If you ask Austria and Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger what makes the women’s game special, she will tell you “honest football.”
“You can see the true passion that the female athletes have in pursuing the career that they love,” Zinsberger told the Times of Malta.
Between 2019 and 2022, there has been exponential growth in the game thanks to the boost injected by two major tournaments – the 2019 World Cup in France and the European Championships held in England, last summer.
This exposure helped to raise the profiles of a lot of women footballers who are now popular across the globe.
Consequently, this has allowed the female players to be vocal on several issues that concern both their game and the social community.
For them, this is a responsibility to stand up and make sure their voices are heard so that the future generation of female footballers can benefit from these battles.
“As women footballers, we are used to have to raise our voice to achieve something unlike what happens in the men’s game where it is easier for them to change things whenever there is a complaint,” Zinsberger said.
Earlier this year, a Women’s Super League match (WSL) between Chelsea and Liverpool was abandoned after just six minutes due to a frozen pitch with the league getting the heat on whether the current equipment used to help unfreeze pitches in the WSL is good enough.
This was just one of the constant hurdles that female players have to overcome in their careers, even in the modern era where it seems that women’s football is finally getting more recognition.
“We always need to fight and not just on one occasion, but we need to have four, five, six and seven fights before we actually reach our goal,” Zinsberger said.
“In general, if a male player in the Premier League would draw attention about a particular issue, that would blow up and go viral, therefore an action has to be taken in some way or another.
“In our case, we have to continue to fight while trying to influence what we have control on together with our teammates and coaching staff.”
“That is why we want to raise our voices as much as possible – to be heard, in this case, to get Austrian football, club and national team, on another level.”
Laura Wienroither, Zinsberger’s teammate at Austria and WSL club Arsenal, echoed her colleague’s thoughts.
“Women had to fight for a lot of things throughout history so I believe that is why they are the ones that are more likely to be vocal on a variety of stuff,” she said.
“We all know why we step on the pitch, because we love this sport, and therefore we want to influence society with the values that we transmit through the Beautiful Game.”
Showcasing their skills on big stadia such as the Emirates Stadium and Stamford Bridge helps these players to engage more with the general audience.
The WSL has become one of the leading championships in the women’s game, both on and off the field. The landmark agreements with media houses and the increase in attendances reflect the quality product that is being produced on the playing field by the players.
“You can see how much they want to push the women’s game in England,” Wienroither pointed out.
“Football-wise, the quality in England is even better than in Germany because here you have so many traditional clubs that have embarked in the women’s game in a professional manner.
Every game is a difficult one, making this league competitive and exciting, and this is because there are some of the best players in the world who are plying their trade in England.”
The UEFA Women’s Champions League is following suit with several games in the group stages being hosted at the men’s team venues. This will continue in the knockout stages as well with Arsenal set to face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.
For both Zinsberger and Wienroither, this will be a return to familiar surroundings. The 27-year-old goalkeeper was on the books of the Bavarians before heading to North London whereas the 24-year-old defender swapped the German Bundesliga for the WSL just last year, after a spell at Hoffenheim.
The Austrian pair is eager to don the colours of Arsenal in such a big game, with both players heaping praise on the English club for the professional environment they have set up in both men’s and women’s departments.
“It may sound weird because I just have been one year there, but I already feel at home,” Wienroither admitted.
“It is like a family because there is a collective identity and we know that we can rely on each other. I think that reflects our positive results on the field as well.”
Wienroither also explained how being at Arsenal has helped her improve as a player as the English game forces her to be physical, take quicker decisions and adopt a stronger mentality – all aspects that allow her to flourish when she steps in even bigger stages like the Champions League or at international level with Austria.
For Zinsberger, being part of the Arsenal community means representing a traditional club with a huge, passionate fanbase.
“It was mind-blowing to play at the Emirates Stadium in front of over 40,000 people and this means that this club is in the right direction.”
She highlighted that at Arsenal they have everything they need from recreational areas, their own dressing rooms, medical staff, and technical staff.
Speaking about the importance of having a specific technical staff, Zinsberger – WSL Golden Glove winner in 2021-22 – linked this aspect to the improvement in women’s goalkeeping in recent years.
“The more coaches there are and the more professionalism there is in a club, that will help goalkeepers to improve,” she said.
“Goalkeepers have outgrown their position and they are now not only needed for preventing goals, but to be an integral part of team play.
“At the same time, having full-time goalkeepers’ coaches helps as well because that allows you to spend more time training on the field, training in the gym and do video analysis which contribute to the overall improvement.”
Zinsberger and Wienroither are currently in Malta with the Austrian women’s national team for a training camp which includes two friendly matches against the Netherlands.
Austria, coached by Irene Fuhrmann, were one of the most impressive sides during last summer’s European Championships, managing to advance from their group which included England, Norway and Northern Ireland.
However, they failed to capitalise on their improvement and qualify to this year’s World Cup after losing narrowly to Scotland in the play-offs.
“It is a big disappointment for us not making it to the World Cup, but there is plenty of potential in this team,” Wienroither explained.
“In the European Championships, we showed that we can be competitive even against the best teams, also thanks to the balance that we have between experienced and young players.
“We are all upbeat our chances of improving and we are looking forward to launch our Nations League campaign as well.”
Asked about how their solid displays in England helped improve the women’s game coverage back in Austria, Wienroither admitted that the Euros were an opportunity for them to be role models for younger girls and that it is now important to keep pushing and make this product more visible to everyone.
While Zinsberger is visiting Malta for the first time, Wienroither has already been here for the 2021 VisitMalta Tournament when Austria met Sweden and Slovakia.
Both players are pleased with the environment and surroundings that Malta has offered them so far, deeming them as important to stay focused on their training camp with Austria.
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