One of the biggest personalities in global women’s football celebrates a very special milestone this Monday, as Tina Theune turns 60. In nine years as Germany head coach, Theune led her team to glory at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2003 in the USA and to the UEFA Women’s EURO in 1997, 2001 and 2005. She is respected and admired all over the world and will always be regarded as one of the key figures in the explosive growth of the women’s game.
Theune, the daughter of a minister from Kevelaer in the Lower Rhine, discovered her passion for football when she was still in her childhood. In 1985 she became the first woman to earn the highest available coaching qualification from the German FA (DFB).
Eleven years later she followed in the footsteps of German women’s footballing pioneer Gero Bisanz and took over as national team coach, presiding over a golden generation featuring the likes of Steffi Jones, Bettina Wiegmann, Silke Rottenberg, Renate Lingor and Birgit Prinz. In 2005 Theune handed the reins to her assistant Silvia Neid, who continues to acknowledge the debt she owes to her guide and mentor as she fashions her own trophy-laden career.
A keen amateur photographer, Theune spent many long years in the spotlight, although friends and close acquaintances know she would much rather operate behind the scenes away from the public gaze. A cool customer, sometimes reticent and at times even shy, she has always spoken from the heart with great honesty and refreshing directness.
She currently lives in an overgrown converted water tower near Cologne. The quirky choice of dwelling is typical of the unique character that is Theune, admired as much for her personality as for her deep footballing knowledge.
She now works for the DFB in scouting and youth development and as a coaching instructor, and also fills various functions for FIFA including the post of director of the Technical Study Group (TSG) at Women’s World Cups and Olympic Women’s Football Tournaments. A couple of days before her special birthday, Theune spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Tina Theune, we’ve tracked you down, but where are you?
Tina Theune: Sicily! I’m with a group of friends and relatives. We’ve made the trip to have a very pleasant time and join forces to celebrate a few birthdays, belatedly in some cases.
During your time as a coach you had many, many reasons to celebrate. Which was the best of the parties?
[Laughs] To be frank with you, the private parties are what I think of first. But turning to football, I can honestly say it was every single time we appeared on the balcony of Frankfurt Town Hall with a trophy. The little things are what you never forget. I was thrilled and amazed when we were met by a band once, and I’ll never forget being welcomed at the water tower by friends every time I came back from successful tournaments. Once they even hired fire eaters, and on another occasion they rolled out the red carpet. We were pretty good at parties!
How would you describe yourself?
I think I’m pig-headed, tenacious and have a tendency to cling on to things. I guess these attributes have positive and negative sides. I’m a nitpicker too. Being prepared down to the last detail all the time is unbelievably important to me. I suppose you could also call it meticulous.
Is there anything from your coaching career which makes you especially proud?
Basically, I’ve always been proud of my teams. And I mean the team in its widest sense, as players and as characters.
Are you thinking of one particular team?
No, not in the slightest! Quite the opposite. I’m thinking of all the teams I ever coached. Each was unique in its own special way. When we won the 2003 World Cup in the USA for example, my players were truly mature. But when we won the European Championship in 2005 in England, I had an incredibly warm relationship with my team. It was always different, but always special.
Turning to the present, what do you think Germany should be aiming for at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015?
Nothing less than the Trophy! It’s very tight at the top these days, but after all, we’re reigning European champions. There’s a new generation in German women’s football and they’ve come together brilliantly. I think there are some fantastic characters in the current team. They work very hard and want to go a long way. More than anything else, they’re incredibly assured and they’ve acquired the confidence to get out of critical situations.
What kind of atmosphere will we see in Canada in 2015?
I was lucky enough to go to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2002. It was fantastic in the stadiums. I’m certain the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 in Canada will be a highlight of the year.
Tina Theune, many happy returns on your 60th birthday, and happiness and health for the future...
Thank you! My knees aren’t what they used to be, but it doesn’t bother me. I do a lot of work with young people. It’s wonderful and it’s keeping me young and fit [laughs]!