Berger: I still see myself as an underdog
Ann-Katrin Berger realised a dream when she made her Germany debut
Chelsea No1 was nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper 2020
"For me personally it was a very good year"
Football fans the world over love the legendary Panini sticker albums that appear ahead of the FIFA World Cup™ and European championships.
Young and old alike collect, stick and swap the various images, and to be honest, many of us have dreamt of appearing in one of those albums ourselves. And then there was Ann-Katrin Berger, who made her international debut in Germany’s most recent EURO qualifier – she simply refused to wait for her country to come calling.
"When I was younger, I always had an A4 sheet of paper with the German national team on it, and I used to cut out a school photo of myself and stick my face over the face of one of the goalkeepers. That was the first thing I thought of," she said when describing the moment when she took to the field against the Republic of Ireland.
"I had finally achieved what I had spent years working towards. I was filled with pride and for me, it was the realisation of a childhood dream. I was also very proud for my family who had invested so much in me and accepted the fact that I went to live abroad and that we wouldn’t get to see one another as often. It was the kind of event that you would have wanted to celebrate with your family, but they were with me in spirit and I celebrated it as much as I possibly could in my heart of hearts," she said in an interview with FIFA.com.
The 30-year-old had further cause for celebration when she was nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper 2020, in a year where nothing went as expected and she was faced with all sorts of different challenges.
"Apart from the pandemic, it was a very successful year for me – both individually and also for my team. Based on that, I’d say that while the pandemic obviously happened, I didn’t want to focus too much on it and preferred to concentrate on the sporting side of things instead. It was my safe place, as it were – that was all there was as far as I was concerned. It gave me more time to work on myself," said the goalkeeper, who was delighted simply to be one of the six nominees. "It wasn’t a disappointment when I didn’t win, because I still see myself as an underdog. When I was nominated, I was the only goalkeeper yet to make their debut for their country. I went on the assumption that I wouldn’t win and still celebrated my nomination as a victory."
Berger has always been a battler. In 2014, she moved from Turbine Potsdam in her native Germany to join Paris Saint-Germain in France. Two years later, she left the French capital and headed to England, becoming Birmingham City WFC’s first-choice keeper and reaching the final of the FA Cup in 2017.
In the November after the final, her life changed overnight when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but after an operation and a course of radiotherapy, she made her comeback barely four months after the initial diagnosis. In 2019, she moved to perennial title favourites Chelsea, where she soon took over the No.1 jersey.
"She’s an exciting player but she always remains calm inside and you can feel that when she is out on the pitch," said Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg. Berger exudes plenty more qualities when she is playing – an inner strength, confidence, courage and a never-say-die attitude. She is exemplary, and not just for the younger generation of women’s players.
"I used to train with boys a lot up until I was 14, and I’d encourage every girl to do that,” she said. “It makes you stronger mentally and builds up your willpower – or at least it did in my case. I wanted to be as athletic as the boys, even though that’s not always possible when you’re a girl, but back then when I was younger, I couldn’t see that. ‘Why are they quicker than me?’ You just don’t think about it too much and that way, you have no limits. You try to make the best you possibly can of the situation and get as close as you can to the levels that the boys are setting."
Berger is currently looking to make the best she possibly can of the situation that presents itself to goalkeepers. Times have certainly changed since Germany won their second FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 2007 – football has become quicker, more athletic and more attractive.
"Goalkeepers have evolved – there is more in the way of training equipment and also more qualified goalkeeper coaches. In women’s football, you never used to have genuine goalkeeper coaches in every team,” the 1.80m stopper explained. “How were goalkeepers meant to improve back then when you only got to work with a coach once or twice a week?
"There’s an enormous difference now – it’s like learning to ride a bike. If you only do it once a week then it takes ages for you to master it, but if you practise every day and work at it, then you can learn to ride a bike within a week. Football’s the same. If you can work on different things every day, then it can quickly make a real difference."
Berger’s aim now is to build on the success that she has had of late, saying: "I’ve always been the kind of person who isn’t fazed by challenges – they spur me on. I’ve now been nominated as one of the top six goalkeepers in the world and in England, I was named in the team of the year. I want to consolidate that and make sure it wasn’t a one-off. 2020 finished off well in sporting terms and I want to carry that over into 2021."