In a year during which the German men's national team failed to capture the wider imagination of the German public, the Bundesrepublik's preeminent footballing publication has selected Alexandra Popp as the country's "Footballing Personality of the Year".
Few hitting the newsstands on Thursday morning were surprised to see the 31-year-old receive this year's honor. Popp's incredible performance in this summer's tournament captured the hearts of the German people. Her drive, determination, and resilience during the competition was considered to be an exemplary boost for German football. Popp scored in all six tournament matches in which she appeared. She netted an iconic brace in the 2-0 semi-final victory over France.
Popp is by no means an unfamiliar face to German football lovers. From the moment she first emerged on the international scene in 2010, her status as one of the country's best-ever footballing talents appeared clear. Popp guided the women's national team to Olympic Gold in 2016 Despite her contributions for country (61 goals in 124 caps), Popp wasn't able to celebrate the women's lone major international victory (the 2013 European Championship) because of injury. She missed the 2017 Euros as well.
In many respects, Popp's comeback story in this summer's Euros was emblematic of that which the German women themselves were hoping to accomplish. After winning the 2007 World Championship, the team failed to progress to the World Cup Final in 2011, 2015, and 2019. The once undisputed "Queens of Europe" (six straight European Championships) found themselves dethroned by the Dutch in 2017. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's "Nationally" entered the 2022 completion seeking their first FIFA championship in nine years.
Popp actually looked destined to miss out on her third consecutive Euros after suffering an ACL tear in April of 2021. Her return to the starting XI at the beginning of the tournament seemed questionable. Popp was nevertheless able to register a tally off the bench in the opening group stage fixture against Denmark. A positive COVID test for starting center-forward Lea Schüller enabled Popp to return to the XI in the second match.
Popp sent the team through to the knockouts with a fabulous goal against Spain, famously doing Schüller's tricot after the full-time whistle. She scored again in the final group stage match against Finland and again in the quarterfinal victory over rivals Austria. Her brace in the semi-final win over France featured two goals of absolutely stunning technical quality and produced more iconic goal-celebration images.
Forced to miss out on the final due to a thigh-injury, Popp couldn't help fighting back tears on the silver-medalists-podium. Her personal attempts at a comeback, just like that of the German women's national team program, had come up agonizingly short of the ultimate goal. The veteran did all that she could to literally carry the team and the country on her shoulders.
"The European Championship experience still gives me goosebumps," Popp noted in her extended interview with Kicker, "but I also feel a bit melancholic because I lost the European Championship Final. But that's part of it."
Popp was characteristically modest about receiving the honor.
"When I heard that I had been named 'Personality of the Year', I asked myself: What did I do?," Popp noted, "I just played football as was myself. I only wish to remain authentic."
When it comes to the higher profile that women's football now enjoys in the Bundesrepublik after the latest tournament, it would be insane that it would have been possible without Popp.
Attendance figures for women's fixtures, admittedly still low compared to locales such as England and the USA, more than doubled this past autumn. TV ratings for the Women's Euro Final still exceed that generated by the men's team in the recent World Cup. Women's Champions League fixtures, in many footballing circles, generated more interest than the Qatari tournament.
A newly negotiated TV rights package set to begin next season will accord FrauenBundesliga clubs a cumulative total of €5.17 per season. This constitute sixteen-fold increase from the previous deal.
When it came to the quest to elevate her game within the country, Popp kept her objectives simple and essentially inferred that putting a quality product on the pitch meant far more than making grandiose statements.
"I'm aware that, as captain of the national team, my voice carries a certain weight," Popp said, "But I'm also aware that too much and too loud is also not always the right thing."
For Popp, the goal remains to ensure that all women playing as German top-flight professionals can earn their living solely from football. Improvements in playing/training facilities, more money for youth development, and a women's league that can operate in the black also remained reasonable ambitions for the new calendar year.
"My hopes for women's Bundesliga clubs is that improvements can help lay a foundation," Popp told the magazine, "and that conditions become more professional so that we can talk about turning a profit in the next step. Then, the league will get even better."