- Deyna Castellanos is the youngest-ever The Best FIFA Women's Player Award nominee
- She is the poster girl for Venezuela's golden generation
- She dreams of helping La Vinotinto reach France 2019
The morning of 17 August was just like any other for Deyna Castellanos… until her mobile phone began bleeping.
"I was having breakfast with the team before training, in the physiotherapy room, and I got a notification about a tweet from FIFA.com saying I'd been nominated. I was absolutely buzzing when I read it; I started shouting and running around the treatment tables. My team-mates asked me what all the commotion was about!"
At the tender age of 18, the Venezuelan had just become the youngest-ever nominee for The Best FIFA Women's Player Award. After composing herself, the next step was to tell her Florida State Seminoles coach and call home, whereupon she received the warmest of congratulations from her mother, with whom she has a close bond: "She told me she was the proudest mum in the world."
A whirlwind month on, Castellanos is still figuratively pinching herself.
"The first week after the nomination was [crazy]… As soon as the voting opened, a lot of people started voting for me. All of my team-mates did and so did the coaching staff. They told me, 'I'm voting for you and I'll put Carli Lloyd as my second choice,' because most of my team-mates are American," said the teenager, barely stifling a laugh.
"I burst out laughing every time I think about being nominated alongside players like Carli Lloyd. A fit of giggles comes over me, because I never thought this would happen so soon. I'm still completely in shock."
To fully grasp why this has struck such a chord, we have to rewind to 2016, when Castellanos was lighting up the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Jordan and FIFA.com asked her about her favourites for that year's The Best FIFA Football Awards™:
Less than a year later, the Venezuelan forward has not only wowed the world again; she has also surpassed her own expectations. "I still haven't played in an U-20 World Cup, let alone a senior World Cup. I don't even play in a professional league [the Seminoles compete at college level and she is yet to grace the NWSL], the Champions League or anything like that. To already be among the ten nominees is simply incredible. It also strengthens my resolve because winning this award would be a dream and the idea drives me on to keep working hard and putting in the effort."
The recognition may have taken the starlet herself by surprise, but the same surely cannot be said of Juan Arango. Venezuela's greatest-ever footballer is something of a mentor to Castellanos and ventured a bold prediction a few months ago: "It won't be too long before she's the best player in the world, no question. I think Deyna's the natural heir to Marta or Carli Lloyd."
What is Deyna's take on these comparisons? "Marta was always my biggest role model and it's amazing to hear people say that I'm her heir and can do what she did. Juan is really pleased with the nomination; now, as he always tells me, it's all about continuing to kick on."
For the time being, however, Castellanos is counting down the days until 22 September, when she will find out whether she is among the three finalists for the prize and will have the chance to attend the ceremony in London on 23 October.
While awaiting the news – she will be keeping her phone close to hand – she admitted to having allowed her mind to wander ahead: "Have I pictured myself at the gala? Yes! Not right now, though; maybe in a few years," she said, before erupting into laughter again.
A meteoric rise:
- 1999: Born in Maracay, Venezuela, on 18 April.
- 2004: Takes up football, inspired by older brother Alvaro.
- 2014: Joins the academy run by her mentor, Juan Arango. That same year she shares the top-scorer gong with compatriot Gabriela Garcia at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2014 and tops the charts outright at the Girls' Youth Olympic Football Tournament Nanjing 2014.
- 2016: Her goals in Jordan take her tally at the U-17 Women's World Cup to 11 in total, making her the competition's all-time leading scorer. She wins the adidas Bronze Boot and Bronze Ball at the event, and her wonder strike against Cameroon is named the Goal of the Tournament.
- 2017: She is included in the All-United Women's Soccer First Team (the competition's team of the year) and named the UWS Player of the Year.
- 2017: Nominated for The Best FIFA Women's Player award