No Australian has ever won The Best FIFA Women’s Player Award, but that could all change in London on October 23rd.
Previously known as the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, the newly-renamed award is the most prestigious individual honour in both gender categories of football.
It celebrates the world’s best player of the beautiful game and no male or female Australian has ever won it, or even finished in the top three.
2017 could be the year that all changes and the player who could do it is Perth Glory’s very own Samantha Kerr.
2016-17 has been an amazing period for ‘Super Sam’.
Captaining Perth Glory last season, Kerr starred as she drove the club to another Westfield W-League Grand Final, scoring 10 goals during the regular season. And her outstanding acheivements were recognised as she received the revered Westfield W-League Julie Dolan Medal. Following on from her best W-League season to date, Kerr has performed admirably in a number of tournaments overseas for the Westfield Matildas and is in the midst of a rich vein of form for her National Women’s Soccer League side, the New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC.
So we’ve done our research here to see what her chances are of being named the Best Player in Women’s Football this season.
1. National Women’s Soccer League, 2017
It’s not just that Kerr has scored goals for Sky Blue FC, it’s the way she’s scored them. Scissor kicks, clinical close-range finishes, long shots and dazzling solo efforts have made up her 11 goals in 15 games in the NWSL, seeing her become the highest goal scorer ever in America’s premier women’s competition. The season is not over yet and Kerr currently sits second in the scoring charts, narrowly trailing the mercurial American Megan Rapinoe (12 from 15 matches), while the in-form Aussie has also provided the seventh-most assists across the league (3). And those achievements have seen her claim the NWSL Player of the Month award twice this season, a feat never previously achieved by an Australian.
2. Tournament of Nations, July 2017
The Tournament of Nations saw the football world sit up and take notice of Super Sam. She smashed in an incredible first-half hat-trick against AFC Asian Cup Champions and FIFA Women’s World Cup runners up, Japan, in the second group match, including a breathtaking solo goal. And she then played a key role in a 6-1 demolition of powerhouse Brazil as the Matildas clinched their first piece of silverware since 2010.
3. Westfied W-League, 2016-17
Despite an Australian having never won FIFA’s ultimate prize, Kerr wouldn’t become the first player to take the honours on behalf of the Westfield W-League. Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer won the 2013 FIFA World Player of the Year award as a Brisbane Roar player in what was a massive accolade for the league. It goes to show that FIFA treats our national women’s competition seriously as a measure of good performance and given that Kerr was head and shoulders above the rest last season, that could bode well for her this October.
4. The Algarve Cup, March 2017
The Algarve Cup in Portugal was one of the tougher tournaments for the Matildas as Head Coach Alen Stajcic experimented with younger players and new W-League performers in his squad. The usual attacking potency of the side was consequently slightly reduced and Kerr did not manage to find the back of the net in four matches. Nevertheless, the Aussies performed admirably in the group stage, before narrowly going down in the 3rd-place play-off to Denmark via a penalty shoot-out in which Kerr missed her spot-kick. Ultimately, the trip to Portugal won’t stand out as a highlight for Sam, but the groundwork put in by all concerned certainly paid dividends in the Tournament of Nations four months later.
5. Her Competition in 2017
Despite Kerr’s phenomenal form, there are several other outstanding women’s players in today’s game. Five-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year winner Marta is performing strongly for Orlando Pride in the NWSL, the Brazilian tallying eight goals and four assists so far this term. European-based players Dzsenifer Marozsán (Germany), Eugenie Le Sommer (France) and Saki Kumagai (Japan) were instrumental in Lyon’s UEFA Champions League triumph, while Paris Saint Germain’s Brazilian, Cristiane, also made the Squad of the Tournament. The Netherlands’ Lieke Martens won the Golden Ball at UEFA Euro 2017 last week, driving the Dutch to their first European women’s title, while her teammate and Bayern Munich striker Vivianne Miedema made the Champions League Squad of the Tournament and won the UEFA Euro 2017 Silver Boot. Europe’s strongest challenger, however, will surely be VFL Wolfsburg’s Danish attacking midfielder Pernille Harder who featured in the Squad of the Tournament for both the Champions League and European Championships.
But none of Kerr’s rivals present a stronger case than Carli Lloyd. USA’s co-captain has won the last two awards and inspired Manchester City’s successful FA Cup campaign in 2016-17, scoring in their 4-1 Final win over Birmingham City. The 35-year-old was also instrumental in City’s UEFA Champions League semi-finals run where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to eventual champions, Lyon. City had earlier finished equal-top with Chelsea in the FA Women’s Super League 1 Spring Series which ran through the first half of 2017.
OUR VERDICT: Sam Kerr to finish in third place
In my opinion, I believe Kerr’s performances this season are worthy of a top-three berth in The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2017 awards, but there are a number of other factors that will have a significant bearing upon the result.
It’s important to consider, for example, the six-person panel that chooses the top-ten shortlist; namely Mia Hamm (USA), Maia Jackman (New Zealand), Nadine Kessler (Germany), Jacqueline Shipanga (Namibia), Sissi (Brazil) and Sun Wen (China). The highly-respected Hamm, Sissi and Sun Wen, in particular, will have seen plenty of Kerr and her name seems highly likely to feature in their respective shortlists.
But from that final shortlist, key members of the women’s footballing community – namely journalists, fans, national team coaches and captains – will vote for the winner, with the final three nominees to be announced at a later date.
And this is where the process might get tough for Kerr.
The number of voting nations in Europe and the extra exposure the European players received at UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 may leave Sam facing an uphill battle for votes. It’s a tough reality for Australian players and an unfortunate trend we first saw emerge when Brisbane Roar and Matildas’ star Katrina Gorry missed out on the top three in 2014 despite being named the best player in Asia. My tip is that the popular vote will fall in favour of the infinitely-talented Lloyd to win her third straight individual honour. From there, my guess will be that a European player, probably Martens or Harder, will finish in second.
However, Kerr’s impact in America, at home in Perth and in front of the world in the Tournament of Nations should see her make the final three. I would love to see her win it. Working with the Perth Glory Women’s side last season made me see personally how hard she works on and off the field as the captain of the side, leading by example in everything that she does.
FUTURE TIP: Kerr to win it in 2018 or 2019
The AFC Women’s Asian Cup returns in April 2018, to be hosted in Jordan. In June 2019, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held in France. If the whole football world didn’t see her in 2017, then they won’t be able to miss her in the two years to follow.
And knowing our Super Sam, nothing is impossible. So go get ’em, captain!
(Until then, you can watch her in Perth Glory colours next season in the Westfield W-League!)