Nadine Angerer: The ‘nobody’ who became belle of the Ballon d’Or

Story highlights

Veteran German goalkeeper has won World Cup twice, once as reserve, once as a player

Angerer shot to fame at 2007 World Cup breaking world record time for not conceding a goal

She went 540 minutes without letting in a goal and saved a penalty in the final

In January 2013, the 36-year-old became first goalkeeper to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or

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CNN —  

She waited patiently for 10 years for a chance to perform on the highest stage and when it finally arrived Nadine Angerer did not fluff her lines.

Thrust into the spotlight at the 2007 Women’s World Cup, the perennial reserve goalkeeper put in a virtuoso performance, going unbeaten for a world record 540 minutes during Germany’s victorious campaign that year.

In keeping a clean sheet for all six matches at the tournament in China, Angerer became the first goalkeeper, male or female, to play an entire World Cup Finals without conceding a goal.

“The whole tournament I wasn’t thinking about it because I was so much under pressure. I was just focusing on not making any mistakes,” Angerer told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“But after the World Cup, it was like … OK cool, I broke this record! But it’s not that important for me. I’m more proud that we won the World Cup as a team.”

The feat was even more impressive given Germany’s opposition in the final – a Brazil side which had torn apart opposition defenses, scoring 17 goals en route to the final.

But they couldn’t find a way past Angerer, who repelled everything that came her way, including a penalty from the South American’s star striker Marta.

02:47 - Source: CNN
Record-breaking German goalkeeper

“As a goalkeeper you are always happy when you save a penalty, but it was a special one because we were leading 1-0. It was the final and world star Marta shooting a penalty against a nobody goalkeeper … it makes me proud. It was an important save.”

It was the standout moment that helped launch Angerer’s career, finally allowing her to take over from Silke Rottenberg, the veteran who had dominated German goalkeeping since the early 1990s.

“It was destiny,” Angerer says. “It was not the easiest way, but it was good way sitting on the bench – you learn, get experience and it was a good life lesson as well.”

Late starter

Born in Lohr a. Main, a town near Frankfurt, Angerer grew up playing football with the boys in the neighborhood before making her mark at junior level for the local ASV Hofstetten girls side.

But back then she was more interested in wearing the No. 9 rather than the No. 1 shirt.

“I never wanted to be a goalkeeper, I wanted to be a forward and until Under-16 (level), I was a forward.”

After playing in goal in a regional trial match, Angerer was encouraged to keep putting on the gloves.

“When I was 15, I started to train as a goalkeeper and (I progressed) very fast and two years later I got my first cap for the (full national) team.”

A handful of appearances followed before she settled into her role as reserve to Rottenberg. It was a situation that suited her just fine at the time.

“I wasn’t really mature when I was 17. I said to myself: ‘oh, that’s easy,’ because I was always very athletic and didn’t need to train –I was still much better than all the others,” she recalls of her attitude when she was younger.

This relaxed outlook extended to her social life when she started her club career at Bayern Munich – Angerer would spend her days organizing her back four and her nights arranging to go to parties.

“I moved out of home and moved to Munich by myself, my own flat. I enjoyed the night life, the party stuff.”

But Rottenberg’s more mature approach – “she really trained hard,” Angerer says – would eventually rub off and when the veteran keeper injured her knee just weeks before the 2007 World Cup, Angerer was prepared.

“I was waiting 10 years and I’d developed so much as a goalkeeper. I trained so hard and I wanted to be the No. 1 … it was now my time to show it.”

Leading from the back

Further triumphs followed at the Women’s European Championships in both 2009 and 2013 – where she reprised her penalty-saving heroics not once, but twice in the final against Norway.

It was Germany’s sixth successive Euro triumph in all, but it was in many ways her finest moment as she captained a severely depleted German team to glory.

“Before the European championships, seven players from our normal line up got injured … and so we had to replace (them) with some very, very young players. I think our average age was 22, 23,” she explains.

“This was the tournament which showed me what you can achieve if you have a good team spirit – we definitely weren’t the best team at that tournament.

“But we won it because we were a team and that made me so proud. This was actually the most important tournament I ever played.”

Her outstanding individual performance and leadership skills didn’t go unnoticed by the wider football community who voted Angerer the world women’s player of the year in 2013 at FIFA’s annual Ballon d’Or ceremony in January last year.

Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo may have taken all the headlines, picking up his second best player award, but once again Angerer was quietly celebrating another first – she is the only goalkeeper, male or female, to win the award.

Forward thinking

Angerer has enjoyed successful stints at German clubs, winning the Bundesliga twice (2004 and 2006) and a UEFA Women’s Champions League with Turbine Potsdam, and latterly the DFB Pokal Cup with Frankfurt in 2011.

Since 2013, she has divided her time between the U.S. and Australia, playing for the Portland Thorns in the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League, and on loan at the Brisbane Roars in the Australian W-League.

The experience of playing abroad, particularly in the U.S., has helped her game evolve, she says.

“It was a perfect experience for me to go to the U.S. and adjust to a new system and a new way of playing soccer. I learned so many new things … it’s totally different compared to the game in Europe,” she says.

“My goalkeeping coach from the national team and my head coach, were both like: ‘Wow! You’ve developed so much.’ That makes me proud as well.

“That’s also my motivation that I always have the feeling to keep getting better and better … even if I’m quite old.”

Watching her dive around athletically on the Brisbane turf, it’s easy to envisage Angerer carrying on for several more years at the top level.

One day, she hopes to coach the next generation of keepers, but it seems that can be saved for later.

“I’m 36 and I feel better than ever, so there’s no reason to quit. Why should I? I feel good, I’m fit and most importantly, I like what I’m doing.”