Equal Time: Marta Is FIFA's Best
While FIFA decided to follow UEFA’s example by beginning a new chapter in its history on the men’s side, it penned an appropriate climax to a women’s generation. The third, too forgotten player to win five Ballon d’Ors pipped Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to a sixth yesterday. Just as the public divided into two minds regarding Luka Modric’s coronation as FIFA’s Best, Marta’s recognition as the Women’s Best was surprising. Ada Hegerberg dominated play in UEFA. The 23-year-old Norwegian was the focal point in Olympique Lyonnais’ attack. She scored 31 goals in 20 matches in Division 1 Feminine and another 15 in nine Champions League numbers. Talk about Messi and Ronaldo numbers.
In 2017, Marta moved from Rosengard in the Swedish Damallvenskan to the National Women’s Soccer League in the US, kitting up for the Orlando Pride. The weather was warmer but her numbers don't put any heat on Hegerberg. She potted 13 goals in 24 appearances in her debut campaign and only four in 17 this season. She added two goals in nine appearances for the Brazilian national team this year.
Lyon’s dominance in Europe [they cruised to their third consecutive Champions League last term] should've made Hegerberg a shoe-in for the award. Dszenifar Maroszan’s presence on the final ballot appears to be a factor. As Lyon’s no.10 and the creative force behind most Hegerberg strikes, she likely split the vote.
Marta herself was visibly taken aback when her name was announced. That said, the 32-year-old's widely recognised as the best player the women’s game has seen. Unlike countryman Pele and fellow South American Diego Maradona, she’s done it the hard way.
Her U20 side stunned the United States at the Maracana to win the 2007 Pan-American Games. The famous venue sold out with 68,000 fans for the match. The Brazilian senior women’s team doesn’t dominate the world scene like the Selecao and Albiceleste, however. The USWNT are the big dogs. Marta hasn’t been surrounded by players who complement her ability in the same way as Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Her Olympic career has been stellar, with three silver medals to show for her efforts. Overall, she's come through with 31 goals in 55 international caps.
Even in club play, her individual brilliance hasn’t carried teams. She left Rosengard after the team bowed out to Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals. Although Marta led the Pride in scoring and was voted the team’s player of the year by her teammates, Orlando finished third in the NWSL.
Hegerberg’s numbers dazzle in comparison but also illustrate how far women’s football must still go. The gulf between good and elite teams is wide because there's not enough investment to support most players on a full-time basis. Lyon boasts such investment and thus built a juggernaut that rivals teams like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Barcelona squads and Real Madrid’s galacticos. The Norwegian’s production with Turbine Potsdam in the Frauen Bundesliga was far more modest.
In some ways, Marta’s selection as FIFA’s Best for 2017/18 is a career achievement award, which it should not be. On the other hand, until football makes a more commensurate commitment to the women’s game in relation to the men’s, the gap in quality must be taken into account. Neither Ada Hegerberg nor Marta’s individual brilliance should be gauged according to their respective teams’ success.