Her curly light-brown hair still whips through the wind, yet Michelle Akers is atop her horse, Vinnie, not chasing down opponents on the pitch. The FIFA Player of the Century consistently broke new ground for women’s football before hanging up her boots at the age of 34 on 24 August 2000. During her illustrious 15-year international career, Akers became the US’ second all-time leading scorer with 105 goals in 153 matches, including an adidas Golden Shoe-winning ten goals (two in the Final) at the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 1991. The legend spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about her life after football and the upcoming finals.
What have you been doing since your retirement in 2000?
Michelle Akers: I am still putting my body back together. Five surgeries later, my shoulder is now in the functional range and relatively pain free. My knee is another story though. I had MCL (medial collateral ligament) reconstruction in 2001 to fix the damage done in a collision in the 1995 World Cup, and after being thrown from my horse and partially tearing my PCL (posterior), I am back in rehab and in search of answers to fix this poor knee again.
I have also been extremely busy putting together my five-acre ranch, outside of Orlando, Florida. I have three horses now, two dogs, two cats, and five fish. I am on my way to becoming a real cowgirl. I will be getting married in August 2003 (to fiancé Steve), and I continue to do soccer camps in Seattle and Orlando. I also like to go out to the University of Central Florida’s women’s practices to shoot against keepers every once in awhile.
Because of your high profile in the sport, are you asked to spend a lot of your time doing promotional and charity work?
To be honest, I have had to learn to say ‘no’. I am really trying to concentrate on my personal life now -- my fiancé, the ranch, my family and friends, my health. I help here and there with various charity groups when I can, but it’s been nice to take a little time off to catch my breath. I definitely love being retired and am having an awesome time doing a lot of stuff I didn't have time to do while I was playing.
B> As the FIFA Women’s World Cup approaches, do you feel nostalgic and wish you were still playing?
I love to play soccer, so what I miss is playing. I love to train, practise and compete and miss doing that with great players. With my knee a mess, I can't do that as much as I would like. When I watch the team play or see videos of "the old days", the nostalgic feeling I get is for a time when my body worked without all the aches and pains! As I said, I definitely love being retired, but I will forever cherish the part of my life that was full of soccer.
As you reminisce back to the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, what is your most lasting memory?
I think the final game versus China is the thing that sticks the most in my memory -- the crowd, the heat, the focus, the concentration and determination to compete against the Chinese. And, of course, the way we won. I wasn't on the field when Brandi (Chastain) scored the penalty (that gave the US the championship), but when I came out of the triage room, the stadium was going crazy and there was confetti everywhere. It was the most incredible thing in the world.
What former team-mates do you keep in touch with?
Actually, it’s weird because after spending all of those years together, I really only keep in touch with one team-mate, Tiffeny Milbrett. I still feel all of my team-mates are like family to me, but I tend to catch up with them on the occasions when we are doing a special appearance, or something, together.
How has women's football changed in the past four years?
It is much more professional on almost all levels, and it is more widely accepted and respected, as are all women's sports now. There are more opportunities and the standard of play and coaching has risen tremendously. When I grew up and wanted to be a women’s professional soccer player, there were just no opportunities, no leagues. To see it finally succeed and have new stadiums built and fans packing into the stands is just very satisfying because I was part of the process.
B> What are your thoughts on this year's FIFA Women's World Cup? Will you be attending any of the matches?
I am excited the tournament is in the United States, although I do feel badly for China. I know they were excited about hosting it. I can't wait to see the U.S. compete and, hopefully, win. I don't have plans to be at any of the games in person, but I have picked out a great seat on the couch to watch it on television.
This will likely be the last World Cup for Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett and Kristine Lilly. What are your thoughts on that, and how do you think the future looks for the U.S. national team?
Well, hopefully, they will close out their World Cup careers with a win. I think that is what they expect and also what most American fans expect. It will be tough though as the rest of the world has got a lot better, and the U.S. have a host of new challenges to overcome, like injuries, fatigue from a long WUSA season, etc.