Amid the inevitable retirements to come out of this summer’s Women’s World Cup, there was one absolute stunner. True, while United States’ international Lauren Holiday’s announcement was, for some, premature (she’s only 27 year’s old), it had been rumored since early spring, when the National Women’s Soccer League season was about to start. The bigger surprise was similar news from someone who, internationally, is a slightly bigger star. Germany international Celia Sasic, also 27, was retiring to pursue life away from the field.
Today in Monaco, Sasic was honored with UEFA’s Best Player award for the 2014-15 season, with the real time vote from a select panel giving her the honor over Lyon’s Amandine Henry and former Frankfurt teammate Dzsenifer Maroszan. Having led both her league and European competition in goals last season, Sasic’s award was certainly deserved, but it also served as a reminder of the immense talent the women’s game has lost.
Sasic is coming off a dominant Champions League in which her 14 goals in eight games helped lead Frankfurt to their fourth European title. Combined with her league-leading 22 goals in the Frauen Bundesliga, Sasic was a favorite for UEFA’s award, having potentially distinguished herself as the best striker in the world. Two years into a three-year deal with Frankfurt, Sasic seemed poised to continue her run as one of the world’s elites.
But in May, Sasic exercised an out clause in her contract. Rumors linked her with a potential payday outside of Germany, perhaps with Chelsea in England’s Women’s Super League. To everyone’s surprise, though, Sasic declined to cash in on the Golden Boot she won at Canada 2015. Instead, in the prime of her career, she walked away from the game.
Though it’s rare, we’ve seen great players do this before, the most obvious example of which is basketball great Michael Jordan. Jordan, Sasic certainly is not, nor is she leaving the game because of the type of on-field, off-field complexities that drove Jordan to the baseball diamond. She wasn’t leaving because of any malice, misgivings or lack of professional opportunities, and unlike stars we see in other sports, she wasn’t making a decision in the face of risks on the field. Thankfully, unlike many women’s professional players, there was no indication money was an issue.
Sasic was merely making a life choice, one that’s rarely as compelling for those operating at the higher profile levels of the game. She’s merely moving on, with the rest of what life has to offer now more compelling than soccer.
From this summer’s retirement announcement:
“I was allowed to play in the Women’s Bundesliga for eleven years, experienced unforgettable moments with the Women’s national team for ten and a half years and was part of an unbelievable development, and that makes me proud. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to begin a new chapter in my life and call time on my professional football career.”
“I’m now looking forward to a range of new things in my life,” she said. “I want to finish my studies, sort out my career path, start a family and a lot more.”
For many Americans — those that become engrossed in women’s soccer when the World Cup resurfaces — this summer was their first real introduction to Sasic. Or, perhaps it was a reminder of a player they only scarcely saw four years before, as a 22-year-old. Unfortunately for those viewers, this summer’s lasting memory of Sasic may be her pulling a penalty kick wide against the United States in the semifinals, turning what looked to be a sure 1-0 second half lead into a chance for the Americans to move on.
That, however, is not how most women’s soccer fans will remember the former Celia Okoyino da Mbabi. They will remember her as a player who, over these last six years of her peak, scored 95 goals in 117 Bundesliga appearances. They’ll remember her as Germany’s best player 2012 and a back-to-back Bundesliga leading scorer. They’ll remember her as a Bundesliga, Champions League, and European Championships winner. They’ll remember her as a player who, when she walked away, may have done so as the standard at her position.
The next Frauen Bundesliga begins on Friday, with heavyweights Bayern Munchen and Turbine Potsdam playing what’s potentially one of the season’s most important games. But the league will also start without one of Germany’s best players signed on – a player who, technically, is not a player anymore at all.
Despite years left in a career which had already accumulated 111 international appearances and 63 goals, Sasic is done. And for all the brilliance she gave in her decade-plus on the field — her sniper’s awareness; her beguiling perceptiveness; the impact she had, even when her team lacked the ball — today’s award was a timely reminder: For most of us, she’s left the game too soon.
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