Silvia Neid’s tenure as head coach of the Germany women’s national team could not have ended on a more triumphant note. The 52-year-old led the side to victory over Sweden in the final of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, earning Germany’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s football. On Monday 9 January she was honoured for her achievements by being named The Best FIFA Women’s Coach for 2016 at a ceremony in Switzerland.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Walldürn native looked back on an incredible year, an unforgettable Olympic success and new challenges.
FIFA.com: You won the award for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach in 2016. How do you feel?
Silvia Neid: It’s a huge honour for me to win this award again. It feels somehow like the icing on the cake. We won gold in Rio and now this tops it off. I’m just really happy and it was a lovely evening here.
You enjoyed the perfect send-off as Germany coach with that victory at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. What will you miss about the job?
I had a long time to prepare myself for not being Germany coach anymore once the Olympics had finished. I think I'll miss the feeling of singing the national anthem in the stadium, and by that I mean being out on the pitch with my team. [But] I’ve now experienced singing the anthem from the stands and I enjoyed it. I experienced a lot in my career as Germany coach. We had a great time, enjoyed some brilliant moments and won some hard-fought trophies. They’re all great memories, but I’m happy with things as they are now.
When during the Olympics did you realise that you and the team could achieve something great?
At the start of the tournament we struggled to get into our rhythm, but once we’d beaten China PR 1-0 in the quarter-finals, I knew we were back to our best. I knew then that winning the gold medal was a possibility.
After the final, you said the victory topped everything you’d achieved in your career. What makes winning gold at the Olympics so special?
Lots of things. For one, it was the first time Germany’s women’s team had won an Olympic gold; secondly because I’d said that we were heading to Brazil to win the tournament; thirdly that we managed to do it; and fourth, that winning a medal like that is an achievement that stays with you for life. I notice it even now, when I meet up with the team or the people behind the scenes. There’s a special connection between us and it will be like that for the rest of our lives.
Alongside winning the trophy, what was the best moment of the tournament for you?
I’d say that the final took place in the Maracana, and that after the game, we could stand there and take in the fact that we’d won gold. I really enjoyed that feeling. What was also fantastic was walking over to our fans on the other side of the stadium. A lot of my friends were there and a lot of selfies were taken! I’ll certainly never forget that.
After the final whistle, you all celebrated back in the dressing room. What goodbye gift did the team present you with?
We certainly did celebrate! What I really found touching was how, as a team and a whole group, we shared so much time together. The players made a film for us where they played themselves and showed how I’d changed as a coach. It wasn’t just about me; it was also about Ulrike Ballweg, Doris Fitschen, Michael Fuchs – everyone who was leaving the team. There was just a really nice atmosphere in the room. We sat on the floor and there were some great speeches. It was a fantastic time, and another moment that I’ll never forget.
In your view, how has the art of coaching changed?
These days you now have a lot more specialists with you, which is a good thing and an important development. The players train more, become faster and become better educated, both technically and tactically. We’re always trying to improve ourselves. As head coach you can’t do everything perfectly, so you need to have people around you whom you trust. You also need to manage the whole group, and with Germany that was at least 45-50 people. Preparing for the Olympics, we did a lot of hybrid training, which is a mix of physical and tactical exercises that you do in one session. That really helped us, and our players were at peak condition going into the tournament.
You now have a new role as a scout for Germany. What excites you about this job?
There are many things, such as keeping an eye out for things all the time. When you coach a team, you always look at how your own players are doing, whether they’re fit or whether they’re injured. Your thoughts are on your team all the time. Now I have more time to look at other teams. What are they doing over in the Netherlands, for example? What are teams doing in Sweden or the USA? I now have more time to devote to the football being played around me, in men’s football as well as women’s. I have a lot more input than before and I look out for new trends, or assess whether anything new is happening in the women’s game. I’ll continue to push those developments.
Throughout your career, you’ve answered hundreds of journalists’ questions. What question would you most like to have been asked?
Journalism is often black and white. I’d like to have had more questions along the lines of, “Why did you win that game?” or “Why did you decide to put so-and-so in the team?” I had questions like that on occasion from the best journalists, but fundamentally it was: win and everything is great, lose and everything is bad. I think that’s too simple.