At the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™, FIFA.com looked into the fruitless comparison that is sometimes made between women’s and men’s football.
South Africa head coach and FIFA Technical Study Group member Vera Pauw was just one of the many figures from the women’s game who attested to the irrelevance of such a comparison. “People make that comparison because football is the biggest sport in the world and it’s only been recently that women have begun to create some space for themselves in the game,” she lamented at the time. “There aren’t many female role models yet and they’re not that well known in the media. That’s why this comparison is made all the time.”
Fortunately, it would appear that the exploits witnessed on Canadian turf last year have helped to facilitate a change in attitudes. A little over a year down the line, FIFA.com had the opportunity to interrogate the young stars participating at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016, and found that their idols are no longer all from the men’s sport.
“I’ve always admired Alex Scott in Arsenal’s senior team,” declared England’s Taylor Hinds, who is also on the London club’s books. “She’s been my role model for as long as I can remember. Lucy Bronze too. It’s nice to think that she also once played in this tournament. I watch her a lot, especially because she plays in the same position as me,” she continued, referring to the Manchester City defender’s participation in the inaugural U-17 World Cup in New Zealand in 2008.
Emulating their elders
Germany’s Giulia Gwinn has also taken inspiration from watching a player who shone in that first tournament. “My heroine in football is Alexandra Popp,” revealed the forward, whose three goals in Jordan meant that she scored one more than her idol registered in Oceania. “She’s a wonderful player,” Gwinn continued. “She scores lots of goals, and important ones too. I’m always impressed by her body language and her on-field attitude.”
Like Hinds and Gwinn, the majority of players are naturally drawn towards established performers in their own positions. Laia Aleixandri, for example, admires Virginia Torrecilla. The two share the ability to dictate their team’s play from a deep-lying midfield role. “She gives everything for her team, in both attack and defence,” Aleixandri explained. “I always watch players who play that defensive midfield position. I like her playing style, her skill on the ball. I had the chance to meet her, which was great. Hopefully one day I’ll be like her.”
Emulating one’s idol is something that Cameroon’s Alexandra Takounda has already been able to achieve, if only for a second. “I love Cristiano Ronaldo, and I’m very happy to have scored a goal akin to one he might have scored,” she admitted, in reference to her magical back-heeled finish against Venezuela. “But above all, I admire Gaelle Enganamouit," she stressed, paying homage to her compatriot who top-scored for the Indomitable Lionesses in Canada in 2015. “She’s strong, quick, and she had an outstanding tournament in Cameroon’s first Women’s World Cup appearance. I would have liked to have done likewise in Jordan but, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. But I hope to follow in her footsteps and have a career like hers.”
A force for change
Curiously, her teammate Eni Kuchambi also picks out a forward – Brazilian legend Marta – as a source of inspiration, despite the fact that she herself plays in defence. “Even though she’s an attacker, I just love the way she plays,” she reasoned. “When I watch her play, it just makes me want to keep going and to follow my dream of playing football. She gives me that energy and that desire to carry on working hard.”
Ghana’s Kayza Massey has also dreamed of emulating the world’s greatest strikers. But her first taste of playing in goal, at the age of 12, was to change both her life and her idols. "Before then, like most kids, I loved being a striker, scoring goals," she explained. "But then I started playing in goals and just found it really calming. I never feel stressed when I'm in goal. All goalkeepers have their own style, and I try to learn different elements from the ones I admire. I'd like to play like Hope Solo, and integrate a bit of Neuer in there as well, but it's always important to be yourself."
Last but not least, FIFA.com spoke to Spain’s Lorena Navarro, who stole the show on the opening day with her five-goal performance against the hosts. Navarro could not hide her admiration for Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, “because they’re small like me, and they score lots of goals”. However, the pocket-sized striker has only one name in mind when it comes to choosing her number one idol. “I admire Veronica Boquete,” she replied. “In Spain it’s still quite difficult to make a living out of football, but things are slowly changing thanks to players like her.”
Although she may not know it yet, that process may well have been given a big push in the right direction thanks to the performances of all of these young stars in Jordan.