Former FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Homare Sawa is putting an end to her unrivaled career with “no regrets,” the Japan midfielder saying Thursday she is retiring at season’s end because she has nothing more to give.
“I’ve never made a bigger decision in my life, but I’ve had the greatest career anyone could ask for,” the 37-year-old Sawa said, explaining her retirement announced a day earlier.
“During the World Cup, I felt I’d given the game everything I had. In the year I was away from the national team, I felt it was getting harder and harder to play the way I wanted to at the highest level. It was a struggle physically as well as mentally.”
“I still have three Empress’ Cup games left as Homare Sawa the footballer, so I hope to give it everything I’ve got for one last time.”
The MVP and top scorer of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, which she helped Japan lift as captain, Sawa will walk away from the game with 205 caps and 83 goals after making her national team debut at the age of 15 while she was still in junior high school.
Sawa also led her country to a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and played in a record six successive World Cups, including this summer’s tournament in Canada, where Japan lost to the United States in the final.
The Tokyo native married in August, but denied it had anything to do with her decision to hang up her boots and did not say she is pregnant.
“The marriage had no bearing on this decision. I would have made the decision I made even if I wasn’t married,” said Sawa, who received the FIFA player of the year honor in 2011. “If anything, my husband helped me get through the past year and prolonged my career.”
“When I thought about next season, I asked myself over and over and I just felt that I’ve done everything I can. Preparing yourself physically and mentally at the top level, it’s far more difficult than anyone can imagine.”
The most decorated footballer in Asia, Sawa is already being sought after for various jobs even ahead of what could be her last game on Dec. 19, when INAC Kobe Leonessa face AS Saitama in the Empress’ Cup quarterfinals.
The media wants her as an analyst, the Japan Football Association as head of the 2023 Women’s World Cup bid and organizing committee and a report has the Liberal Democratic Party wanting her to run for the ruling party one day.
Sawa, though, said she has not decided on anything post-retirement, including a career in coaching.
“After the Empress’ Cup I want to take a little bit of time off. I like working with kids and I want to help spread the women’s game around the country,” she said. “During my career, I didn’t think coaching was for me but now that I’ve decided to retire, it’s something I’ll consider.
“I haven’t decided what I want to do in the future. Right now, I’m only thankful for all the support I received throughout my career.”
Sawa described her equalizer in the 2011 World Cup final with Japan down 2-1 as the most memorable goal of her career, and added winning that tournament changed everything for Japanese women’s soccer.
“The day we won the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany is the day women’s football forever changed in Japan,” she said. “Not only for me, but it’s a day none of us can forget.”
“When we won the World Cup, everything surrounding the women’s game — the fans, sponsors, popularity — went from night to day.”
Sawa also paid tribute to Abby Wambach, the U.S. striker whose career ran parallel with Sawa’s and happened to end on Wednesday.
“Abby is both a great friend and rival,” Sawa said. “As fate would have it, we’re retiring at the same time and we’ll always have some kind of a connection.”
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