You know, I was sitting on the couch watching the post-game celebration by the Germans after claiming the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup this morning via a 2-0 victory in which Nigeria fought well against a vastly superior team to keep it close after an eighth minute goal until a late own goal sealed it, and something hit me about this tournament, which I have watched over the past few weeks – my first time for any women’s youth tournament. The motivation on the pitch is for one thing – the team.
The German ladies celebrated with a joy and spirit that seemed different from the men’s game. And when teams have been eliminated, the sorrows have been all that more crushing, with the exception of what I saw from Nigeria, who appeared to fully comprehend their achievement, in perspective, of finishing runners-up in a close-fought affair. That heightened emotion is coming from a place inside that knows that this may be it, because typically only a select few from the youth ranks advance to the national team.
So what is different? MONEY – the one thing that was absent from the tournament that I had not realized until those howls of exhilaration in Germany came across the television screen was the constant talk of potential multi-million dollar contracts and transfer fees - for kids mind you - that inevitably inundate the broadcasts and discussion of men’s youth national team tournaments. Sure, a number of these ladies will have opportunities to play professionally in Europe or North America, but with the level of money in the women’s professional game being so minute in comparison to the men’s, it does not even register as an afterthought in a player’s mind.
Unlike their male counterparts, there is no dual motivation out there on the pitch – a situation that often places the good of the team in competition with the good of the player who is looking to impress and maximize that almighty pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for himself. If their team comes up short in the men’s tournament, so be it – the teenager is off to London, Barcelona or Milan, where they slip into a posh six-figure sports car and cruise to their million-dollar abode. For the ladies, it’s a bus-ride to the team facility where they carpool in a used vehicle to an apartment they share with a couple other players on the team, wondering what they need to do next to ensure some kind of career on, or most likely, off the field that will be good enough for them to get by.