2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and three-time UEFA Women’s EURO winner Anja Mittag stressed the “big future” that is in store for women’s football, especially with the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is now on the horizon.
“The game has become more professional and gives girls more opportunities to play,” the FIFA Legend said during an interview at the Making Trade Score for Women! event, which was hosted by the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. “I see a big future for women’s football, and it’s not only about prize money, as it provides the dream for many girls to play for their country. By seeing players from their countries playing at the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, it will give a lot of opportunities for a lot of girls, not just from Europe, but from all over the world. It is a big opportunity, and that is also a reason that I hope the host countries do well at this year’s tournament.”
Having won the ultimate prize in women’s football in 2007 in China, Mittag recollects that many sacrifices were made on her journey which began following the first of her three successes at the UEFA European Women’s Championship in England in 2005.
“For me, it is impossible to think that I won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2007, because there are not a lot of people in the world who actually have the chance to participate never mind play in the final,” the former Germany international striker said. “We had a long pre-season in advance of the tournament and that sticks in my head, running up and down in a forest and not even seeing a football. It is not about lifting a trophy, and a lot of work goes into it, together with many tears along the way, but it was an incredible experience, and it was worth it in the end.”
But the former international striker, who represented Germany 158 times from 2004 to 2017 and scored 50 goals in the process, admits that the game then does not bear much resemblance to the situation today, because today’s players recognise their duty as role models to continue to advance the game – and they do not necessarily make comparisons to the men’s game.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be a men’s national team player because I wasn’t aware that a women’s team existed,” the FIFA Legend added. “My first victory in the UEFA European Women’s Championship didn’t really receive any television coverage. As a player then, you think that it is not fair, but you end up not thinking this way or trying to compare with the men’s game. By thinking about the generations that come after me allowed me to enjoy the moment, and you see that the women’s game is growing and developing. It is important to be proud of that and not to take pity.
“For all girls and women, empowerment is very important, and we need the Sam Kerrs and the Pernille Harders of this world to continue to grow the game and to get more and more young players looking up to their role models,” she concluded, also adding that she is happy to play her part in her current role as a coach of RB Leipzig in Germany. “I am happy to help develop players in our team, and part of my experience is that there are many ups and downs and I help to manage things, the disappointments as well as the successes, so to speak. These are parts of life and of football where I can help, and where I can give something back from my experiences.”