Al-Ahram Weekly Online   20 - 26 April 2006
Issue No. 791
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

'Nicer to train women'

The former head coach of the German women's football team tells Ghada Abd El-Kader what her job was like


It was fate that took Tina Theune- Meyer to a coaching career. She had always dreamt of being a physical education teacher.

"I didn't find a job as a teacher so I took out a licence to be a player." Theune-Meyer played from 1974 to 1986 for Grèn-Weiż Brauweiler where she later became a trainer.

At that time, the Deutsche Football Association (DFB) was looking for a woman coach for the national football team. In 1986, Theune-Meyer became assistant coach to Gero Bisanz who taught at the German Physical Education University in Cologne and was the leading director of the DFB's coaches training facilities from 1971-2000. "I was so lucky to work with him. He encouraged women to reach out for higher positions."

Bisanz helped Theune-Meyer acquire a coaching license, the highest degree in the field. "With it I was able to become a professional coach."

Theune-Meyer prefers being a women's coach than heading a men's squad. "I've never trained a men's team. The male coaches in the DFB are always under the media spotlight, and are always being criticised. That's what I don't like. They waste their time fighting. I prefer doing my job in total quiet and peace, away from any showing off. I am totally satisfied with what I am.

"Being a coach of the women's football team was a dream come true. I achieved great success in training."

Theune-Meyer's father was a track and field athlete and her mother was into handball. Did that encourage her to become a sportswoman? She admits that her love for sports in general was because she was brought up in a sports family. Her parents had always encouraged her to play sports. "My father was also a priest. We had a large house with a large garden in which the whole community met. I used to play with the children hockey and football. Once there was a race. My father told me that if I was one of the 10 top winners, he would buy me training shoes. I won.

"My parents always supported me. When I was 14, I won another race. The prize was a training suit and a football, very big awards given to a woman then."

Meyer says women's football in Europe is very big compared to other parts of the world. "Women's football is recognised there and receives great attention. Television helped in making fans interested in the women's game by broadcasting the World Cup and other major events. Now, spectators are keen to watch us whether on television or by going to the stadiums. Women's football is becoming so popular."

She recalled 2003 "when the Germans held huge celebrations in Frankfurt's main square to celebrate winning the World Cup."

Theune-Meyer thinks European women have more opportunities to raise the level of their game because they have the funds. "They play football while they are learning. They have the freedom to take their own decisions."

Meyer, who retired last year, told the Weekly she decided to leave football "because for 16 years football was my sole aim in my life. I didn't have time for my family. I decided to begin a new life before getting much older. So I started taking limited tasks concerning football. With the DFB I am an instructor for women coaches and working in schools. I spend my spare time with my family and playing piano. I have four brothers and my mother is still alive. I want to spend more time with my family. I think I chose the right time to retire."

Like any coach, Meyer has never thought of being a referee. "I don't like that job. It has never been of any interest to me."

Meyer never perceived women's football to be a tough game for girls or women. "It's a matter of skill and technique, whether you are a man or a woman. A World Cup champion is a winner because the team has good tactics and skills. The skills they should have are alertness, persistence to achieve the winning goal, and to take the appropriate initiatives. Toughness comes out of enthusiasm. No player intends to deliberately hurt another player."

On Egyptian women's football, Theune-Meyer described it as being still in its infancy. "Sahar El-Hawari is the pioneer of women's football in Egypt and has attained a lot of success. The Arab women's football tournament is a very important step. The new women's football league for schools will be implemented which means more improvement for the women's game.

"The most important thing for any athlete is interaction and challenges with other teams to gain more experience, and they will claim it this way."

She said she noticed a lot of talent in the Egyptian team especially in the Alexandria match. She singled out Dina Abdel-Halim, Amani Abdel-Alal and Marwa El-Hawat for special praise. "They can play in any league in the world.

"What Egyptian players need now is recognition and support."

Meyer predicted that either hosts Egypt or Morocco would win the Arab women's tournament.

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