There was a time when Birgit Prinz was the undisputed superstar of the German women’s national team. These days, the 41-year-old prefers to work in the shadows.
Prinz was both captain and star striker when Germany won back-to-back World Cups in 2003 and 2007, but now she is taking a backroom role as team psychologist.
The one-time superstar has steered clear of media attention as Germany have reached the knockout stages with 1-0 wins over China and Spain in the opening week of the World Cup.
Where once she led the line for her country, she is now tasked with ensuring that Germany’s young side are mentally prepared to challenge for their first World Cup title since Prinz’s second triumph in 2007.
“We have a team who don’t have a lot of caps and 15 of our players are playing at their first World Cup, so there is enormous added value in having someone like Birgit Prinz around,” said Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.
“As well as her specialist knowledge [as a psychologist], she also brings a lot of experience,” said Voss-Tecklenburg, 51, who won the European Championship alongside Prinz as a player in 1995 and 1997.
On Tuesday, Voss-Tecklenburg said that players were able to have one-on-one conversations with Prinz at any time, and that the former striker had also helped with some specific problems.
“When you have a player like [17-year-old] Lena Oberdorf, who is taking four weeks out of school, then are specific stress factors to look at,” she said.
“It’s good to have someone who can look in from the outside.”
Prinz had already completed her training as a psychologist when she ended her glistening football career in 2012 with 214 caps and 128 international goals to her name.
She then garnered several years experience at Bundesliga club TSG Hoffenheim before first taking a role with the national team in February this year.
In an interview with AFP subsidiary SID last month, Voss-Tecklenburg admitted that she had organised a “speed-dating” event to introduce Prinz to the team.
“The players didn’t even realise that it was for Birgit’s benefit, but it broke the ice immediately,” she said.
Since then, the squad has seemed more than happy to call upon Prinz’s expertise.
“I had a conversation with her at our pre-tournament training camp. It is good for us to have a personality like her around,” said defender Leonie Maier on Tuesday.
“I know her from my time playing alongside her,” said vice-captain Svenja Huth, who was part of the same FFC Frankfurt team which Prinz led to victory in the Uefa Women’s Cup in 2008.
That was Prinz’s third triumph in that tournament, and just one of an astonishing array of career titles.
Alongside her two World Cups and five European Championship triumphs, Prinz also won nine women’s Bundesliga titles and lifted the women’s German Cup on no less than 10 occasions.
“She is able to pass on a lot of experience from her own time as a player, and give us tips when we have problems,” said Huth.
In an interview with AFP last month, Huth said that she had grown up idolising Prinz, who defined women’s football for a generation in Germany.
Now, she and her teammates are hoping that Prinz’s sage advice, psychological expertise and champion calibre can help them emulate her greatest successes of all.