Earlier this year, UEFA launched a new campaign highlight the game-changing impact that women are making on the European football community.
Each month, UEFA is putting the focus on five individuals, whose work is helping to shape the present and future of football – at all levels of the game. Whether on the pitch, in front of the cameras or in the boardroom, each of our featured game-changers has an inspiring story to tell, setting the perfect example for more women and girls to make their own mark in the game.
In its second instalment, UEFA talks to:
• Riem Hussein, the 2021 UEFA Women’s Champions League final referee
• Sarah Zadrazil, Bayern player and We Play Strong ambassador
• Nora Häuptle, UEFA Pro Licence coach
• Priscilla Janssens, Stadium venue director
• Jessica Carmikli, Beşiktaş player and mother of two
Riem Hussein: ‘Refereeing has given me an opportunity. I feel very privileged!’
Riem Hussein in actionGetty Images
Dr Riem Hussein will referee the UEFA Women’s Champions League final in Gothenburg on Sunday. Of Palestinian heritage, the German has been refereeing since 2005 and for the last six years, has officiated in the men’s third tier, as well as featuring at the Women’s EURO in 2017 and the Women’s World Cup in 2019. She combines refereeing with working as a pharmacist.
How did you become a referee?
I was a striker in Germany’s second division, scoring a lot of goals but always complaining a lot to referees and thinking I could do better. So, I decided to show that I could do better and took the refereeing licence, and I enjoyed it so much. I played on Sundays but whenever possible I would referee on Fridays and Saturdays and started to feel I could have a career and go further. For me, referees who were players have a big advantage, because it gives you a feeling for football, but it is important to have the right mentality and to be able to deal with pressure.
You referee both men’s and women’s football. Is there a difference and how has the women’s game developed?
In men’s football, the speed and intensity are higher, so it’s more demanding physically, and the management of players is different in terms of different characters, but women’s matches are becoming more demanding too. Players have better conditions to train and play professionally, so I have seen the standards rise and you can feel there is something growing. As a referee, we have the responsibility towards the players to show we are also in the best shape, and my national association but also UEFA and FIFA help us with fitness, tactical analysis, improving on-field communication systems and introducing VAR – it is a very professional system, so for me there is no difference between approaching men’s and women’s games.
What advice would you give to a girl thinking about taking up refereeing?
Follow what you feel. Motivation has to come from within you, nobody else can give it to you. If you want to be a referee, it would be great. We need good referees, young referees, people interested in refereeing, and that’s why I would never tell her anything else. As a player, I would never have reached a Women’s Champions League final or been involved at such a high level at the age of 40, but refereeing has given me the opportunity to play this important role in big matches – I feel very privileged.
Sarah Zadrazil: ‘We can grow our audience massively if we give people more access to watch.’
Sarah Zadrazil joined Bayern at the beginning of the seasonUEFA via Getty Images
Sarah Zadrazil is a midfielder for FC Bayern Frauen and Austria. Having taken up the game aged five, she began her career at college in America before returning to the Bundesliga at Turbine Potsdam. She is also an ambassador for UEFA’s We Play Strong, engaging the next generation of female football fans and players through social media videos alongside her friends and team-mates.
Women’s football in America led the way for a long time – has the European game caught up?
“I always dreamed about playing in the States because women’s football there was so massive, and it was hard at the beginning but I’m glad I went there – it was a great experience. Football in America has always felt like a women’s sport with sold-out stadiums and an amazing atmosphere at matches, and that’s what our aim should be here in Europe. On the pitch, I think we have a better technical quality here now. The game has developed on every level. It got way faster, more physical but also technically and you can see that on the field, the pace is fast, you have to be alert all the time because it’s a faster game now.”
How else can women’s football in Europe continue to develop?
“We can grow our audience massively if we give people more access to watch the matches on TV. I also think it’s important that the game can support smaller clubs to keep the domestic leagues competitive. We can see the difference between a women’s club like Turbine Potsdam and clubs like Bayern which have huge investment from the men’s team. It’s great that the big clubs are involved and supporting the women’s game, providing the best facilities and care for players, but I would like to make sure that this is something available for all clubs so they can continue to grow and compete.”
What is your advice for girls who would like to follow in your footsteps?
“You have to enjoy playing football and don’t see it as any pressure. It’s important to have fun and that’s how I always approached the game – I still do, and I’m super privileged to have this amazing job. You have to believe in yourself and you have to sacrifice a lot, it’s not always just fun, but it will all be worth it. So yeah, just believe in yourself and take the opportunities that come. With our We Play Strong videos, we like to show a group of players who are all friends, and it shows what it is to be involved with women’s football off the pitch – it’s a really cool project and I think it’s important we give girls this type of access to top players.”
Nora Häuptle: ‘Football has a great pulling power around the world, it can bring a lot of hope, even in difficult times.’
Nora Häuptle was the only female coach in the Frauen BundesligaGetty Images
A Swiss international player, Nora Häuptle turned her attentions to coaching early, taking on a developmental role with FC Thun’s youth sides before experiencing life as a fitness coach on the tennis world tour. Lured back into football to take charge of Switzerland’s Under-19 women’s team, she took them to the European Championship semi-finals in 2016, and was until recently the only female head coach in Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga with SC Sand. As a UEFA Pro Licence holder, she has also been a part of UEFA’s Coach Mentor Programme.
Who made you think about a career in football when you were younger?
“When I was younger, I only had male idols, like Alain Sutter or Andy Egli, who funnily enough have both now been involved in women’s football. But when I was 16, I was in the USA for the 1999 Women’s World Cup and it was huge – they filled stadiums with 80,000 people and for us from Switzerland, that was unimaginable. I remember a sports store where they had had an immense wall with posters, 25 metres high, and there was Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm. That was my first experience of seeing a female soccer star and after that I really thought of Mia Hamm as a role model that I looked up to.”
You were the only female head coach in the women’s Bundesliga – what is holding back female coaching?
“I think it is important to encourage more women at grassroots level, to give them opportunities and take away the fear of not being good enough. Women tend to question themselves more, and I think those inhibitions need to be taken out of them right at the start of their coaching career, to be assured they are allowed to make mistakes and grow with the process. Then, I believe that there will be a lot of valuable female coaches who have a lot to contribute. Football has a great pulling power around the world, it can bring a lot of hope, even in difficult times like COVID, and I would like every woman to have the chance to participate in this sport.”
What changes do you think are on the way for women’s football?
“Men’s football is over 100 years old, but the tactical development and dynamics of the game have changed over the last 20 years enormously, so I think women’s football can learn a lot very quickly from that. For example, where the goalkeeper becomes an eleventh outfield player when you have the ball, but on the other hand in defence, also needs to cover different angles than the males, because women are smaller. So, women-specific topics like physical development, how we practice strength training, respect the menstrual cycle and avoid injuries will also develop. It’s obviously important as a coach to see where football is going, so that you are a step ahead of the others and know where you have to go.”
Priscilla Janssens: ‘Don’t worry about the 10% you can’t do, focus on the 90% you can!’
Priscilla Janssens was UEFA’s first female venue director when she started the role in 2004
Born in Brazil to Dutch and English parents, Priscilla Janssens has football in her blood. Her journey in the sport began at Ajax, where she helped young foreign signings adapt to life in the Netherlands. She worked as a team liaison manager at EURO 2004, before becoming UEFA’s first female venue director – a key organisational role that ensures matches run smoothly. She has since worked across major UEFA and FIFA tournaments, as well as becoming a co-founder of the Dutch Vrouwen Eredivisie in 2007.
You have incredible experience as UEFA’s first female match venue director – but how has the COVID-19 pandemic role affected the role in the past year?
“It’s had a huge impact, there is a whole added layer of organisation with matches and you have to be very aware of everything you do. There are restricted numbers of people in each area, everything has to be disinfected, so it’s a real puzzle to make everything run smoothly. When matches resumed last August, I did seven matches at the club finals and I felt so privileged to be at a football match, but also the weight of responsibility to make sure we got everything right. It demanded some patience and flexibility from everybody involved, including the teams, but everybody understood what was needed to make sure games could be played.”
What are the key skills needed to succeed in a role like this – and how would you advise other women to make steps in the game?
“I think it’s very good to be able to stay calm under pressure and have a problem-solving mindset. It’s also important you can stand your ground. As for advice to other women, the first thing is to know what you want to do and take a step forward when you see an opportunity. People can’t help you if they don’t know what you want. And don’t worry about the 10% you can’t do, focus on the 90% you can. Maybe you will make a mistake, but you will learn and experience always teaches you something.”
The new UEFA Women’s Champions League format will help take the game to the next level. What other changes would you like to see?
“I think the new format is fantastic and will help the women’s game advance. Ahead of the coming season, I know UEFA has been working hard to attract more women as venue directors, with more matches in the Women’s Champions League and the launch of the Europa Conference League. In addition, centralised media rights from the group stages, using experienced venue directors and broadcast managers will bring organisation to the next level. More money from TV and sponsorship will help the clubs develop their facilities and professionalism, and I would like to see female players earn more money in their careers. That takes time but I hope it can happen, because women work just as hard as male players and dedicate themselves to their careers just as much.”
Jessica Carmikli: ‘I’ve shown women you can still be a mother and play professional sport!’
Becoming a mother has not prevented Jessica Carmikli from enjoying success on the field
A ‘Soccer Mom’ in the truest sense of the word, American-born Jessica Carmikli combines a professional playing career at Beşiktaş in Turkey with raising her two young children. Having originally stepped away from the game following a move to Europe, she has since twice returned to action following pregnancy, winning an international cap with Turkey. She also works as a communications coordinator at Beşiktaş and is committed to focusing her post-playing career on further developing the women’s game.
After moving to Europe with Spanish and Russian teams, you originally stopped playing in your mid-20s, at what should have been the peak of your career…
“I grew up playing in the USA, where women’s football development was very established. I didn’t realise how fortunate I was until I came to Europe in 2009 – it frustrated and angered me to see some of the conditions that women were exposed to when playing. I was devastated that I wasn’t able to play football and earn a living like I had been in the US, so for six years I worked as an English teacher and in sports management with tennis organisations. Things are going much better now, and when more big men’s clubs get involved, we’re going to see a big difference. A lot say, ‘we support women and we believe in equality’, but if you don’t have a women’s team at this point, I think you’re falling short.”
You joined Beşiktaş in 2016 and have had two children since. It must have been an incredible journey?
“Somewhere inside I always knew I would step back onto the field, and I’ve been lucky that my two kids have grown up as part of the team. In Turkey, the stereotype for new mothers is that you stay home and leave your career. I’ve been able to show women that you can still be a mother and play professional sport if you have the right support. To see my team-mates talking about how they want children and to be like me makes me tear up, and it’s great that I’m no longer the only mother on the team. To start playing again after giving birth, I had a motivation to prove people wrong and I knew if I worked hard, I could do this. After giving birth to my second child, I managed to be back on the pitch in three months, but there shouldn’t be any limits imposed on individuals because every woman, every pregnancy is different.”
Is the game starting to show more tailored support for female players and teams, and how do you see this continuing?
“I’ve been lucky that Beşiktaş has given me my own room for away matches, instead of sharing, allowing me to take care of the children and allowing our nanny to travel too. Things like this are reassuring and motivate you to come back to the game. The new UWCL regulations will also help because it ensures clubs are protected when a player becomes pregnant, and that player doesn’t need to rush back because it’s physically and psychologically challenging. It will be a united effort but teamwork like this is what football is all about.”