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Women’s EURO 2022: Zadrazil’s pride at Austria’s growth

Sarah Zadrazil is one of Austria’s star players, but her talent and influence go far beyond the pitch.

UEFA via Getty Images

Rewind five years to UEFA Women’s EURO 2017, where one of the surprise packages was an Austrian side making their tournament debut, eventually reaching the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Denmark.

"Our main takeaway was that everything is possible, that we can achieve a lot as a team," says Zadrazil, a leading light of that team, "but I think that this year is going to be a completely new situation, it’s a whole different tournament and we’re starting with a blank slate."

That success should not come as a total surprise. In 2011, with funding from the UEFA HatTrick programme, the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) opened a women’s football academy, allowing 14-19-year-old girls the chance to combine full-time training with continued studies.

The result of that investment has seen more than 80 graduates of the scheme playing in either Europe’s top leagues or the Austrian national team.

"The quality of women’s football in general has improved, the teams have made progress, and that includes us," Zadrazil explains.

"A lot has been achieved in the past few years in Austria, and you can also see the effect of it in the national team. A lot of young talent is moving up to help strengthen the squad and there is a bit of a rivalry due to the size of the squad we’ve now got.

"Also, in more general terms, the quality of football in Austria has improved. On the one hand, this was achieved by the academy that we established, but on the other hand it’s also due to the fact that more and more girls are wanting to join the sport."

Developing football in Austria

Encouraging the next generation

Zadrazil started playing football when she was five, inspired by her big brother and coached by her father. At the time, it was hard to find a strong female role model to follow for a budding young female footballer.

Almost 25 years later, she is one of European football’s most recognisable women, a mainstay in the FC Bayern Frauen and Austria midfields and herself a central figure in UEFA’s #WePlayStrong campaign, which is aimed at transforming the perceptions of women’s football and encouraging girls to take up and continue playing the game.

We Play Strong's inspiring TV ad for girls

For Zadrazil, the role is a point of pride as she takes football to the next generation of players and fans through a series of entertaining photos and videos on #WePlayStrong social media channels.

"To me, being a #WePlayStrong ambassador means we can be role models for young girls and give them an insight into our daily lives," explains the 29-year-old. "I think that's important because that has never existed before in that form. That's why I try to be as approachable as possible, and I really enjoy it.

"I remember when I was little, we didn’t have that kind of access to the sport yet. That’s why it is so important for people like us or like me to become accessible to young girls.

"It makes me feel proud to set an example for many who then say that they also want to play football professionally one day, so I am aware of the effect, it is an amazing task and I hope I can live up to the expectations of the role."

Preparing for the future

As well as being an international midfielder and social media influencer, Zadrazil is also a qualified teacher, sports science graduate and coaching student, who this summer also helped organise her own football camp for budding players in Austria.

She has plenty of time left at the top, but speaking after the training camp, it is clear Zadrazil is already thinking of what will follow her playing career, and she is eager to stay within the game.

"I can see myself in this role once my playing career has ended, passing on the joy of the sport," she says. "You need to think about what comes next – I think this is very important in general in women’s football.

"I have various options: I completed vocational training to be a kindergarten teacher, I am now working towards getting a coaching licence, I have a bachelor’s degree in sports science. I want to keep working in the football industry, especially in the women’s football field."

Participants on the UEFA women's football coaching mentor programme
Participants on the UEFA women's football coaching mentor programme©UEFA

There are now far more opportunities to stay in the game than ever before.

As part of its ongoing strategy for women’s football, Time For Action, UEFA is committed to increasing the number and raising the quality of female coaches in Europe, in recent years introducing the C licence for grassroots coaches and creating a mentor programme for up-and-coming young coaches.

If coaching is not the path, then through the UEFA Academy, European football’s governing body has invested significantly in developing educational courses for current and former players to transition into a second career – be it as a scout, media expert, sporting director or other senior executive, with the Women in Football Leadership Programme dedicated exclusively to female participants.

For now though, all that matters to Zadrazil is UEFA Women’s EURO 2022.

"I just want to start the tournament and hope to be able to enjoy it," she says. "I think it is going to be very special for all of us and believe that a lot is possible."

Full details: UEFA Women's EURO 2022