Inspired by ESPN’s excellent list, Charles offers his own top 50
ESPN just released its list of the top 50 women’s footballers in the world. These sorts of lists are always flawed and are designed more to provoke debate than any sort of definitive answer. But I have to say: The ESPN list is just about as good as I’ve seen. In particular, I think they struck a really nice balance between actual performance over the past year and "true talent." Given the weird circumstances, it’s even harder than usual to make like-for-like comparisons, so it’s useful to try to take the broader perspective. I think they mostly nailed it.
Still, the point of these lists is to provoke conversation. So it got me thinking about my own rankings. I prepared a "best of 2019" list in the before-times but didn’t try to do the same this winter. So consider this my slightly belated entry to the "best of 2020" conversation.
Before getting into the ranking itself, let me quote myself on the necessary caveats:
It’s extremely hard to judge players, especially when it’s so difficult to see league play across the world, when most international matches outside of the World Cup tend to rely on dodgy streams for distribution, and when statistical records are limited or nonexistent.
Given those constraints, there’s simply no way to prevent bias playing a big role. For strikers in the top leagues, we at least have pretty good information about goals and assists. But who is good at holding up the ball? Who contributes most to link-up play? Who makes excellent runs that expose defenses? Much harder to say. And for everyone else, there’s often literally almost nothing to go by. Who were the best center backs in the Frauen-Bundesliga this year? Having seen only a handful of games, I’m stupendously unqualified to make that assessment.
So it’s understandable why names often matter more in the voting than performance. People know names, but the performances are mostly hidden. I’m certainly not free from that kind of bias myself. But lists like these are still helpful because in encountering multiple different perspectives, we all come to a better understanding about those parts of the game that we’re less in tune with.
With all those caveats stipulated, here is my list of the best players of the past year and change:
1. Pernille Harder (Chelsea - Denmark)
2. Sam Mewis (Manchester City - USA)
3. Crystal Dunn (Portland - USA)
4. Sam Kerr (Chelsea - Australia)
5. Julie Ertz (Chicago - USA)
6. Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal - Netherlands)
7. Fran Kirby (Chelsea - England)
8. Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona - Norway)
9. Amandine Henry (Lyon - France)
10. Dzsenifer Marozsán (Lyon - Germany)
11. Debinha (North Carolina - Brazil)
12. Tobin Heath (Manchester United - USA)
13. Saki Kumagai (Lyon - Japan)
14. Marie-Antoinette Katoto (Paris Saint-Germain - France)
15. Alexia Putellas (Barcelona - Spain)
16. Christen Press (Manchester United - USA)
17. Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea - Sweden)
18. Lindsay Horan (Portland - USA)
19. Jenni Hermoso (Barcelona - Spain)
20. Wendie Renard (Lyon - France)
21. Chloe Kelly (Manchester City - England)
22. Svenja Huth (Wolfsburg - Germany)
23. Kadidiatou Diani (Paris Saint-Germain - France)
24. Ji So-yun (Chelsea - South Korea)
25. Khadija Shaw (Bordeaux - Jamaica)
26. Delphine Cascarino (Lyon - France)
27. Lynn Williams (North Carolina - USA)
28. Jess Fishlock (Reading/OL Reign - Wales)
29. Caroline Weir (Manchester City - Scotland)
30. Lucy Bronze (Manchester City - England)
31. Amel Majri (Lyon - France)
32. Lauren Hemp (Manchester City - England)
33. Marina Hegering (Bayern Munich - Germany)
34. Steph Houghton (Manchester City - England)
35. Rose Lavelle (Manchester City - USA)
36. Nicole Billa (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Austria)
37. Kristie Mewis (Houston - USA)
38. Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City - USA)
39. Yuika Sugasawa (Urawa Reds Ladies - Japan)
40. Alex Popp (Wolfsburg - Germany)
41. Christiane Endler (Paris Saint-Germain - Chile)
42. Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir (Lyon - Iceland)
43. Ellen White (Manchester City - England)
44. Ewa Pajor (Wolfsburg - Poland)
45. Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain - Canada)
46. Lina Magull (Bayern Munich - Germany)
47. Marta Torrejón (Barcelona - Spain)
48. Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue - Canada)
49. Caitlin Foord (Arsenal - Australia)
50. Alex Morgan (Orlando - USA)
A couple thoughts on this process:
1. The list of incredible players just continues to grow. I could easily have extended this to 200 and still have been picking from truly excellent players. And that includes a ridiculous amount of players in their teens or early 20s. I think we’re on the verge of a truly massive explosion in worldwide woso talent. It’s going to really be something.
2. It was really hard to balance playing time with ability. That was particularly true for non-USWNT players from the NWSL, many of whom have only played ten or so games in the last 15 months. With a full year at the same level, it would have been impossible to leave out players like Shea Groom and Sarah Woldmoe. But I couldn’t justify squeezing them in over players with a lot more games. I might have made the same argument for leaving out U.S. players like Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan -- who also haven’t seen all that much time. But we know just how good those players are, and we’ve seen it for both club and (especially) country in the past year. So I generally put them lower than they ‘really’ deserve, but still found a place.
3. There are a lot of Manchester City players on this list. I’ve been hyping them all year, but even I didn’t fully realize how stacked that roster really is. You could certainly make the case for them having the best top-to-bottom roster in the world, though clubs like Chelsea and (of course) Lyon would probably disagree.
4. We need to talk about Nicole Billa, who is producing outrageous numbers in the Frauen Bundesliga this year. Same goes for Yuika Sugasawa out in Japan. And we also need to talk about Marina Hegering, who has anchored a Bayern defense that has conceded three (3!) goals in the league this year.
5. Everyone seems to have forgotten how good Jess Fishlock is. I almost never see her discussed as a possible Team GB player. And she never seems to make lists like this. But folks, she’s still really ridiculously good.
6. Lucy Bronze is a very good player. But she's nowhere close to the best in the world, and people need to stop convincing themselves that she is.