It is nothing new for sportspeople to retire at their peak, as demonstrated by Formula 1 driver Nico Rosberg recently after winning the world championship. By way of contrast, Silvia Neid announced she would be stepping down as Germany women's coach even before winning Olympic gold. And while Rosberg's team are still looking for a successor, Germany already had a replacement lined up: Steffi Jones.
The 111-time former Germany international described her first few months in charge as "very exciting" in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "I had no notion of what it was like to be on the touchline as coach. You see Joachim Low and Silvia Neid doing it, but you don't know what it actually feels like. That's why everything was very exciting, but also a lot of fun. I'm a person who thinks positively and I'm optimistic. I'd hoped to get off to a winning start and the fact it turned out that way, despite the absentees and number of players out injured, was a very good first step. All in all, it's been a good start."
Jones has so far recorded four wins and a draw at the helm of Germany, having previously gained experience in Neid's backroom staff for a year. "It was certainly important that I was able to observe training sessions and the players' matches and started filtering out which players I wanted to continue to work with," the erstwhile defender said of her experiences so far.
"I was able to start choosing my own squad and could see how the players react when things get tough. We had spells during the [Women's Olympic Football] tournament where things didn't always go well. You can see then that you've got a player who emerges as a leader, who motivates the team and who maybe I wasn't aware had it in them. Those experiences helped me choose my team's leadership committee."
The 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup™ winner and three-time European champion had to make do without three key players from the off, after Melanie Behringer, Saskia Bartusiak and Annike Krahn announced their retirement. What kind of an impact did that have on the team? "When I was developing my playing philosophy before the Olympics, I thought about which role the more experienced players would have. You do wonder about whether to actively make a complete clean break. That decision was practically taken out of my hands after they stepped down."
*Eager to blaze a trail *After the Olympics, Jones introduced her philosophy to the public and made her objectives clear: the 43-year-old wants to be a pioneer. "I'm often asked 'which team is your yardstick? Who do you measure yourselves against?' I always say that we want to be trailblazers. We want to be the team that others look at and say: 'they've got it right in terms of their structure, youth development and training. In the Bundesliga and the women's national team they play varied, attractive and well-organised football.'
We're not looking at the Americans or the French; they should want to measure themselves against us. My players should also have that self-confidence and know that they have nothing to fear because they're among the best in the world. That's my philosophy and that's how I try to strengthen my players."
We're not looking at the Americans or the French; they should want to measure themselves against us.
Such unequivocal statements underline that following in the large footsteps left by Neid holds no fear for Jones. She prefers not to compare herself to the two-time FIFA Coach of the Year for Women's Football, but is eager to make her own mark, as she did as president of the 2011 Women's World Cup Organising Committee.
"Just as Franz Beckenbauer was the Kaiser [Emperor] in the 2006 World Cup Organising Committee, I was initially seen as the female Beckenbauer as president of the Organising Committee for the 2011 Women's World Cup, but eventually, I was viewed as Steffi Jones, with her own way of doing things. That's how I hope things will go now too. At the moment, I'm still Silvia Neid's successor, but at some point, I'd like it to be: 'this is Steffi Jones'."
*Important honours *Her predecessor is among the three finalists in the running for this year's The Best FIFA Women's Coach award, a nomination Jones believes is no accident, regardless of who ends up winning the prize. "For me, it's a clear choice: Olympic gold, Silvia. If you win the Olympics, it's simply fantastic."
Jones also believes that the diverse honours available for women's football at The Best FIFA Football Awards™ is positive, especially in terms of acceptance and support. "Silvia was the first coach to be voted World Coach of the Year. I think it's a really important award. Not only for women's and girls' football, but also as a sign of appreciation. Male and female coaches in clubs and national teams do great things. And the players do too.
"The award is incredibly important and is a huge recognition," Jones continued. "I know that everyone's always very proud when they win a prize like that. I would've liked to be named World Player of the Year myself. I was always very sad, as a defender I never managed it. I'm always very happy for the players and coaches who win it."
And who knows, perhaps Jones will one day succeed as a coach where she did not as a player, and be on the shortlist of candidates in the future.