Lara Dickenmann: "It's fun to be with the young ones"
She is the most successful Swiss female footballer of all time and is leading the national team as captain in the qualifying campaign for the 2019 World Cup. Lara Dickenmann talks about the secrets of her success, the rejuvenation of the team, and her plans for the future.
Lara Dickenmann, in August you were voted Credit Suisse Player of the Year for the seventh time. Were you expecting this?
Not really. Of course, it made me very happy, but I have to confess – there was a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. I may have had a good season, but when you receive this meaningful award, you want to show your best performance at the height of the season. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that at the European Championship.
Due to injuries, I missed the two important preparation phases in early and mid-season, when the basis for strength and endurance is established. That came back to haunt me. At the European Championship, I was not where I wanted to be physically; the tank was empty.
Nevertheless, you have been playing at the highest level for over ten years. What's the secret behind your successful career?
My family, for one thing. My parents always supported me. And if I got off-track, they helped find my way back with well-meaning criticism. Thanks to my upbringing, I was always self-critical and never gave up, even in difficult moments. For example in Lyon, where I was initially relegated to the second team. Instead of running away, I faced up to the difficult situation. This helped me progress.
What memories do you have of your national team debut in August 2002?
Very good ones. We won the away match in Clairefontaine against France 2-1, and I even scored a goal.
Swiss women's football was still in its infancy at the time.
Absolutely. The circumstances back then are no longer conceivable today. We were a bunch of amateurs. Only Kathrin Lehmann was already playing abroad; the rest of us worked full-time or were still in school. We only trained in the evening. Structures enabling the compatibility of education and sports did not exist. In the clubs, there was compensation, but still no daily allowance, let alone fixed salaries. However, we made the best of it. It was a time full of passion.
Since then, you have played 124 matches for the national team. What was the greatest moment?
The moment when the World Cup qualification was assured. That was the fulfillment of a dream we had worked hard toward for over a decade. When I started in the national team, the idea of participating in a World Cup was so far off that we didn't even talk about it. It was simply unimaginable. Back then, we regularly got drubbings from the best European teams.
You have scored 49 goals for the national team; which one was the most important?
The equalizing goal against Denmark in the home match in 2014. With the draw, we kept the powerful Danish team at a crucial distance in the World Cup qualification. However, it was not a beautiful goal – it was a penalty.
Is there anything that you would do differently in your career?
Not with regard to the choice of clubs. But obviously, you are smarter at 31 when it comes to dealing with your body. Looking back, as a young player, I was sometimes negligent in terms of regeneration and prevention.
With your talent, you would be a multimillionaire as a man. Do you sometimes wish you'd been born a boy?
No, I am very happy with my career. I have no idea if I would have made it to the top among the men. There is much more competition there and, in addition to talent, you need enormous discipline. I was never as disciplined as, say, Cristiano Ronaldo, who places football above all else. The sport was never the most important thing for me; I've always needed to balance it against other things.
After the European Championship, six old hands ended their national team careers. Did you also think of retiring?
I thought about it long and hard, because – as mentioned earlier – I was really frustrated with my European Championship performance. However, I didn't want it to be a knee-jerk reaction, and I talked about it with those closest to me.
What prompted you to carry on?
I appreciate a challenge, and I like the rejuvenation of the team. At the first gathering after the European Championship, our average age was 22.8. The young ones will need a little time to get used to the international level, since most of them play in the Swiss league. But they have great potential and will quickly progress in leaps and bounds. It's fun for me to work with them and – at least I hope – help them out a bit too.
Is there even more responsibility on your shoulders now?
The responsibility has increased, which is a good thing. However, it doesn't rest on my shoulders alone, but those of others as well. Gaëlle Thalmann, Lia Wälti, and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic contribute great international experience and leadership qualities.
What do you see as the strengths of this national team?
In its good mix of old and young. And in the great motivation of the many new faces. They bring new fire. Someone who has never played in a European Championship or World Cup is even more excited to reach that goal. This inspires us old hands in turn.
With two victories against Albania and Poland, the qualifying campaign for the 2019 World Cup is off to a perfect start. Do you expect a march-through similar to that of the European Championship, with eight victories in eight matches?
We have to find ourselves as a team and I think we need to adjust our expectations somewhat. We shouldn't expect a flawless string of victories. Poland in particular should not be underestimated. But our aspiration to that number-one spot that brings World Cup qualification still stands. We are holding on to that.
What goals do you still have as a player?
First and foremost, I would like to stay healthy. It would be a dream come true to win the Champions League with Wolfsburg again. And the World Cup in France, where I lived for many years, would be a fitting career conclusion.
Are you retiring after the 2019 World Cup?
Yes. Unless I experience a second youth (laughs).
Will Lara Dickenmann be the national coach in a few years?
A coaching career would certainly appeal to me. However, a successful player does not necessarily make a good coach. One thing is clear: The national team will always be close to my heart. If I ever get the opportunity to help out in some way, I'm going to take it.
Lara Dickenmann (31), the face of Swiss women's football, is one of the most successful players in Europe. With Lyon, the 31-year-old won the French Championship six times and the Champions League twice. This year, the midfielder achieved the double with Wolfsburg. She has played 124 matches for the national team, scoring 49 goals.