Seger: I won’t stop at breaking the record
Caroline Seger is poised to become the most-capped player in European history
Sweden captain also preparing for a fourth Women’s Olympic Football Tournament
She told FIFA.com about career highlights and beating the all-conquering USWNT
Caroline Seger stands on the verge of history. Over the next week, the Sweden skipper will make her 214th and 215th international appearances, becoming the most-capped player not only in her country, but the entire continent of Europe.
The record to which she is about to lay claim is currently shared by two of the game’s greats: Birgit Prinz and Therese Sjogran. The latter was a midfield mentor to Seger in her early days with the national team and is now sporting director at her club, FC Rosengard. She also happens to be her best friend.
But for all the glory - and personal bragging rights - that becoming a European record-breaker will bring, Seger is looking deeper into the horizon. The upcoming Olympics - her fourth - glistens there invitingly, and so too does next year’s UEFA Women’s EURO. Should her form, fitness and motivation levels remain high, we might even see the 36-year-old lead out Sweden in 2023, at what would be her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and 14th major tournament in yellow and blue.
There was, therefore, plenty to look forward to as Seger sat down with FIFA.com to discuss setting benchmarks, scoring penalties and smoothing the path for Ferrari-driving youngsters.
Caroline, when you marked your 200th Sweden appearance by beating England to win bronze at the World Cup, your team-mates told you: ‘You can’t retire now – you need to stay for the Olympics’. But when the tournament was delayed for a year, did that cause you to rethink your decision to play on?
Well, I signed a three-year contract with Rosengard right after the World Cup and, in my head, that was me committing to playing on for at least those three years. I don’t even know for sure if I will quit once that contract come to an end. But even when the Olympics and the EURO got pushed back, there was no thought in my head except to continue playing for the national team and push on towards the new dates. I also had that big goal in front of me of breaking the European appearance record. Above all else, I still love this game and love coming away with the national team. This team feels like a second family to me now. I’ve always felt that I’ll know when it’s over and right now, both physically and mentally, I don’t feel that time has come.
That appearance record is so close for you now. Has it been on your mind for some time?
The fact that the player who has the record now is my best friend means that, as you can imagine, we’ve joked about it plenty of times! But honestly, it’s not something I’ve focused until fairly recently. Getting to 200 appearances was a really big thing for me, and doing well in the tournaments is always the most important of all. But when you get closer to a record, you definitely want to make sure you beat it and don’t end up falling short. It’s a big thing to achieve, and now I just want to see my name go over Therese’s to the top of that list! (Laughs) It will be cool to see it there and of course I’ll be proud to be making a bit of history. But it won’t stop for me with the record. I think I need to keep going for a few years more just to push up that number and make sure I don’t end up with a very short time at the top! (Laughs)
You’ve talked about committing to three years from France 2019. The next World Cup obviously falls just beyond that period, so are you counting yourself in, out, or just seeing how it goes?
I think where I am in my career, I have to take the ‘see how it goes’ approach and take things one step at a time. I need to have the energy and physical capacity to compete. Right now, I have that and I don’t want to say that I’ll definitely finish up after the Olympics or the EURO. If my body holds up, I feel good mentally and still love the game as much as I do now, I feel I could play on for a few more years. But I also understand that my career has to come to an end at some point, as sad as it is for me to think about that.
But you don’t find motivation a problem for you at this stage, even when it’s cold, wet and you need to go out and put yourself through a tough training session?
If I’m being totally honest, that is an issue at times. It does change over the years and, having done it for so long, not every training session and match is fun to be involved in. But my love for the game in general is still strong, and I have a big desire to give back to football too. So when you have a day like that, when it’s windy, raining and you’re like ‘Why am I here?’, I can always push through. It’s a question of mentality.
Sweden drew 1-1 against USA recently and you are also the last team to beat the world champions in a major tournament, in that Olympic shootout in 2016. Given they’re again seen as the team to beat in Tokyo, what do you think the key is to matching them?
You need to have both sides of the game for a start: quality and mentality. With the US, it’s a country of 360 million people - and the national team is the big priority there. The league fits around the national team, whereas in Europe it’s the other way round. The fact the USWNT is the priority, and has the focus, means they can train more and prepare better. It also helps that if they have a played injured, they have another ten high-quality options to slot in. For Sweden or anyone else going up against the US right now, we need to be perfect. You just can’t afford to make mistakes or lose concentration. They are the best team in the world and they’re the best for a good reason. But it is possible to beat them and we showed that in Rio, even if we had to defend for a long time! (Laughs)
Tell us about that match. Your penalty came when Sweden were 3-2 down in the shootout, just after Linda Sembrant had missed, so there was a lot of pressure on. What do you remember about it all?
That game is such a great memory. I really had the feeling that the fans were on our side, and it was a great atmosphere to play in. As for the penalties, it’s funny you should mention about the timing because I was so focused that I don’t think I even noticed that I was going up after a miss. What I do remember is the feeling of freedom after I scored, thinking ‘Well, at least I’ve done my part’. We had this belief in the team that we could win that match, and when we got our chance we had the character to take it. It was an amazing feeling, especially to win that game at such a special stadium in front of so many supporters.
You’ve been part of so many major tournaments with Sweden, but Rio – statistically at least, in reaching the final – was your best performance. Do you see it as the highlight of your international career?
Actually, for me, the 2019 World Cup was even better. We did really well at that Olympics, but we also defended a lot of the time. I actually think the final was our best game, even though we lost. But our performances at the last World Cup were of a much higher standard. In all my years with the national team, I don’t ever remember us playing as well as we did in France. It was amazing and very satisfying for me to see that development in the team and the way we played.
Has that evolution continued since France, and should we expect to see the same kind of Sweden - playing on the front foot, looking to dominate games – at the upcoming tournaments?
I definitely hope so. The reason we’re playing this way, and this well, is down to our coaches. They did a lot of work to change the traditional Swedish style of play. The way we we’re training right now, it’s simple, small stuff that makes the bigger picture so much better. The players really found it easy to adjust to. I hope we continue on this road and I feel we need to because, for me, it’s the style of football that any successful teams in future will be playing.
At club level, you enjoyed a great season in the Champions League before going out to Bayern Munich in the last eight. But how tough is it now for the likes of Rosengard to compete against those European super clubs?
It’s very tough, and so much of it comes down to investment. In Sweden, we just don’t have big men’s clubs behind us, financing the women’s teams’ development, and there’s not too much we can do about that. But there are some small improvements we can make. The fact that we hadn’t even started our season when that quarter-final came around is one, for sure. Sweden needs to decide whether it can change the league calendar to align us with the rest of Europe, so we’re in the same rhythm as the others and have a better chance to compete against these huge clubs.
Although it presents challenges for Swedish club football, you must be very excited – especially having played at PSG yourself – to see these big clubs investing in the women’s game and the opportunities that presents?
Absolutely. I just wish I was 15 again! (Laughs) This is exactly what I’ve been fighting for all these years, and I love seeing women's football now being given the respect it deserves – and that I feel we have earned. Now when a young player comes through and I ask them what their dream is, they say, ‘Well, maybe Barcelona or Lyon or Manchester United’. And that’s great because, when I was growing up, USA was the only option. I love what’s happening. And when I see Hanna Bennison or one of the others driving past me in her Ferrari, I’ll feel that I have played a small part in that! (Laughs)