Germany captain Alexandra Popp has been voted Kicker magazine’s ‘Personality of the Year’ – the first woman to win the award. The 31-year-old striker has been praised for her exploits both on and off the pitch.
The list of previous winners of Kicker magazine’s “Personality of the Year” award is 32 names long.
From Robert Lewandowski to Bastian Schweinsteiger to Oliver Kahn, many reflect outstanding individual performances on the pitch in any given year. Others, such as Franz Beckenbauer, Joachim Löw and Jürgen Klopp, appear more than once in recognition of particular organizational or coaching achievements. All are illustrious. And all are male. Until now.
The 33rd winner of the pre-eminent German football publication’s annual award is Alexandra Popp: Germany and Wolfsburg captain, seven-time Bundesliga champion, 11-time German Cup winner, double Champions League winner and Olympic gold-medallist.
In 2022, the 31-year-old won a fifth domestic league and cup double with Wolfsburg and dramatically recovered from a knee injury to lead Germany to the final of the European Championships in England.
Popp: ‘I’ve just been being myself’
But Kicker‘s award honors more than just footballing achievement; it’s about recognizing “a personality who has left an outstanding and inspirational mark on German football through their performance and attitude” including “having an authentic and authoritative opinion on topics across the sport and beyond.”
From her dramatic – and tragic – role in Germany’s Euro 2022 campaign to her participation in the public debate over equal pay and the professionalization of the women’s game, Popp ticks all the boxes – not that she herself considers that to be extraordinary.
“When I heard that I’d been voted Personality of the Year, I asked myself: what have I done? I’ve been playing football and just being myself,” she told Kicker in an in-depth interview on Thursday.
Not that Popp was playing much football at the start of 2022, as she continued to recover from a knee cartilage tear suffered in April 2021, her participation in a European Championship once again in doubt having already missed the 2017 tournament through injury.
“The best thing wasn’t that I was finally able to play at the Euros, but that I could play at all,” she says, looking back. “Being able to experience those moments, fighting my way back to fitness and having the trust of the coach, that was the icing on the cake.”
Germany head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg has known Popp since she was 15 and first coached her when she was just 17 at FCR Duisburg.
“Even back then, she had qualities which no other player had: Poppi leads from the front, challenging for every ball, even in training, and always leaves her heart on the pitch,” she writes in Kicker. “But 2022 has been a particularly special year. She couldn’t be certain of making the Euros, but then delivered a phenomenal tournament with her six goals and brilliant performances.”
Popp: ‘I felt I could do whatever I wanted and just score’
Even though she was cruelly ruled out of the final with a thigh strain just minutes before kick-off and had to watch Germany’s defeat to hosts England from the bench, she remained the unmistakable face of Germany’s campaign, scoring in every game.
“I wanted to show German football that I’m still here, because many had written me off,” she recalls. “I clicked into gear in the first game against Denmark [4-0] when I came off the bench and scored. I had a feeling of freedom, serenity and extreme emotionality, which was unusual for me but that’s why it worked so well.
“After the quarterfinal against Austria [2-0], I felt like I could do whatever I wanted and just score. I had that feeling after the tournament, too, and I still have it now.”
Popp already has eight goals to her name in the current Bundesliga season, with Wolfsburg five points clear at the top of the table at the midway stage. But, as both Voss-Tecklenburg and the voting journalists at Kicker have noted, the striker’s profile off the pitch is just as impressive.
‘Popp’s voice carries weight in German football’
“She symbolizes everything that has happened in women’s football in 2022 and the fantastic development it has undergone,” writes Voss-Tecklenburg, while Kicker editor-in-chief Jörg Jakob adds: “Combining strong opinions with an authentic, winning attitude, Alexandra Popp’s voice carries weight in German football.”
Greater weight, perhaps, even than that of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose tweeted demand for equal pay for both male and female internationals back in July received a more realistic and informed response from Popp.
Pointing out that women’s football brings in considerably less in sponsorship, broadcast deals and ticket sales, money from which national team premiums are paid, Popp instead focused on demanding the same professional conditions and quality of training pitches. The rest, she says, will follow.
“I’m aware that my voice as captain of the national team carries weight,” she reiterates, five months on. “But I’m also aware that too much and too loud isn’t always best.”
Nevertheless, Popp and her Germany teammates have more than played their part in the boom in women’s football in 2022 – which Popp herself also attributes to a certain disillusionment with the men’s game post-Corona, culminating in the widespread calls to boycott the Qatar World Cup and watch women’s football instead.
“I hope the club’s in the women’s Bundesliga can now take the next steps in terms of infrastructure and become more professional,” she says, looking ahead to 2023. “Then we can really talk of professionalization.”