25. Steph Houghton
Manchester City and England captain is now one of the most well-known defenders in women’s football and has also established herself as one of the best.
Not only is she a tough defender, Houghton chips in with goals too, largely thanks to her talent from free-kicks. Houghton ended 2016 by lifting the FA WSL and Continental Cup, before finally walking the Wembley steps in May to lift the FA Cup.
The summer ended in disappointment as England only reached the semi-finals of Euro 2017, but Houghton has been as influential as ever in Manchester City’s excellent first half of the season.
Nick Cushing’s side have won 14 games out of 14 in all competitions, with Houghton scoring free-kicks against Everton and Austrian side St. Polten, as well as a goal against her former side Arsenal.
Houghton ended her year with England by bagging two goals against Bosnia-Herzegovina in a 2019 World Cup qualifier.
Nick Cushing, Manchester City manager says:
“Steph’s the type of person who wants to contribute, but we haven’t challenged her on goal scoring! Her commitment and her leadership since I’ve been here is infectious and essential for us. Steph’s been an exceptional player and she’s unbelievably consistent in the way she impacts the game, with and without the ball.
“Aerially she’s very, very good, she would say she needs to improve her one on one defending, but the fact she wants to improve that tells me a lot about her. I don’t think there’s a better offensive passer than her, her range of passing from the back puts her out in front in this league.
“When you lead by example, people look at you in the big games. Steph plays with no fear, against Lyon she came up against Alex Morgan, Ada Hegerberg and Eugenie Le Sommer out in France and she was exceptional. She was disappointed with her performance in the first leg, but that just typifies Steph that we went out there and kept a clean sheet.”
Mick Mulhern, Houghton’s former manager at Sunderland says:
“Steph has got stronger and better with each passing season. She is one of the best defenders in world football and is a born leader. Some people may be surprised to learn that as a young player, Steph was a centre forward. She scored loads of goals, most of which were spectacular, so it was no surprise to me that she found herself in the box as an attacking full back and banged in a few goals whilst part of the Olympic team.
“Sometimes being a flexible player can go against a player, but that is totally false in a Steph’s case. She literally can play anywhere and will turn in a great performance regardless. I’d put this down to her total dedication and mental strength. Steph suffered two really bad injuries prior to major tournaments, but she worked tirelessly to recover and came back a stronger player and a stronger person and always puts in a great shift for club and country. A great leader and a real winner.”
Lucy Ward, former team mate and current BBC Sport pundit says:
“Steph has developed into a world class leader in every sense. She organises well, comfortable in possession and is technically gifted in every aspect. Steph has vast experience in the game and uses this to influence others in games. Mentally she is resilient and that toughness has increased throughout the years as she rises to every challenge set.”