32-year-old Sun Wen had certainly earned some peace and quiet after an extremely successful playing career that saw her become one of history's most-renowned female footballers. The former Chinese striking legend, who marked the pinnacle of her career by being named FIFA Women's Player of the Century alongside Michelle Akers in 2001, looked to have gone out of the game for good.
Retiring in 2003, the ever-smiling 'Sunny' finally had time for her other interests like reading, writing poetry and studying English. And just as it looked as if she would fade from the football headlines as other retired stars, the Shanghai native answered the call and stepped back into the limelight with a stunning return to the pitch after two years' out of the game. FIFA.com recently caught up with her to discuss the motivating factors behind her comeback.
FIFA.com: Did you watch the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year Gala on 19 December?
Sun Wen: I most certainly did. Because of the time difference I had to stay up very late and into the next morning to watch it live.
How did it feel when you saw Germany's Birgit Prinz receive her third Player of the Year award?
I had mixed feelings about it. This time there were no Chinese faces on the stage, not even a single representative from Asia. Since our (China's) disappointing campaign at USA 2003 (FIFA Women's World Cup) the team has been in a downward spiral. But on the other hand our opponents are developing at a rapid rate and becoming very strong.
So that night changed your plan of leading a quiet life?
It is hard to explain. I wouldn't say that was the main reason. A few days later I made the decision to return when I received a phone call from the newly re-appointed China coach Ma Liangxing.
You must have put a lot of thought into your decision to return before Ma's call?
Football is in my blood. When I left in 2003, I intended to stay away from the game that had brought me so many injuries and so much pain. I nearly succeeded in living without football for the first year but the next year I couldn't resist the temptation and began to watch and play again.
It was strange that I didn't tell anyone, even my parents and close friends, that I would come back to playing football and actually I was not even fully conscious of the idea in my mind. But slowly I had a feeling to return to football and it was getting stronger every day. When one day in December coach Ma called me and said 'we need you back,' I just couldn't keep my composure and began to shed tears. I didn't sleep that night and the next day I told him I would indeed return.
How did your family and friends respond to this?
They thought I was mad and my parents strongly objected to my decision. But I listened to the inner call of my mind and I will not look back.
Did your status as FIFA ambassador of Women's Football also play a part in your decision to return to the pitch?
I feel deeply honored as I was given this title alongside 14 very big names in the women's game. Even when I finally call it a day as a player, I feel I can still help develop the game in other ways.
You will have to overcome the effects of age and old injuries to regain your form…
I have been undertaking special training since I re-joined the team last December and happily for me, I have found things are going much better than expected. My physical energy is the big problem now but I think I will be getting much fitter soon.
What about your knack for scoring goals? Are you confident you can regain your prolific scoring touch?
Technically, I don't have too many problems. Last July I was invited to play a friendly match with a local team in the USA and I scored twice. So I was very happy to see I could still put the ball in the net after a year off and the goals gave me confidence. But I am still in a rebuilding process so I can hardly play a whole 90 minutes. I didn't play in January's Four Nations Tournament in Guangzhou but I am hoping to come off the bench to play for a half or 20 minutes in the upcoming Algarve Cup.
Coach Ma has said he would like you to be a player-coach…
Yes, I think this would be the best for me. We have the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup and 2008 Beijing Olympics as hosts and the major task for us is to select promising young players and re-organize the team for the future. From this point I would like to make way for the younger generation and help them grow through my experience and knowledge.
But a young team usually pays for a lack of international experience and exposure and a new-look Steel Roses were routed 8-0 at the hands of Germany in Athens in 2004…
Young players can only develop by playing against the best. Germany are undoubtedly world powers but our 8-0 defeat should be attributed to many reasons including tactical mistakes and lack of morale. In the recent Four Nations Tournament our young team drew France and defeated Norway and I think they are showing they are a side to fear.
How do you see the Chinese team developing?
You can see the team is beginning to develop some of the old fighting spirit of past Steel Roses outfits. We don't have the physical edge against the European powers and the USA but we are technically good and as long as we play to our strengths as a team, we will remain a world power.