12 Days of Football 2018: Nine Ladies Playing
On the 9th Day of Football, UEFA gave to me
Nine Ladies Playing,
Eight Managers Managing,
Six Games Amazing,
FIVE GOLDEN GOALS,
Four Calls Blown,
Three French Clubs,
Two title races and
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City
Welcome to It's Round and It's White's second annual year-end extravaganza. As if you didn't have enough to do for 12 days with fixtures coming at you left and right, we're reviewing a unique aspect of the season each day. On the 9th Day, Kingsley Ukpai looks at some notable women who shone brightly in their craft in 2018. These gems deserve more attention from football fans than they're getting.
Emma Hayes is well and truly among the most dedicated football coaches in the business. She’ll look back at 2018 and feel rewarded for all those years of commitment and hard work for the Blues.
During the 2017-18 campaign, Hayes was the intelligent gaffer who guided Chelsea to a League and Cup double. The Blues finished the Women’s Super League unbeaten and reached the Champions League semifinal. It was enough to earn her a nomination for FIFA’s The Best Women’s Coach Award.
Notably, the 41-year-old tactician managed all that while pregnant with twins.
Hayes’ success can be attributed to her attention to detail and tactical nous. Her standard for signing players based on character, not just talent, has helped her build an admirable team bonded with unity.
With Emma Hayes calling the shots, Chelsea has grown to become a dominant force in the Super League. Altogether, Chelsea has won the League three times and the FA Cup twice since Hayes’ appointment in 2012. Before that, the cupboard was bare.
When Juventus decided to build corresponding dynasties in both men's and women's football, they turned to former Italy international Rita Guarino for tactical competence. It wasn’t a mistake. The only drawback was Guarino received a one-year deal. She deserved more. The Old Lady has since made amends.
Guarino is among the many managers who thrived as a player before taking up coaching. She played in the Serie A for 15 years, winning the Scudetto and Coppa five times apiece. She’s transited beautifully as a gaffer. Juventus reap the fruits from picking a tactician of her ability.
With Guarino as the mastermind, Juventus enjoyed a year best described as extraordinarily successful. They won their maiden Serie A title in their debut campaign. Building a team from scratch and leading them to a league title is no mean feat. Rita Guarino will go down in history an icon for what she achieved in 2018.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are heralded for being goal machines. There’s another striker equally blessed. Although not as famous as her male counterparts, Ada Hegerberg can bang them in with anyone.
At 23, the Norwegian has already left an indelible imprint on the football landscape, not just for her stellar performances on the pitch but her actions off. Her continued absence from the Norwegian national team in protest to playing conditions for female players in Norway has been well documented.
The year in review was another immensely successful one for Hegerberg. She helped Lyon win the treble, including the Champions League. She broke the record for most goals scored in a Champions League campaign with 15 then went on to score 31 goals in the League. That secured her the 2018 Ballon d’Or trophy and a place in FIFA’s team of the year.
Ada Hegerberg's career consists of 237 goals in 233 games. She isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
Barcelona has a way of attracting the world’s best players. It worked for them when they signed Lieke Martens in 2017. The 26-year-old established herself among the most skilled, prolific goalscorers in the game.
Before the year was out, Martens was named The Best Women’s Player by FIFA and UEFA’s Women’s Player of the Year, largely due to her heroics for the Netherlands at UEFA Euro 2017. She plundered the best player award at the tournament while dragging l'Oranje to the winners' podium.
There weren’t any trophies for the successful Martens to celebrate in 2018. However, she helped her team push for the Liga title to the end. They lost it to Atletico Madrid by a point. History teaches there really is little difference between the men's and women's game.
Most importantly, Martens was instrumental in helping Holland reach the 2019 World Cup finals while the men went missing from Russia 2018.
Lieke Martens is one player to watch at the 2019 World Cup in France.
Some footballers are destined to travel harder roads. Eniola Aluko is one. The past couple of years tested her resolve to stay afloat in very choppy waters. She glided across that body of water like a duck on a Saturday afternoon in the sun.
Through 2017, Aluko faced repercussions for accusing former England manager Mark Sampson of racist remarks. She was exiled from the national team. Eventually, the FA compensated her for their poor treatment.
After winning the double with Chelsea, Aluko took the high road by leaving England to play in the Serie A. The 2015 WSL Player of the Year has shone in Italy with Juventus.
Barely halfway through the campaign, the 31-year-old is on nine goals, three more than she hit through all of last season with Chelsea. Call her multi-talented and you won’t be wrong. In August she joined the Guardian as a new columnist.
Orlando Pride boasts the greatest player in the women's game. Like Pele, Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo and the other greats, Marta will be remembered fondly as a legendary football superstar.
I don’t have the time to fit all her achievements in this block but no matter, 2018 was another incredible year for Marta.
The 32-year-old led Brazil to the Copa America title and was in devastating form for Pride in the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Her performance earned her The Best FIFA Women’s Player for 2018.
There’s a World Cup on the horizon and you can trust Marta to put on a show in the company of her fellow Selecao.
Her name is Bronze but she's golden to have in your defence. Lucy Bronze has made her mark in European football.
Bronze left Manchester City in 2017 a champion. She joined French giants Lyon and made the team even stronger. It was evident in 2018. Lyon swept Ligue 1, the Coupe de France and the Champions League.
Bronze put Lyon into the Champions League final with a brilliant volley that knocked out her former team, Manchester City. On the international front, she's ever present in Phil Neville’s Lionesses, helping them secure qualification for the 2019 World Cup.
If you’re a defender plying your trade in NWSL, your worst nightmares will become reality when you come up against Sam Kerr.
The NWSL is the best women’s League in the world. You know you're special when you dominate there. Kerr has been top scorer in back-to-back seasons.
In 2017 Kerr scored 17 goals to win the NWSL golden boot. She scored one less in 2018 but retained her award. Ending the year on a high, the Matildas striker was nominated among the top five in The Best FIFA’s Women’s Player.
Another proven scorer, Pernille Harder excels in the Bundesliga. Harder left Denmark in 2016 to join Wolfsburg, leading the line for Lyon's primary rival in continental dominance. The Danish striker pitched in with 17 goals to win the Bundesliga top scorer for 2017/18, scooping up the 2018 UEFA Player of the Year Award for her effort. The 2017 Danish Footballer of the year plundered eight goals to help her team to the Champions League final and earn a place in the team of the tournament.
Pernille Harder already has 10 goals from 12 Bundesliga matches this season. If there’s anyone gearing for a stellar 2019, it's her.