembered how tiring this game can be.