The facts are plain to see. Attackers have always been favoured when it comes to awarding the title of FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. And while German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer may have proved the exception to the rule in 2013, a defender is yet to pick up the prestigious individual prize.
However, with Wendie Renard and Lucy Bronze both named on the shortlist for The Best FIFA Women's Player 2017, perhaps that could all be about to change. FIFA.com examines the case for the defence.
“All in all, I had a pretty good season!” Renard told FIFA.com. “I’ve had better years, but I think that I performed consistently. Winning three pieces of silverware gets you noticed. I’m thrilled to be on the list, and even more so since it was chosen by football experts,” she continued.
Renard’s year in figures:
A fourth UEFA Women's Champions League - An eleventh French title - A seventh French Cup *- One SheBelievesCup with the French national team
“Any game, any training session, I want to play at my absolute best," said Bronze. "I pushed myself hard for the EURO and I’m happy in the sense that I know there’s not much more I could have given. As a team, although we fell short, we really did try our best. It’s up to other people to judge whether I played well or not; all I can say is that I didn’t come away with any big regrets because I know I worked my hardest in every single minute I played.”
Those EURO 2017 finals gave the opportunity for the two players to once more show their class, on the back of a busy season with their club sides. The energetic England defender enhanced her reputation as one of the best full-backs in world football. Equally at ease in the attacking third as when called upon to defend, Bronze played a key role her country’s march to the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, the towering Renard proved again just how indispensible she has become at the heart of the French defence. Her absence through suspension at the quarter-final stage proved crucial, as France were knocked out of the tournament by – you guessed it – Lucy Bronze’s England.
***Bronze’s year in figures:
One FA Cup - One Champions League semi-final - One EURO 2017 semi-final - One nomination in the *EURO 2017 team of the tournament
Although still international rivals, these two defensive stars are now team-mates at club level. As the 2016/17 season came to a close, Lucy Bronze left Manchester City to join Olympique Lyonnais, where Wendie Renard has been club captain for the last four seasons. But before they attempt to claim a third successive treble for the club, Bronze and Renard have a different target in their sights.
“It was a very nice feeling to see my name on that list, especially when you see the names you're alongside. It’s something special to be spoken about as one of the top players in the world and I’m really very grateful to have been nominated.”
It is a sentiment shared by Renard. “I am very proud to be named among the best players in the world. It’s the result of many years of hard work, a few remarkable seasons with Olympique Lyonnais and also some good matches with the French team. It goes to show that all the hard work has not gone unnoticed. It’s even more satisfying, as you rarely see defenders in this sort of list,” she pointed out.
A quick glance at the list of previous winners – including Mia Hamm, Birgit Prinz, Marta, Abby Wambach, Nadine Kessler, Homare Sawa and Carli Lloyd – suggests that the prize is all but exclusively reserved for forwards and attacking midfielders. Is that a source of frustration? “Silky skills, finishes and spectacular goals get more attention than the thankless tasks and the unseen work – that’s just how it is,” explained Renard. “However, behind any great goal, there may be a cross, and before that another pass, and before that a tackle. Every position, every link in the chain, is essential.”
Bronze takes up the argument. "People will tend to watch more live matches, especially when it comes to the big games, in men’s football, whereas in the women’s game they just tend to pick up short highlights - the most spectacular attacking moments basically," she explained. "You obviously don’t get a full appreciation of defenders watching games that way.
"I’ve seen that myself at the World Cup, when I got a name for myself after scoring a couple of goals – which itself is very unusual for me. I’m still known for that to an extent a couple of years later and there’s no doubt that doing something notable at a EURO or World Cup – scoring goals or saving penalties in Nadine Angerer’s case – is what often gets you noticed as a women’s player."
What they think of each other: - Wendie on Lucy: “She’s a great player. Whether for Manchester City or for England, her performances have been impressive. It’s a great signing for OL. It’s players like Lucy who are going to change the way people look at defenders.”
- Lucy on Wendie: "I think she is the world’s best centre-half. She’s been seen in that way for a while now, and rightly so. It’s actually funny being on the same team as her now because, playing against her, she gives off a very stern, serious and focused aura, walking with her shoulders back, looking very confident – and quite rightly – in her own abilities. But coming to the club, I saw immediately that she has such a different way about her off the pitch. She’s really funny, down-to-earth, full of smiles and was so welcoming to me when I first came in. As well as being a great player, she’s a great character.”