Interview with Caroline Jönsson: “Men would be more successful if they had a dual career”
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If you had to describe yourself and answer the question „Who are you?“, what would be your answer ten years ago, five years ago and today?
Jönsson: I think it would be pretty similar, actually, no matter the year. I’m curious as a person and I’m also very into justice. So I get pretty upset when I don’t think things are fair. It doesn’t matter if it’s on or off the field. And persistent, stubborn. I like people. I really do like people. So this is how I would describe me and then I went through six years of education of psychology and I would still describe me like that. I still love football, but I have never seen it as just the game on the field. I’ve always seen it as a very good education for life. Basically, I have been interested in the surroundings to football. Also when I played as a player. I got to learn about administration, organization development, of grassroot, the legal system and so on — even when I played. I think it’s a perfect way to learn about life if you are a little bit more interested in more than just the game.
Was it like that from the beginning? So from the very start of being a professional football player you already were interested into the type of organizational stuff behind the scenes?
Jönsson: Yes. Actually, I think it’s also a little bit because I came from a very small club and everybody needed to help out. In my early years, I understood that somebody needs to do the work and who is doing it and why they are doing it and for what reason and so on. So yes, from the start I think I have been very interested in that.
Would you say that starting playing football at Malmö was that the first professional contract you had or wouldn’t you call that professional at that year? When did your footballing career really hit of?
Jönsson: Yes, I would for sure say that would be the first professional contract. I actually played a year without, or two years without a contract. But then, the first contract we signed was an exact copy of a male contract. So we had a lot of obligations, of course, but no money, pretty much. It was an interesting contract.
How can that be the same contract?
Jönsson: Exactly, that’s a good question, right? We had all the obligations and we needed to attend everything the same way the male did — and I mean in many ways that was good, it was a very professional contract. But the gain for us — that would be probably the most of the time: the money — wasn’t there. But it was a good, interesting way also to get to know about how you write contracts and how a professional contract looks like. In that aspect, it was a good chance for me as well to get to know that side of football.
How did you go about signing football contracts afterwards?
Jönsson: I always looked at the teams. What do we need? In my contracts I also tried to get good things for the team. Sometimes that was easier to negotiate about than actual money. So solutions, or problems or gears we needed or insurance we needed or things like that. Especially, when it didn’t matter that much when it comes to financial benefits. The salary was so low anyway so it was better to do something for the team than have another extra hundred Euros in the contract. Because you still needed to work and you still had to have an income from somewhere else in the beginning of the contracts. For me at least.
Did that change throughout the years or is it still like that in Sweden?
I’m asking because the Swedish league throughout the last twenty years seems to attract a lot of international players and I always supposed they would come also because they could do a professional football career over there.
Jönsson: Well, it’s very diverse. We still have players — especially the young players at some clubs — who pretty much don’t make any money. They need to work, they still need to have the responsibility of some other formal income, but we also have players earning a lot of money. So the diversity in salaries has been growing rapidly under these last fifteen years. At the end of my career I could live by just playing, for sure. That was really a good progress for me over the years I’ve been playing. But the average salary is around 1.100, 1.200, 1.300 Euros — somewhere around that. That means there is a lot of players earning more, of course, but also that there is a lot of players earning less. So still, there is a gap in the salaries and still players can’t just play football in Damallsvenskan — which I think is too bad. But we are working on it and hopefully we will get more and more players that can actually train the amount of time and hours that the body physically can endure and also have the time to do rehab and relaxation in between training and games. I’m hoping that the quality of the Damallsvenskan will rise even more when we have that ability for all our players not just maybe like it’s now 55 or 60 per cent.
If you talk about the balance and relaxation and training and also having a job on the side, could you walk us through a typical day that you would have? Like organizing practice and work and what you did on the side to earn the rent and all?
Jönsson: It was a little bit different in the beginning. I went to school, Gymnasium, got some help from my parents, but also worked in a grocery store, extra hours. I trained early in the mornings with the school and then I trained at night with the club. Then it changed. I started to work full time. I tried a lot of different things, but basically my hours were 7 to 4. In the beginning in 1999, I started to train in the mornings. So I trained at 6:30 a.m. and then we trained again at 5 p.m. So we had to work in between there.
In the morning, was that your personal training or did you meet up with the team already then and you had two sessions?
Jönsson: Yes, with the team. Not all players of the team, but some players of the team. Then the Swedish Olympics Committee went in and they paid actually for the lost hour of work. So you had to hurry to work. But instead of being there 7 o’clock you were there at 8:30. They paid this one and a half hour salary.
To the employers?
Jönsson: To me.
Jönsson: The employers didn’t pay for the hours I wasn’t there, so the Swedish Olympics Committee paid me for the time I didn’t get reimbursed from my work.
Did you have to figure out a deal like that on your own or was that offered to several players generally?
Jönsson: That was offered to several players when we qualified for the Olympics in Sydney. That was actually the first time we got paid to train in the mornings. And that was the National Team players. From there it went. Still today actually the Swedish Olympics Committee helps players to get some form of scholarship, we call it. It’s a financial benefit that we can get. As long as we qualify for the Olympics we have a chance to get this money so we can train more.
For several games with the National Team different players are called up, coaches try out new players. Does the payment continue even if you are not called up some time or does that always depend?
Jönsson: It’s decided for a year, so it’s a cycle. You get this for a year and then hopefully you’ll get it next year and so on. The players of course have been altering throughout the years, but the association wanted to have less money for more players — because we never know about injuries and so on — instead of more money for fewer players. That is normally the way they try to support sports with the Swedish Olympics Committee. That was really a good move I think from the association to have more players with less money.
That’s kind of the opposite of the situation within the league where you say you have that big diversity of some people earning lots of money and many who don’t.
Jönsson: Yes, it’s a little bit the normal system in football. If you look at the men’s side it’s the same. They have some players earning a tremendous amount of money and some players that only earn pretty much a little bit more than an average salary. Just that in women’s football that is the lowest threshold is so low that you can’t just play football. And then of course we have the international players that come from outside of Europe. They need to earn around 1.600-1.700 Euros a month. So those players need to earn at least that and can only live on playing. Even if it’s not too much money, but most of them go by with that amount of money.
What would you say besides being able to be a professional player in Sweden, what else attracts so many internationals to come to Sweden and play there?
Jönsson: First of all I think the quality of the league has been really good throughout these twenty years we are talking about. We have a constant league with constant teams. It’s a very secure system. And you know you will have your contract for the whole year. So if you get a contract with a Swedish club you will have it until it ends if you don’t choose otherwise. I think that is a security for many players to have. Then the amount of games. We have a lot of games throughout the season. You could play the whole year pretty much. You only have three or four weeks of vacation and then you play. I think that’s also something that many players think is good.
How many game days are there?
Jönsson: We only play 22 games in the league but we play cups and then we also have a long pre-season. So our pre-season starts in — most of the time — with the beginning of January and the league usually starts around beginning or mid-April. So there is a long pre-season, as well. The league usually ends in November somewhere, then you have vacation and then you start again. So it’s also a way for players to play the whole year around. Then of course, the quality of the league. We have had many international good players for many, many years. So it has also been a very, very good quality of the league. Most of the time you come and you feel like you get a good quality in trainings, but also in the games. So it’s developing to come to play football in Sweden.
You have also played in the United States for one or two years — I think it was one year.
What would your comparison be. What are the similarities and the differences between the Swedish and the U.S. American league — the WPS back then?
Jönsson: I think the big difference was with the contract situation. Here [in the U.S.] you didn’t know if you would lose or gain a player next week or next training. And for me that was a shock actually to not be able to have the same team the whole season. Because in Sweden, so many things build on the team as a group. And you build, and you build, and you build and eventually the team is really good together. [In the U.S.,] we got some players coming in and out of the team — that was very new for me. That’s, of course, a big difference. Tactically, I think in Sweden we put a lot of emphasis on tactics and that everybody understands everybody else’s roles and we discuss and talk a lot about the game and decision-making. We were very included in the tactics in general. It was also a little bit different in America I think altogether.
With the inclusion or with the tactical emphasis in general?
Jönsson: I think actually on the knowledge side altogether. Because if you from when you are a kid get involved in the tactical system, as well, and normally you are used to be able to have an opinion and talk about or discuss, then you will have a high basic knowledge of tactics and you are expected to have something to say when we talk about situations or games. But [in the U.S.] it was a little bit more hierarchical. The coach decides a little bit more and I think that comes from the young age. I think in Sweden generally we are a little bit more tactically evolved.
The U.S. league and also the United States National Team supposedly is always very athletic, not so much focussed on tactics, but still they won the World Cup this year again. And they didn’t do it for the first time. So what are their strengths or what would you say are the strengths of the league over there or the entire U.S. approach?
Jönsson: As you say, they are very athletic. They have a lot of players to choose from. So there are many players on every position. But they also have a benefit in the national team to stay together for a long, long time. I think the national team in America is more like a European club team. They live together, they play a lot of games together, they discuss tactics, they watch movies and videos about the games. So I think the national team is more similar to a club team in Sweden, I would say in that aspect. And then of course the players will also be more tactically aware and have a good tactical knowledge base, because they get to train in that environment with the national team. So I think that’s also a reason why they are so good.
There was a lot of discussion about playing on turf throughout the World Cup. How is it in Sweden, in the Swedish league?
Jönsson: We have a lot of turf fields. More and more actually. So I think the question in Sweden to play on turf has also been going on for a long, long time. A lot of the clubs are not owning their own stadiums, so it’s mostly owned by the community or the town. And to be able to use that field more frequently, they want to have turf on it. So we are used to play on turf, but all the Swedish players chose grass every time we asked them, if it’s a good grass pitch. If the grass pitch is not a nice one, of course, everybody wants to play on turf. But all players, even in Sweden, would love to have a nice, well organized stadium with a grass pitch that is perfect. That’s the best way of playing football.
So even though you are used to it, you would prefer grass?
Jönsson: Yes. So many players are also — with their bodies — not able to play on turf as long as they can play on grass. I think that’s also a big issue to talk about. And it’s hard to make research about that. But all players that are a little bit older mostly, actually — but even the younger players — they feel such big difference between natural grass and turf and how the body reacts.
You mean the long-term effects on the body?
Jönsson: Yes, it’s very different from turf to natural grass. That’s the opinion of most players in Sweden as well that have been now playing on turf for a longer period of time, constantly, and how that affects their bodies.
Do you think that should be subject to studies and should be looked at?
Jönsson: Definitely. I’m wishing for long-term studies when it comes to that question. I think we will see shorter careers the more we play on turf.
It will be pretty hard to figure out what’s the factor that actually caused that. Since another argument could be, people develop quicker and play professionally at such a young age that maybe because of that they might not be able to play as long as ten or twenty years ago.
Jönsson: Yes, but I think of course that even if you would use that argument, still the career would be not as long as it supposedly could have been. So both arguments in this case would shorten the career of a player. I think if you look back ten, fifteen years, a lot of young players came out early to play on women’s games. So not just Birgit Prinz, more in her generation played early in the highest level when they were young. So I think we have had younger players playing professionally early even fifteen years ago.
I talked to Nora Holstad who plays at Bayern Munich […] and she said that coming from Norway she only started all the strength practice and training at the gym at the age of 23. So she said she probably would be even better if she started earlier and that in her country it wasn’t common at that early stage to be that well trained and professional, but that that also changes over the years.
Jönsson: I think it is similar in Sweden, of course. The professionalism of football has changed throughout the years, especially with the resources, as well. So you need to have a good strength and condition coach to be able to say, OK, when you are fifteen or twelve you should be able to do this and that might not include weights, but it includes body control and body balance. When you start to build on that when you are really early in your teenage with the right coach that knows what is important to think about when you are growing still as a player, then you can definitely for sure be a better player. But also in an early stage work on proactively taking away chances to get injured when you are older. But the resources to have that kind of strength and conditional coach when you are in a young age haven’t been that frequent in women’s football before. I think that’s also a good sign that comes more and more knowledge like that into women’s football at the younger age.
It seems to be pretty exciting years to follow women’s football, because there is still so much evolving and developing. Would you say that women’s soccer or football just follows the development that the men did with all its aspects as wages, marketing, and contracts and coverage in the media and live-coverage on TV. Would you say that’s kind of the same thing a bit smaller, a bit later or are there basic differences?
Jönsson: I think there are mostly similarities — for sure. What I’m hoping for is that we will learn from the mistakes the male have done considering some parts. I also think that they can learn from women’s football. Especially when it comes to education and dual careers. It gives your identity a wider depth and you need that when you are a player, as well. It will also give you a different stability and security as a person. And you never have to worry about, what am I going to do after I quit playing, because I still have this ability or this education or whatever it is. So I can still be a person of an income and I can still be a person that has something important to do every day even when I quit. But also throughout the career it’s important to have dual careers so you can actually feel that you are more than a football player. In many times that helps performance.
Would you say it’s a disadvantage for men’s football that they don’t have those dual careers?
Jönsson: Yes, I think so, to be honest. I think many of them would have been more successful if they had a dual career from the beginning.
Interesting. Are there other basic mistakes you would like the women’s football development to leave out?
Jönsson: Yes, I think the whole situation with agents. We should find a good situation for agents to be involved in the game, but drive the game forward the same way that clubs and players would do it. So a really good cooperation with agents would also be something I would prefer to look a little bit different from the male system.
Right now to me it seems to be the case that when female players transfer to other clubs that there is not a big amount to earn by the agents.
Jönsson: In one way I think for sure. But also it’s not always the amount that controls the system. The system can be similar. If you go to a store and you would buy a shirt. You would buy a shirt for a hundred Euros and you pay a hundred Euros and you go away with this shirt. And you go to another store and you buy a shirt for ten Euros. You still buy the shirt, you pay the ten Euros and you leave. The system is the same. The amount is different.
I’m not sure what agents live by, what they pay their rent from, if they are only women’s agents right now. So I don’t know if the amount would change the system or not. Because, of course, yes, if it’s the same thing with a smaller amount, you are right, but if they don’t make their living by that at all, then I think it would make a difference.
Jönsson: Well, I don’t think we should take away the wages or the salaries agents have, or their percentage of contracts or transfers. It’s not that part. It’s the part that could end up with three-party-ownership, for example, or agents getting paid both, from clubs and players. Or agents not telling certain clubs about a player, because they have a different connection to another club and so on, and so on. I think that’s not good for the game itself. So an open market where agents are a big part of the game, but more so to actually develop the game than it could be on the male side today when they are a little bit different, I would say, in how the interact with clubs and players.
OK, so whenever you come up with a good way to make sure it goes that way…
Jönsson: [laughs] I’m not sure I have that just now. Especially FIFA now changed to rules for agents, it’s going to be different again by itself. We will see what comes out of that change in system.
We were talking about Malmö FF, your former club. They split off the female section at some point and are now Rosengård. That was also due to — from what I gathered — financial restrictions or problems. How would you say that development took place?
Jönsson: I was a player in the club at that time and well aware of the situation and I think Malmö FF made a huge mistake letting the women go. But in their system we only cost money. They didn’t see us as an attractive part of their club that would actually make the diversity of the club so attractive into sponsorships that they could earn a lot of money by having both male and female. I think that’s a lesson learned by them now. And that’s why I think the progress that happened after the split has also shown that a football club in Sweden just having female players have, I don’t know, four or five times a higher budget now than they had at that time. They are living on sponsorship, funds and so on. So obviously there was a lot of money to get to the women in football in Sweden — I think that’s proof itself. For Malmö FF, I think they made a mistake not realizing how much money and potential there is in women’s football.
It’s one thing to not be willing to spend the money, because maybe you are short-sighted and you don’t see what you can get out of it. Another thing is if you really go bankrupt or if you don’t have the money. I don’t know how it was internally at the club and I’m not sure how exactly it was with Tyresö.
Jönsson: It’s totally different. Tyresö was bankrupt and had no money and this was a situation [at Malmö] that basically they were not willing to spend money. But that’s when they made the wrong thought. Because they thought we had to spend money in women’s football all the time. They never saw it as an income source. And that’s I think the biggest mistake they did. So instead of seeing it as an income source they saw it as something that cost money.
So they were „sponsoring“.
Jönsson: Exactly. But when you split that so now the women are by themselves and Malmö FF are by themselves and they still manage to survive and actually have a three to six times bigger budget every year than they had when we were included in Malmö FF. That shows that of course there was money to earn here. That’s what I think is so obvious about Malmö FF’s way of looking at women’s football. If you have that point of view you will never make money. You will always keep on seeing it like something that you will have to sponsor, as something that costs you money. If the women would have stayed in Malmö at that point, I think they would never have realized. Now it’s been ten years and of course you can see the progress and you see the budgets and you see how much income they have from sponsorship. Now you can say, OK, even we as a club could have gotten even more money maybe, because we have both — male and female. How much money did we lose because we let the women go? For sure I think they made a great mistake.
But you would say, for the women playing in Malmö it’s better this way because this way they really took off? And if they would have stayed at Malmö FF that type of direction of development would have not occurred?
Jönsson: Yes, I think so.
Have you heard any voices from the club that they regret what they did? Or is that just your perspective?
Jönsson: I think it’s been debated back and forth also in the newspapers here. There are still a lot of people within Malmö, the club FF, that are pissed that they did what they did. And there are still also people involved at the women’s club that are pissed. But there is also still of course a representative of Malmö FF who think they did the right thing. The debate is going back and forth now and then and within the papers and they are talking about now again having a reunion — so the women going back to Malmö FF. That’s an ongoing debate.
But would they want that still? Now that they are independent?
Jönsson: Both look at the pros and cons. I think there are some pros and some cons if they get a reunion. But it’s also about the condition. If Malmö FF would get back the women within their Malmö FF frame it needs to be conditioned in a positive way for both parts.
I scratched Tyresö FF for a second. I mean from the outside it looks pretty disturbing that a club that was champion in 2012 and played the Champions League Final in 2014 goes bankrupt that year. Do you have any insights or any thoughts you would share on that topic?
Jönsson: I think it’s a situation that we need to learn from. We have a system in Sweden with licenses that will put a club with financial problems down one division. And it’s somehow very strange and interesting to see how they could go around that rule somehow. Who did not check up the finances? And how did they hide the finances to be able to still play? That’s one thing that many people have looked at and learned from. So I think for the game — both: male and female game, this is not a female question. This is a question for football in general in Sweden — how can we look at this situation and prevent it from ever happening again. That happened, I think, in Sweden and that was good. Then I think, the problem sometimes with women’s football today — not just in Sweden — is that most of the time it is run by one or two or three or four persons that are really, really strong. And if this person in that group or that one single person has all the knowledge and all the information it’s hard for the rest in the club to actually see things like this going on.
So transparency is an issue?
Jönsson: Yes, transparency is an issue, but it’s also about — sometimes — the willingness to be involved. Because you have this one or two or three persons that are so engaged, they drive the whole club. Because you can drive a whole women’s club on two or three persons sometimes. In the male game it’s so much history, so much culture most of the time, so it’s harder to have one or two persons like this driving the whole situation to this point without anybody reacting earlier.
Simply because there are more people involved?
Jönsson: Yes, exactly. More people to answer to and more people to talk about situations like this.
So you are saying those problems could have been obvious earlier, but the club still regained their license to play each year? There was that awkward situation that they would still play the Champions League Final, but would not have the license for the Swedish league. There were players who didn’t have a contract anymore or weren’t with the club anymore because the wages stopped from coming in. There was a high potential squad out there with Marta, with Caroline Seeger, with Vero Boquete and a lot of other players who then came back to play the Champions League Final even though they actually kind already of left the club.
Jönsson: It is how you describe it. And that’s what is so bad about the situation, that that could happen. We need to learn from it — not just when it comes to women’s football, also when it comes to male football. How could this happen and why didn’t anybody react earlier?
You played in Malmö most of the time throughout your career. And you went to the U.S., you came back to Sweden and you played at Umeå. Compared to the other clubs that was an almost all Swedish team. What’s the reason for that?
Jönsson: We had some foreign players, but the main reason for that was that Umeå had also after being a great club for ten years almost gotten into some financial problems. Thus they needed to cap their budget with two million Swedish Crowns [about 220.000 Euros]. They had a lot of good young players in their own club. So instead of buying new players when some really well paid, good players left, they started to say, OK, we need to save this amount of money to be able to keep our license. We have all these young players. Why not take a chance and take one or two years and we will have a position in the table that is a little bit lower, but we will also have a great potential in this squad to be a great team within four years.
Was that a factor that attracted you and pulled you towards that club or why did you go there?
Jönsson: Yes, for sure. I definitely like the idea of developing young players and being able to let them make mistakes and see how fast you could learn if you have this young team. Of course, we had a very clear plan of how to work with these players also as persons, not just as individuals. I was studying to be a psychologist and the coach was also a psychologist, so we also had a plan for that. We had one national team player when I came, and when I quit we had eight. So I think we did a great progress, but it was of course some hard games for me. We let some five or four or seven goals in once in one game even. So for me, it was a hard mental job, as well, to be able to stand there and let them do a little bit of a mistake once or twice to be able to learn faster. But they did. And it was an amazing experience, as well, to be able to have such a young team and still be a player and not a coach and to be in that development of young players rapidly progress in their ability to play football and as persons and individuals. It was a great time. Different, but great.
That almost sounds like you were kind of coaching already while being an active player.
Jönsson: Yes, for sure. I was ten years older than the other players in the team at some point and I was even older than the coach and more experienced, so for sure I had a special role in that team at parts.
Is that a problem for you to have a coach who is younger than you in regard to respect? Or is it just all about the skills and the character of the person?
Jönsson: For me that’s what it’s about. I think it would have been a problem if I still played in the national team. But I chose to quit the national team when I started to study psychologies. If I would still have the ambition to be the best goalkeeper in the world and play the World Cup and in the national team of course it would have been harder. But I put my ambitions on the side and started to be a psychologist and that was my role and football was still one of the best things to do and I loved to play and I really love to see people evolve. It doesn’t matter if it’s football or life or singing or whatever. It was really amazing to see how these young players got better and better almost every game. So that was a totally different experience, but great to have.
So what exactly were the reasons that you quit your career at the national team?
Jönsson: Well, it was different reasons. The one was of course that I had the ability to get into psychology school which is really hard. It takes six years and I didn’t want it to take ten. I still wanted to play, but I wanted to be able to do it in six years. So that’s one of the reasons. Another one was also that in the national team as well we had a new generation coming up. It was going to be one or two years before that the new generation would be up at the same quality as we had with the generation I came from. That was also a good chance to step off because I knew it would take a couple of years before we would have the same quality. When you are at the highest top you don’t want to wait. You want to continue at the high quality that we had. There were several players quitting at the same time. So that made it easier for me, as well. And then I also had a relationship that I wanted to put more effort into and really living in Umeå and my partner living in Malmö was also hard. So I wanted to have some time to actually spend on my family live, as well. That’s also a big part of why I chose to quit the national team.
I would like to ask you a little bit about your style of play as a goalkeeper. There are different ways of doing it and we haven’t talked about your actual role within the game. So I would want to ask you: What makes a good goalkeeper?
Jönsson: It’s knowing your good and bad sides and using them, for sure. Everybody is individual. So what your ability is would never be the same as anybody else’s. You need to figure out your own personal style as a goalkeeper. For me, I was kind of average in most things. I wasn’t bad at anything in particular, but I was not great at so many things, either. I think my game in the air was really good. And I had some good ways to start the game again. But for me, it was a lot about the cooperation with the rest of the team that made me a really good goalkeeper.
How you organized things with the defense?
Jönsson: Yes, how we organized it and how we worked together. I think that was the one reason why I became a good goalkeeper.
I just read Nadine Angerer’s book […] She mentions you quite a few times and talks about for one thing, what an important person you are for her and also a completely different type of goalkeeper you are compared to her. […] How did you meet? How did you develop such a great friendship while being in different countries most of the time. Playing the same position, but at the same time maybe you can say how you differentiate from one another as a goalkeeper.
Jönsson: First of all, both of us are very social persons and curious. We want to meet new people with different experiences and we want to learn. In that aspect we are very similar. That’s also why we became friends at first. Then, it’s also why we could discuss and keep a good friendship throughout the years, because for both of us it was interesting to discuss — even if we had totally different opinions. But we could always discuss it and we could learn and talk and discuss again and try and learn again and talk. Both of us are very honest people so we told each other what we thought and felt and when you do that and you are totally honest it’s also easy to be friends even if you are far away.
I remember when the two of us met, I was wondering why is it still possible that at a World Cup competing teams are put into the same hotel. And you said, it was perfect for me because that’s the way how we met other people from other countries who do the same thing, but do it differently. So maybe you can tell, how you two met?
Jönsson: We are pretty much the same age. I am of course a little bit older and wiser than her, but almost the same age. So we met even when we were kids playing the Nordic Cup of under-21. We started to talk first at the Olympics and then we lived at the same hotel at the Euros in Germany 2001. When you meet a lot in the corridor or in the dining room you just start to talk. Then we just said: Hey, it’s interesting to talk, let’s have a coffee. That’s how it started. You had a chance to meet people that had the same interest, most of the time, playing football and also in other aspects of life. I think it’s a good way to get new friends, but also to have a chance to discuss how other people solve the same situation that you are in. That’s why I think both, me and Nadine, thought it was so interesting to talk about football for example, because we had different ways of looking at the goalkeeping situation and we are totally different as goalkeepers, as well. We have different abilities.
What are the differences?
Jönsson: I think she is more aggressive and faster in many ways. And I am very calm and I rather have my defenders take the ball than me. She is more aggressive. She will rather be engaging herself and I would rather wait to see what happens. It sounds easy like it’s not too big of a difference, but when you look at the game and how you play it, if you have these two different tendencies it will change a lot of how you play the game. It was really interesting talking about that, but to be honest, we talked a lot about football, of course, but we talked mostly about life.
I read the book and she makes that point that she had to wait to become number one in the German national team for over ten years being behind Silke Rottenberg. And the second she finds out that she will finally play the World Cup 2007 she hears from you that you can’t, because you tore your ligament. She said she was basically overwhelmed, because she waited for that point in her career for such a long time and was very happy about it, of course. But at the same time knew that you suffered and that you would not meet in China. So what’s your side of the story?
Jönsson: I guess I had the opposite direction. Of course, I was very, very happy for Nadine — the same she was sad for me. I knew the potential she had and I knew how much she worked and how she changed some parts and I also knew it would change her life more than she knew, I think. To be the first goalkeeper instead of the second one. To get to realize and get a chance to get all these experiences that you get from being the first goalkeeper — both, in actually playing the games, but also outside of the game, outside the field. You will get more attention, you will have so many other different experiences, as well, depending on if you play or not. So I was very happy about that, as well as for Nadine. She deserved that chance. For me it was easy, I was very, very happy with that. For myself, of course I was destroyed not playing the World Cup. We had a good team and I thought we would have a chance to take the Gold Medal that we lost 2003. It’s been four years of just wanting to have a new chance for the Gold Medal. So that was a hard time for me personally. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be happy for Nadine.
I’m really sorry that I have to do this to you, but I cannot leave it out since you are from Sweden and I am from Germany: How is it possible to receive a golden goal in the 89th minute of a final against Germany not once, but twice?
Jönsson: I don’t know how it is possible. It’s unbelievable. Sometimes I feel like it would be less of a chance to win the lottery. […] That’s also why I think it was so frustrating to not be able to play the World Cup 2007 for me, because I really wanted to have a new chance of winning the Gold Medal.
And make up for what happened?
Jönsson: Make up for what happened in one way, but just — make it — not just make up. It would be a great experience to lift that Gold Medal Trophy. That’s why you want to win. You want to have the experience and want to feel all the emotions and that’s of course why so many people are trying to get that again and again and again. For me, not winning, was not being able to have those emotions. And that’s what pissed me off. Because I really would like to have that experience.
I won’t find any words that make that better, so I’ll just change the subject. I wanted to ask you to share a few words about your work as a psychologist and maybe if you want to also your work as a chair of FIFPRO, the World Players Union or committee, what you do there, what your work is.
Jönsson: As a psychologist, I chose to become a psychologist, not just a sports psychologist, because I really wanted to be able to work not just with athletes, but even with athletes on the whole perspective of their lives, not just the performance part in sports. So for me it’s been amazing to work with people with different problems: everything from addiction to children who are born with functional disabilities. It has really been a way to enrich my life. That part has really, really been amazing and what I expected it to be. Then of course, there is the psychology when it comes to sports. For me it is also important to work with the different aspects of a person. Because the more secure you become as a person the better athlete you become, as well. That’s my strongest belief. And that’s why I work also a lot with everything in a person’s life when they come to me and discuss performance issues or anxiety to perform or things like that. That is kind of common in sports.
Professional athletes come to you as well as people with other regular jobs or no jobs or whatever?
Jönsson: Yes, I have my own practice and I try to have diversity in the people coming to me.
If you want to explain your work that you do at FIFPRO…
Jönsson: At FIFPRO it has also been for me a chance to work with my education, of course, with organizational psychology. But it has also a lot to do with personality. I’ve been curious and I’ve been really working a long time for better conditions for women. First in Sweden, we did the first CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] 2007. And again, it was mostly about insurance and a way to get pension plans and just have the CBA so we have some better rights altogether and were seen as employees. That we actually had an employer. Just by that transition, the way of looking at a female football player in Sweden was more professional. With that experience in my back I also wanted to do that in a more global way. FIFPRO has been working with football players for 50 years and they have done so much and they have learned so much from the game in these 50 years. I really thought it was great when they also wanted to enter the women’s game and take all this experience that they had as a union and to learn from that and to also implement that in the women’s game. For me that was a really good chance. It meant that we had to have the same membership in FIFPRO for female players as we did for male. The board said yes to the suggestion in December, 2014. So from now on, female players that can’t be members in their local union — because some of the local unions don’t allow female players either because they are female or because they are not considered professional in their country — then they can become direct members to FIFPRO and we can collectively help them with the CBA negotiations or negotiations with the national team or club or league. On the FIFPRO homepage they can just download the files and sign it, take a photo, send it to me and they will become direct members in FIFPRO.
At what tables does FIFPRO have a seat and thus a say in the discussion?
Jönsson: We have a say in most discussions. That’s also what I want to have in the women’s game. I think that was what’s lacking in the question turf vs. natural grass. If FIFPRO would have been a natural part in that discussion early on I don’t think we would have ended up playing turf. But saying we have a part in the discussion doesn’t mean that we have anything to do with the big FIFA or UEFA here in Europe. We are totally independent. We have our own money. We have our own say. And we are not in any way connected to FIFA or UEFA. We need to be by ourselves and be independent.
What do you spend that money on?
Jönsson: Of course we have a staff and with FIFPRO we also help the local unions a lot and help them with money. But it costs also to have the legal support or the education system or doing research for players benefits. So there are a lot of things that the unions do as FIFPRO. And FIFPRO represents all the local unions. It’s kind of a branch federation for unions around the world. That’s why it is called the „World Players Union“. They are taking the big hits, the big legal cases for example. And that can cost a lot of money.
Are there particular cases or topics and issues that you are working on right now? Or is it just that you try to foster gender equality, minimum wages in general?
Jönsson: We are doing both, I think. We have different cases and we are sorting them through to see which ones we will pursue. But we are also trying to make a really good social dialogue with other stockholders within the game. But then of course we still need to educate the local unions to be able to reach out to the female players in their countries, as well. And also to educate the female players to be aware of what FIFPRO are doing, that they exist so they can become members. We can only be strong if we have a lot of members. If they want to have an active role in their own development they need to become members and take that responsibility. With the rising numbers of members we can also be a very important part in also the women’s game. I think the players are one of the most important actors to actually develop the game. And if they are not heard, I think we will lose some of the development that we could have and gain.
So it seems you are pretty engaged — even though not an active player having a dual career again once over.
Jönsson: Well, I think it’s hard for active players to be engaged in this level because you need to travel a lot and you need to meet a lot of people. As you are an active player you can definitely be active in your local union — for sure! That’s not a problem. And we have an advisory board and I have contact with active players. That’s really important because you need to know what’s going on. But for them to drive these questions right now is hard. That’s why I think former players need to maybe develop one or two years to questions like these. Because you still have the knowledge and you still have parts of the thinking as an active player and you can use that for the situation.
And the insights…
Jönsson: And the insights and the connections for sure. So I think that is why it’s so important that former players are active in the game a couple of years even after they quit. So we can make the progress better for the players who are still there.
All right. I wish you good luck with that. I want to say thank you. I am very glad you took all that time.
Jönsson: No problem.
Thank you so much.