Meet Germany's only female player agent, Samira Samii. As an Iranian German, she's not just fighting gender stereotypes in her unusual career. But her diverse heritage is a boon, too, as are her close ties to the game.
Samira Samii isn't the first person you might expect to see at a German soccer stadium. Her elegant taste in clothes and make-up sometimes seem as out of place as high heels in a boot bag.
Mild-mannered and fluent in six languages, Samii has chosen her career as a player agent. Born into a wealthy Iranian family, she could have picked a life of leisure.
She's a particularly atypical character in German soccer, where fans and clubs take such pride in the heavy amateur DNA that still shapes the professional game. On the surface, Samii seems worlds away from both the sweat-soaked changing rooms and the beer-drenched supporters' stands. But once she starts to talk about the game, suddenly this unusual picture makes more sense.
"There's hardly any other sport that allows you to really live your emotions, to let it all out, to release stress and forget your problems like this," Samii says. "And for me personally, especially as a young woman, there's a real thrill in finding a foothold and becoming successful in such a clearly male-dominated domain."
Her very own "trial period"
Roughly 140 people work in Germany as agents for professional soccer players, but 36-year-old Samii is the only woman. Tunisian international and Hertha Berlin attacker Sami Allagui - a Bundesliga mainstay for several seasons now - is her most famous current client.
She also works as an ambassador for German international Per Mertesacker's charitable foundation, which focuses in particular on helping children in need and promoting youth sports. Samii is an adviser to former Germany international Andreas Brehme and for Grasshoppers Zurich coach Ciriaco Sforza, once a Bayern Munich player.
What's more, she has professional ties to Germany's most capped footballer in history, Lothar Matthäus.
"It was very hard in the beginning," Samii recalled. "In my high heels, I had to step over many hurdles, large and small, that were placed in my path."
In her early days in Germany, club officials, managers and rival agents often sought to catch her out.
"Maybe I'd be asked to explain a particular rule, or they'd question what formation a given coach preferred to employ," Samii said. These rather impertinent questions tended to backfire; Samii was once married to Hamburg mainstay and former Iran captain Mehdi Mahdavikia, and can count many other players among her personal friends.
Contacts all over the world
“I have known football legend Ali Daei for what feels like forever. And Hossein Kalani, who became a legend for his strong headers in the 1970's, is just 'uncle' to me."
Samii's father, a well-known eye surgeon, counts many prominent national players from Iran and Middle Eastern countries to his patients. Yet, if he was going to chose a single name to drop into conversation, it would likely be Diego Maradona. Samii's mother, meanwhile, is descended from Persian royalty.
When managing a sports marketing agency, these connections are a huge advantage.
"Through my family ties, I have excellent contacts to players, to sports clubs, other Arabic countries, and their football federations.” She employs a scout who is particularly well connected in Tunisia, North Africa and other Arab countries; works with several law firms in North and South America; and covers much of her home continent single-handed: “I myself keep good contacts in France, Belgium, Turkey, Spain and Switzerland.”
Most of the time, Samii can talk with her clients in their native tongue. She is fluent in English, German, French, Persian, Italian and Spanish. Born in Tehran, she was raised in Canada and France. She studied International Tourism and Sports Management in Germany and Canada. As a marketing manager, Samii gained experience in the German second division with FC Ingolstadt and with a minor league outfit, Arminia Hannover.
Samii's diverse cultural backgound means she can adapt to her surroundings. She knows how much patience and persistence it can take to build up strong relationships in the Arab world and South America.
"Just saying 'a quick hi' in these countries can often take quite a while," Samii told DW, pointing out what a contrast this was to Germany, or the US, where "time is money."
"There, you just have to get to the point," Samii says, adding that there are just the same sorts of cultural discrepancies in the way that she is treated as a woman and a player's agent. Discrepancies that, arguably, go against the grain of more general gender stereotypes.
"In football, women are really seen as equal partners in the Middle Eastern and Arabic countries, in the Gulf, and also in Spain and Italy," Samii says, leaving Germany conspicuosly off her list. Sometimes, she says, even her keen dress sense would intimidate German business partners, while "it is commonplace in many other countries that a woman might showcase her femininity in business, as well as privately."
Even working in the trade, Samii has encountered only two other women on her chosen career path - one from France and another from Saudi Arabia.
Despite the difficulties Samii encounters in Germany, after seven years working around the fringes of the Bundesliga, she has no intention of going anywhere. On the contrary, she hopes one day to put her business brain to use at a higher level in the Bundesliga.
"A dream come true, for me, would be to one day become the sports director of a Bundesliga club."