The world of women's football is still searching for a hero to rival the inimitable Mia Hamm since her tearful retirement in 2004. But the world's all-time top scorer in both men's and women's football has kept more than just a toe in the beautiful game and the FIFA Ambassador for Women's Football was kind enough to sit down with FIFA.com to discuss the upcoming FIFA Women's World player of the year announcement.
With her record of two World Player of the Year titles under serious threat by Germany's Birgit Prinz, Mia - as ever - was the picture of gracious humility on the eve of the 19 December award ceremony…
As the only woman to have won it twice, what does the FIFA Women's Player of the Year award mean to you?
The award means a lot to me personally and also to women's football in general. It's great to have that validation from your peers and from the coaches and for me it was one of the biggest and most tremendous honours and privileges of my life. The fact that FIFA honours a female player alongside the best men and brings them together on the same stage is a fabulous shot in the arm for women's soccer. It's something worth celebrating. We work every year here in the US to make the women's game more prominent and increase its acceptance and appeal. The US Soccer Federation has set the bar so high and now it's great that FIFA is doing the same thing. There is still a long way to go, but having a woman up there on the podium alongside the guys is a wonderful thing for the game and I was thrilled to have been up there on two occasions.
Young Brazilian sensation Marta has been garnering all the plaudits of late. You had several opportunities to play against her. Is she, as some have said, the most talented female footballer of all-time?
Marta is one of the best players I have ever played with or against - that is a simple fact. For me, though, I like to take into account a player's all-around ability and Michelle Akers is still by far the best. She just didn't have a weakness. Personally, I was terrible in the air. I could hold the ball up, but I had my frailties…she literally had no weaknesses. She could hurt you in so many different ways. She was great behind the ball and up front in attack as well. She could serve up 50 yards balls with precision or a dinky ten-yard chip over a defender's head. She was unreal on set pieces and could drive the ball or bend it. Marta still has a long way to go to catch up with that kind of excellence, but we're still talking about a baby here - what is she 19?! A long way to go or not, I would take her on my team any day. She can dribble, go right at defenders, intimidate with her physical presence and she has the heart of a true competitor. If she stays healthy and surrounds herself with the right people, she's going to get frighteningly dominant; I don't doubt it.
If the decision were left to you, which of the three finalists would get the award: Marta, Shannon Boxx or Birgit Prinz?
The three players in the running are so completely different it's amazing. That's the beauty of the game in some respects, but it also makes these players very difficult to compare. I look at Birgit (Prinz of Germany) and I see all the improvements she's made, and there's no doubt that she has become one of the top players in the world. I can remember back five years ago she still had some weaknesses, but she's worked incredibly hard to make her game more complete and fix the problems that plagued her in the past. She is a great finisher and she makes such intelligent runs, it's scary. I can admit to watching videos of her to try to improve my running off the ball! She works so hard at getting better; it's no accident that she's always in the right place at the right time. And over the years, with all that hard work, natural ability and physical presence, she has become a complete player. If she's not scoring the goals, she's directly involved in making them.
And what of your former teammate Shannon Boxx's chances?
Boxxy, well she's the worker. I played alongside her for a while and what she does is allow the playmakers to focus on being the playmakers and creating with the ball. She's a pure ball winner and physically she is extremely intimidating. You will pay a big price if you try to take her on; she plays with pride the whole game long. She does all the dirty work and distributes the ball while finding the time to be a towering target on set pieces. She can also fire a one-time shot as good as any pure striker, which is impressive considering she is primarily a defensive-style player. Among the three final candidates, her improvement has been the most impressive and the most dramatic. There hasn't been a dominant personality or presence like that on the field since (Michelle) Akers. She also has the ability to get the rest of the team committed to the fight. She can fly into a tackle and really wake people up. I'm so happy for her to be recognised, because it's not often a player like that gets the recognition they deserve. But you ask anyone who has played with her or against her and they'll tell you she is absolutely one of the best. A player like that makes a huge difference on the field.
Keep an eye on FIFA.com to see who will become Women's World Player of the Year for 2005 on 19 December…