No discussion about the world of women’s football would be complete without mentioning Mia Hamm. The American is one of the best-known female footballers of all time. Her magnificent performances earned the striker four FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year nominations, winning the accolade in 2001 and 2002.

“The ceremony in Zurich is a wonderful event,” explained Hamm in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “You are able to see some of your peers that you compete against and celebrate this game that we all love. You also get to share time with some of the best men’s players that you normally only get to watch on TV.”

In an 18-year career stretching from 1987 to 2004, Hamm won two FIFA Women's World Cups™ and two Olympic gold medals, but she ranks USA's 1999 World Cup triumph on home soil among her most special memories.

“That is one of those fairy-tale experiences. First for us starting in a giant stadium, being sold out and then everywhere we went this kind of momentum and energy grew with the tournament. I’ll never forget knowing how I felt and how my team felt.”

Hamm’s impressive world record tally of 158 international goals was only broken in June 2013 by former team-mate Abby Wambach, a turn of events that makes the mother of three extremely proud and happy. “I have seen the investment and the work she [Abby] has done on her game. So many of these goals happened because she is sharper than anyone else on the field. She's worked so hard,” Hamm explained.

Improving standards and global development
"I am happy for the game, the level it’s gotten to," Hamm went on. "I'm happy that these women are able to compete on a more consistent basis and not only get together and play with the national team a couple of times a year. The federations are investing in the program and you are seeing world championships at all different youth levels. The games are real celebrations. This is exciting, not only as a former player, but as a fan of the game.”

Hamm was just 15 when she made her first appearance in the Stars and Stripes squad, making her debut against China PR on 3 August 1987. Women’s football has developed rapidly since then. “First you look at the last World Cup, where you had two new countries who had never competed at a World Cup before. You have youth championships at all different levels. All this is so good and positive for our game because we understand the importance of development and growing the game.”

To any young girl that wants to follow in my footsteps, I would say: go for it! You get back what you invest.
Mia Hamm

The investments made by football associations in the future of women’s football continued to reap benefits. The 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup perhaps marked a turning point when Japan became world champions, despite not being among the favourites at the outset of the tournament.

“First of all Japan should now absolutely be spoken of in the same sentence with the US and Germany," said the 44-year-old in admiration of the Nadeshiko. "They are World Cup champions and not only are they the champions, but the style of football they play is so attractive. You saw the leadership and the passion that the Japanese players played with.”

Always in the fans’ hearts.
Although women’s football is on the right track on other continents, Hamm believes much more must be done to continue the development of the sport. “Globally I love the fact that you have seen African countries come and play. Obviously there is so much more we can do in South America too. The easiest way for FIFA is to take the lead and come in with the federations that are already involved and use ambassadors.”

Ambassadors such as Hamm herself, who takes her responsibilities as a role model very seriously. “I am a mom now, my daughters are six-and-a-half now and I see how important it is to make sure that whatever path, whatever choices they make, whatever their love and interests are, they have a positive environment in which to do it.

"For me that was sport, specifically football. So to any young girl that wants to follow in my footsteps, I would say: go for it! You get back what you invest. I try to share with them that they are worth that investment.”

Hamm may have retired from football in 2004, but she will always have a place in the hearts of millions of young girls and women across the globe.