Silvia Neid rightly rates as one of the biggest personalities in women’s football, and her biography is a catalogue of silverware and success. As a player, she was a runner-up at the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and a European champion in 1989, 1991 and 1995. Her record as an assistant and head coach includes the world crown in 2003 and 2007, four European titles in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2009, and three Olympic bronze medals (2000, 2004 and 2008).
Just over a week ago, the 46-year-old was named the FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year. Prior to the awards ceremony in Zurich, the Germany coach spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about her expectations of the eagerly-awaited FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ in Germany, coping with pressure, and the ever-growing list of rivals for the trophy.
FIFA.com: The three shortlisted candidates for FIFA Coach of the Year for women’s football were all women. Are women more suited than men as coaches for women’s teams?
Silvia Neid: Not necessarily. It's more a question of expertise. There are certain fundamentals which apply to every coach, regardless of the team they’re coaching. The key factors are expert knowledge and your relationship with your players, because you have to be able to get your points across. I think women are just as capable of coaching men as men are of coaching women. At the end of the day, each individual coach has to decide for him or herself whether to take on a women’s or a men’s team. But I’d never say women make better coaches for women, and men for men.
*The shortlist featured two German coaches, Maren Meinert and yourself. Isn’t that a ringing endorsement of German women’s football?
*As well as Maren and I, we also had two Germans on the player of the year shortlist, Lira Bajramaj and Birgit Prinz. We’re very proud. I think the last few years have confirmed we belong among the world elite.
*We’ve just moved into 2011, a year in which the highlight is the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. How much are you looking forward to the finals on home soil?
*I’m often asked whether it’s a joy or a burden to be hosting the Women’s World Cup. After all, everyone in Germany expects us to win it, but when I appear in public, I’m trying to manage those expectations. Naturally, we dream of winning the World Cup for a third time in succession, but it’ll be incredibly tough. It was hard work in the past and it’ll be even harder this time. But yes, I’m really looking forward to the World Cup. We’ll be playing in front of our home crowd. Our Organising Committee is doing a great job under Steffi Jones’ leadership. The attendances will be very good, that’s already clear. And I’m looking forward to some high-quality football. A number of teams have made tremendous progress, the associations are investing a lot more, and that obviously enables the coaches to work a lot more closely with their players. We’ll see the results of that at the Women’s World Cup 2011 in Germany.
I’m very honest, especially with my players. As a player myself, I liked the coach to tell me exactly what I had to do on the field, and how he or she thought I’d done.
*As you mentioned, a lot of people confidently expect you to win the trophy for the third time in a row. How are you and the players coping with the intense pressure?
*On the one hand, a lot of my players are very experienced – including the younger players. They’ve played a lot of internationals, and a lot of tournaments too. On top of that, we’ve been working with a sports psychologist since 2009. He’s with us whenever we gather and the players know him well now. We’re preparing ourselves for the World Cup as assiduously as we can. However, the most important thing is to have fun, and that goes for all of us - the team, the staff, everyone involved. We have to enjoy what we’re doing. If we’re having fun, if we all trust each other, and if every individual – players, assistant coaches, staff members – attempts to get the very best out of him or herself, we have a chance of realising our dream. And we all know there won’t be another World Cup in Germany any time soon. We want to be part of it and enjoy it to the full.
*How close are you to finalising your squad for the tournament? Will there be any surprises?
*There won’t be any surprises. I’ll start the preparatory phase with a squad of 26, and the final squad can be no more than 21. They’ll all be well-known players. They’re all already senior internationals, some with more games under their belt than others. I already have a fair idea of my squad.
*What are your personal expectations of the FIFA Women’s World Cup? Will it be as much of a success as the men’s finals in 2006?
*It’ll definitely be wonderful, but it won’t have the same scope as 2006. It’ll be a smaller event, but a very attractive one. We’ll see lots of families at the stadiums. We’re obviously hoping the weather’s as good as it was in 2006. We’ll have the fan festivals and so on, but on a somewhat smaller scale.
*Who do you feel are Germany’s main rivals for the title?
*It's a long list. It's obviously headed by Brazil, followed by USA. I think Sweden could go a long way, and I rate Nigeria very highly. I know we beat them 8-0 a short while ago, but the Nigerians are actually a better team than that. They’ll be very well prepared this summer, they won’t want another defeat of that order. Canada have put in an unbelievable amount of work in recent years. Coach Carolina Morace has them playing a different way now, and it looks very good indeed. England have been making steady progress for years, in my opinion. You can never write off Norway, and I have Korea DPR and Japan on my list too.
*How would you rate FIFA Women’s World Cup newcomers Colombia and Equatorial Guinea?
*I watched Colombia closely at the U-20-Women’s World Cup, and they’re a good footballing team. They’re good to watch, technically strong, well-organised. They have some very nimble players. I can’t say a lot about Equatorial Guinea. I reckon they’ll be quite similar to Nigeria, with some robust, hard-tackling and hard-running players, so no-one should underestimate them.
*What would you say are the three qualities you value the most?
*I’ve always been a stickler for discipline. I’m very honest, especially with my players. As a player myself, I liked the coach to tell me exactly what I had to do on the field, and how he or she thought I’d done. And trust is very important to me. I believe in my players and my staff, and I obviously hope they trust me too. Apart from that, I’m also a passionate and emotional person.
*One last question: what are you hoping 2011 brings?
*Health is top of my personal wish-list. Even the coach needs to be fit for a Women’s World Cup. And I’m hoping I can maintain a relaxed approach, which is crucial to doing a good job. I hope it’s a wonderful Women’s World Cup that provides women’s football in Germany and all over the world with a sustained boost. And if I still have any wishes left, I’d wish for this headline in the papers on 18 July: "Germany make it three in a row!”