Tracking female footballers from across the globe is hard enough in a normal year, never mind one where a global pandemic obliterated the calendar. Rich Laverty breaks down the criteria for this year’s list of the top 100 female footballers.
The Top 100 Female Footballers of the Year can’t come together without an initial shortlist, one that usually includes upwards of 300 players we decide have done enough to earn a nomination throughout the year.
It’s always a hard task, largely because women’s football is still so invisible. It may be easy to register who has enjoyed a good year in some of the more prominent leagues, such as the main European leagues and the USA’s NWSL, but beyond it can be a minefield.
You can stare at top scorers lists all you want, but how can we truly judge the midfielders, defenders or goalkeepers that may have enjoyed good years in Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico or the African leagues?
The simple answer is we can’t. At the start of every year I start jotting down the usual names you would expect to nominate at the end of the year and also those who have started the year well that we wouldn’t nominate. Trying to keep track of those all year all around the world is beyond difficult, but the names serve as reminders come October when we have to finalise the shortlist for the voting process to take place in November.
This year more than ever has offered up many challenges in getting it right, and I’ll be honest enough in admitting getting every decision right is pretty much impossible. Firstly, there was no major tournament, which always helps our judges because bar that it is so difficult to watch leagues regularly outside your own.
Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the calendar, which has meant we had to be pretty brutal in who didn’t get nominated and has thrown up a different looking top 100 this year.
Some fans will no doubt be shocked to perhaps see some of last year’s highest ranked players not even receive a nomination this year, but we felt we had to be fair. There was no hard and fast rule for how many games a player had to have played.
The NWSL and US players in particular was definitely the biggest challenge. For those who played in the Challenge Cup and/or Fall Series, they may have still only played a handful of games all year given there was no full season, but we didn’t feel it was right to punish those who couldn’t physically play more games.
For those who opted out, and some big names did, it was almost impossible to nominate them given the huge gap between Olympic qualifiers in February and our shortlist being confirmed in October, even with those coming to Europe only just getting up to speed come our deadline.
We also take into account the competitiveness of matches, with more emphasis on performance in the Challenge Cup than Fall Series and little put on qualification international matches. While we did end up nominating a lot of US internationals plus those who had the opportunity to make a breakthrough in the league due to others not playing, some tough decisions had to be made.
Injuries also threw up some tough decisions, and generally we took each case on an individual basis, looked at how many games a player had actually managed to play in 2020, and obviously had they performed to an adequate level. Given we do take the very end of 2019 into account for the voting, that did help some of the European based players more than those countries who have a summer league format.
After that, I have very little influence on how these players do. When the shortlist is created, it’s about the best 300/400 players, not the 100, that is down to our judges, of which this year there are 88, including myself. Maybe we nominated players who had injury affected years who ended up inside the top 100 but we can’t and won’t tell our judges how to vote. If a name is on the shortlist, people are free to vote for them, but the constant challenge of people being able to watch very little women’s football on TV means visibility continues to be an issue for us when voting begins. We may nominate players we don’t think will make the top 100, but often we found people do find themselves voting for those they have heard for nearer the bottom of their own picks.
We ask people to vote for their top 40 players, in order, from the shortlist, and often we see from 25/30 downwards people struggle based on who they’ve seen enough of and vote for those they’ve heard of, which is understandable. That’s an ongoing challenge for us and something we take into account every year when considering the process.
Being honest, though, I like this year’s 100 and I’m excited for people to see it. Yes, there are players higher than they should be, there are players lower than they should be, but the thing I love about doing it is those who break in for the first time, and those who rocket up based on improved performances over the year.
When we announce the first 30 players on Tuesday (the 100-71 section), 14 of them will be brand new entrants and have never been listed before. That’s the most exciting thing, to educate people around the world who may not have heard of these players before.
2020 certainly threw up some new challenges in terms of who we nominate and how we nominate, and some big players have missed out because of that, but it has allowed others to flourish and I think by and large our list this year has a real emphasis on the top young players worldwide who are now gaining deserved recognition.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty