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Top 50 women’s footballers - 2021

It's awards season, and that means it's time for people like me to start putting together lists. I've done versions of this list the past few years, just as an exercise. But this year, the nice folks at the Offside Rule and Guardian have (perhaps foolishly) asked for my contribution to their list. So this is a slightly more official take. It's also worth noting that the instructions for the project are clear: focus entirely on what the player did from October 2020 - October 2021. Nothing more, nothing less.

Before getting into my picks, I'll include the standard caveat: it's just impossible to closely watch all the best players across all of their games. That's true for any sport, but it's especially true with the women's game, where access remains spotty for even some of the top leagues--and where stream quality often makes it difficult to distinguish between various indeterminate blobs. And the amount of generally-available advanced data for these players is embarrassingly limited.

Given all that, it's a certainty that my list will give some players a short shrift, simply because I haven't seen them at their best, while overvaluing others based on reputation and a few good performances when I was able to see them. That's why you need the wisdom of crowds, and why you should absolutely pay more attention to the eventual Top 100 when it's released next month. But there's also value in seeing one person's idiosyncratic take, so I felt like it was worth including here.

Disagreements? Please share them! The whole point of these things is to hear each other's perspectives, and to just maybe get a little bit better understanding.

1. Fran Kirby (Chelsea - England)

2. Alexia Putellas (Barcelona - Spain)

3. Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal - Netherlands)

4. Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona - Norway)

5. Sam Kerr (Chelsea - Australia)

6. Pernille Harder (Chelsea - Denmark)

7. Kosovare Asllani (Real Madrid - Sweden)

8. Jenni Hermoso (Barcelona - Spain)

9. Sam Mewis (North Carolina Courage - USA)

10. Marie-Antoinette Katoto (PSG - France)

11. Lina Magull (Bayern Munich - Germany)

12. Amandine Henry (Lyon - France)

13. Chloe Kelly (Manchester City - England)

14. Dzsenifer Marozsán (OL Reign - Germany)

15. Ashley Lawrence (PSG - Canada)

16. Jess Fishlock (OL Reign - Wales)

17. Mariona Caldentey (Barcelona - Spain)

18. Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea - Sweden)

19. Lauren Hemp (Manchester City - England)

20. Mapi León (Barcelona - Spain)

21. Lieke Martens (Barcelona - Netherlands)

22. Morgan Gautrat (Chicago Red Stars - USA)

23. Katie McCabe (Arsenal - Ireland)

24. Fridolina Rolfö (Barcelona - Sweden)

25. Wendie Renard (Lyon - France)

26. Svenja Huth (Wolfsburg - Germany)

27. Sara Däbritz (PSG - Germany)

28. Cristiana Girelli (Juventus - Italy)

29. Kim Little (Arsenal - Scotland)

30. Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns - USA)

31. Caroline Weir (Manchester City - Scotland)

32. Nicole Billa (Hoffenheim - Austria)

33. Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns - USA)

34. Kailen Sheridan (NJ/NY Gotham FC - Canada)

35. Khadija Shaw (Manchester City - Jamaica)

36. Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit - USA)

37. Hanna Glas (Bayern Munich - Sweden)

38. Eugenie Le Sommer (OL Reign - France)

39. Margaret Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC - USA)

40. Lea Schüller (Bayern Munich - Germany)

41. Ji So-yun (Chelsea - South Korea)

42. Irene Paredes (Barcelona - Spain)

43. Tori Huster (Washington Spirit - USA)

44. Linda Dallman (Bayern Munich - Germany)

45. Barbra Banda (Shanghai - Zambia)

46. Debinha (North Carolina Courage - Brazil)

47. Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona - Nigeria)

48. Stina Blackstenius (BK Häcken - Sweden)

49. Beth Mead (Arsenal - England)

50. Saki Kumagai (Bayern Munich - Japan)

I can't comment on every player or every choice, but I want to flag a couple things.

  • I am 100% certain that Alexia will take all the honors this year, and I have no problem with that. She's been incredible--far exceeding my expectations, and I say that as someone who has been an enormous fan of hers for years. But I think Fran Kirby had a season for the ages, even if her teams couldn't quite leverage the big results that her performances deserved.

  • Chloe Kelly comes in at 13th here, but that's largely due to her ACL tear in the spring. Up until that point, she was keeping track with the very best players in the world. A full twelve months at that level would probably have put her in my top 5. It's truly hard to overstate how good she was last year, and how much the recent Manchester City struggles are down to not having her available.

  • I didn't include a whole lot of Americans on this list, and most of them who do make it are in the bottom rungs. That's largely a function of the calendar--with only a partial NWSL season in the covered range, and a lengthy Olympic absence cut out of the middle of that. I wouldn't read too much into it, and I certainly don't expect that to be true in 2022. Players like Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, and Rose Lavelle all showed why they are considered in the very top rungs of the global game this year, but only in small doses. They just didn't have volume to justify inclusion here. I also had seven or eight more NWSL stars in the next tier of players that just missed the top 50.

  • Speaking of Americans, I'm certain that I will be the highest vote for Morgan Gautrat, but I'm comfortable with that. She has been truly excellent all season for Chicago. It's the sort of excellence that doesn't make itself apparent if you only casually follow the league--she isn't scoring or assisting goals, nor is she a dominant defensive presence. But that doesn't make the excellence any less important. My only qualm is that I'm certain to be missing some equivalent players from the leagues I follow less closely.

  • Canada won Olympic gold this summer, but they only managed two players on this list--one of whom barely played in the tournament. It's certainly weird, but I don't really think there's another Canadian player with a serious case.

One final thought: I am absolutely blown away at how good these players all are. My 'shortlist' ended up running to a little over 130 players. And that's just the group where I thought I could make a compelling argument for including them in the top 50. There are probably another few hundred who deserve to be in the conversation for the top 100. As the game grows, everyone gets better, and the gaps between the levels grow smaller. It makes compiling a list like this intensely frustrating (how can I possibly put Ji in the 40s?! What am I doing with Crystal Dunn at #30?! What maniac seriously thinks 22 players were better than McCabe over the last year?!). But it also makes it fun.

What a great time it is to follow this sport.