Michaela Specht lives just a stone's throw from Bayern Munich's Sabener Strasse training complex, but her home in Grafenwohr, east Bavaria, is over 200 kilometres away. A little over six months ago the youngster left the comfort of her family surroundings to further her career by joining Bayern.
While it was a difficult step to make, the centre-back has no regrets about her decision, as she told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
"Back home I wouldn't have had any more big opportunities," Specht said. "I thought moving would be easier but it was much tougher than I expected. The amount of games we play mean I don't get to go back home very often and that's really hard for me."
The defender started playing football when she was five and initially only accompanied her older brothers to their training sessions at Grafenwohr before signing up with the club herself. Specht started out as a striker but has been moved progressively back through the positions until she ended up in defence, and although she is at a loss to explain why, she is happy with her current role.
It would be hard not to be. After being courted by Bayern Munich she now trains alongside Germany internationals Leonie Maier and Lena Lotzen, who until recently she had only ever admired and supported on television. While Specht is still eligible for the club’s U-17 side, she trains exclusively with the first team and plays in the reserves.
Training alongside predominantly older players has helped Specht improve, although she admits she still has work to do on the physical aspects of the game. She cites her positioning and ability to play the ball out from the back as key strengths and those qualities have also been recognised in the Germany set-up. Over the last year, Specht has regularly been called up to her country’s U-17 squad and she was a member of Germany’s starting line-up at the UEFA Women’s U-17 Championship in England last year, playing a major role in their triumphant campaign.
That title win booked Germany’s ticket to the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2014. Coach Anouschka Bernhard is yet to announce her final squad for the tournament but Specht’s chances of travelling to Central America are good and she is already looking forward to the competition: "It’s just a few weeks away now and of course I think about the World Cup a lot. I’m aware we’re getting close so I need to be fit. I can’t wait."
Germany will face Canada, Ghana and Korea DPR in a group Specht believes is the toughest at the finals, especially given the former’s presence. "We played against USA last year and they were good," she said. "Canada knocked USA out so I respect them a lot." The defender is also wary of Ghana’s athleticism and physicality as well as the Asians’ pace and tactical acumen.
If Germany manage to reach the knockout rounds few would bet against them repeating their continental success on the global stage. The depth of quality in the squad sets them apart, although insecurity has tended to creep into the team’s play rather too frequently, as was evident in their struggles against Italy and Spain at the European Championship. Specht believes that the Spaniards’ impressive displays at that tournament make them one of the favourites for the World Cup title.
That Germany got the better of Spain in England was partly down to the team’s sense of togetherness and Specht is understandably closest to her Bayern team-mates in the Germany squad. Three of her club colleagues are also in contention to travel to Costa Rica: Isabella Hartig, who netted the decisive penalty in the European Championship final, Andrea Viehl and Ricarda Walkling, who is fit again after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury.
Specht is keen for that trio to be included in the group that departs for Costa Rica on 9 March, as maintaining a sense of home is important to her. It is therefore hardly surprising that her parents will also travel to the tournament to cheer her on in person.
She is hoping that friends and other fans will show their support from Germany, although doing so could prove tricky. "The time difference is quite big but I’m spreading the word," Specht said. "I’m sure a lot of them will keep track of what’s happening."
That would seem likely, especially as Specht is approaching the showdown with a clear objective in mind: "We’re going there because we want to win the title."