Ask any number of passers-by in Germany for the name of a women's footballer and almost 100 per cent of them will reply, "Birgit Prinz". This exceptional striker has well and truly earned her status as a household name. While most players' careers go through fluctuations in fortune, Prinz has astounded observers for years with her consistency.
Prinz, who made her international debut as a 16-year-old in 1994, has accumulated a list of honours over the last 13 years that reads like a wish list for any aspiring women's footballer: FIFA Women's World Cup winner in 2003, runner up in 1995; Olympic Bronze medallist in 2000 and 2004; UEFA European Championship winner in 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2005; UEFA Cup winner in 2002 and 2006; German Championship winner in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007; German Cup winner in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007; and Super Cup winner in 1996.
And for the icing on the cake, she also won the American professional championship, the WUSA, in 2002 with Carolina Courage. The talismanic player, renowned for her speed, drive and clinical finishing, is missing just one thing from her trophy cabinet: Olympic gold. And anybody who knows the qualified physiotherapist will know that the 2008 tournament in Peking is already circled in bold on her calendar.
*Esteemed career * In 2005, the tall (1.79 metres) striker lifted the German championship with FFC Frankfurt before becoming a continental champion once again when her nation overcame Norway 3-1 in the final of the UEFA Women's European Championship England 2005 to add yet another title to her long list of successes.
Prinz also wrote a piece of German football history that year, surpassing Heidi Mohr's all-time national scoring record of 83 goals. With 90 goals from 143 games, Prinz has smashed the old record in a relatively short space of time. She closed 2005 by receiving her third FIFA World Player Award in a row. Prinz and her club, Frankfurt, were unsuccessful domestically in 2006, but a new record was added to her personal curriculum last October when she equalled Bettina Wiegmann's number of appearances for the Germany women's team.
The striker tasted success again in 2007 when she won the German league and cup titles. Prinz demonstrated on the last day of the league season that she will be more than ready for China 2007. She found the net four times in Frankfurt's 7-0 defeat of Brauweiler Pulheim - proof that she was back to the kind of form that earned her the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award on no fewer than three occasions.
As committed off the field
Even away from the football pitch, Prinz's performances are to be admired. She is currently working with FIFA in their campaign against racism. "All footballers have the opportunity to influence people. We can make a contribution towards eradicating racism in the world," she said.
In August 2005, she spent five days in Afghanistan as a patron of the 'Learn and Play Project' supported by FIFA, the National Olympic Committee and Afghanistan Aid. Prinz worked alongside Holger Obermann, who acts for FIFA and the German Football Association (DFB) in crisis-affected areas. "You only had to look at the children to know that it was the right thing to do," said Prinz of her Afghan experience.
However, the 29-year-old Prinz still has some sporting ambitions to fulfil and believes that she has not yet reached her full potential. While she insists that personal accolades are of secondary importance to her, she never tires of collecting the big prizes and is as hungry as ever for success at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. Yet even if Germany fall short in China, it seems likely that passers-by asked to name a women's footballer will still be uttering the name Birgit Prinz for years to come.