2012 was a big year for women's football, with a worthy climax at the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2012 Gala and the presentation of the awards for the best player and coach in the women's game. Abby Wambach and Pia Sundhage, two undisputed greats of the sport and the pair who spearheaded USA's successful assault on Olympic gold in the summer of 2012, were worthy winners of the prestigious awards.
However, accolades and honours are not the only reason why Sundhage strikes such a chord with her players. The audience gained an inkling of the coach’s personal charisma when the former USA and current Sweden boss celebrated her success by directing a rendition of the Bob Dylan number If Not For You at Wambach and fellow US international Alex Morgan.
"I’m not surprised she sang during her acceptance speech - it’s classic Pia,” Wambach smiled. “This is who she is. She’s not only a fantastic coach, and it’s not only this award that proves it. She has a lot of guts to get up there and sing in front of this crowd. She is who she is, no matter the crowd she’s around,” the striker told FIFA.com, beaming with admiration for her former coach.
Wambach: She coaches with her heart
Sundhage was in charge of the US Women's National Team in 107 matches over four years, guiding and inspiring her players to maximise their potential, and exerting a special influence on superstar Wambach.
“There are so many things you don’t know about, things she had to do on a day in, day out basis,” the striker revealed. “That made her the coach she was. I love her us a coach. She was so great for me.
"Pia had a huge impact on our team. She came in after the 2007 World Cup, when we lost and were a bit of a shambles," Wambach continued. "She came and kind of calmed us down. Her coaching ability for this team was by far the best I’ve seen, not just because of the results, but because of the way she handled the different personalities on our team. That shows how good she was.”
Sundhage: We don’t have an Abby
Respect and gratitude for a productive spell together also coloured Sundhage's initial reaction to the awards, as she beamed with pride at Wambach's achievement in taking home the prestigious players’ trophy.
"I just love the fact that Abby was selected as best female player of the year. I love the way she plays, and she’s a great role model for women’s football,” the coach told FIFA.com, typically clear and to the point.
However, the 52-year-old supremo must now chart a new course without her star pupil. Some three weeks after the triumph at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, Sundhage announced the end of her spell with the US national team, taking over as head coach of her home country on 1 December 2012.
"Working with the Swedish team is very different compared to working with USA. First of all and to start with, we don’t have Abby Wambach,” said Sundhage with a grin.
However, the Swede has already won her spurs with USA, and will undoubtedly bring valuable new skills and lessons to her latest task. And she will tackle the challenge with the blessing of her former centre-forward, and with every good wish for the future.
"We were sad to see her go. But like everything, people have to move on. She has a dream of coaching her home team in her home country. I respect that and I wish her nothing other than the best,“ the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year declared.