Today, the third inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or will be announced. Like every year, an assembly of international captains and journalists selected a group of 20 women's players based on their individual impact in the past year’s club and international competitions.
Given the limited number of nominees (the women’s list has 10 less than the men’s), many deserving players missed out and many fans were left unsatisfied by France Football’s selections. The list included zero Germans, zero players from the Bundesliga, just two Swedish players, and some players who seemed to have been nominated by name only. Here we look at some of the biggest names that missed out from Ballon d’Or contention and why they may have deserved a nomination.
Barbra Banda (Shanghai Shengli, Zambia)
2021 was the first year that the African country of Zambia participated in an Olympics women’s football tournament. Barbra Banda, the Copper Queens’ 21-year-old starting striker and captain, was by far the breakout performer at these past Olympics. On the world’s biggest stage, Banda scored a hat-trick in a loss against the Netherlands, and then scored another hat-trick in a 4-4 draw against China, giving Zambia their first ever point in a major international competition. Zambia finished third place in their group with just 1 point, but individually, Banda finished as the tournament's joint-second highest goalscorer with 6 goals.
Banda was successful in her club play as well, and in November 2020, finished as the Chinese league’s top-scorer with 18 goals in 9 games, 11 goals more than the second-highest goalscorer.
Considering how heavy of a priority France Football seemed to place on international competition with their list of nominees, it’s a slight surprise that Banda wasn’t in consideration. She has plenty of time to continue making a name for herself in the football world though, so hopefully the Olympics was not the last we see of the young star.
Fridolina Rolfö (VfL Wolfsburg/FC Barcelona, Sweden)
Fridolina Rolfö has spent the last few seasons of her career struggling with injuries, causing her club form to dip. Despite this, she had herself a few very good appearances in Wolfsburg’s biggest games of last season, including the DfB Pokal final and their UWCL quarterfinal tie against Chelsea.
Where Rolfö really stood out were her performances with Sweden at the 2020 Olympics. She scored three times in two matches against Australia. Her brace against the Aussies in the group stage secured them first place in their group, and her goal against them in the semifinals single-handedly sent Sweden to the gold medal match.
Rolfö left the Bundesliga this summer after struggling with injuries for many seasons. Her next destination was treble-winners Barcelona, and the Swede has been in great form since her big-time summer move to Spain. In just 4 months with Barcelona, she's already doubled her G+A contribution from her entire last season with Wolfsburg.
Lina Magull (Bayern Munich, Germany)
Lina Magull had her best season as a Bayern Munich player this past year, conquering the club’s long-awaited league title after four seasons of Wolfsburg’s dominance. Magull was essential in some of Bayern’s most important games in their title charge, including their tight win against Turbine Potsdam in the fourth-last matchday to essentially secure their league title.
Alongside their league win was their Champions League charge, having herself yet another set of influential performances as Bayern reached their second-ever semifinal. Unfortunately, the Bavarians were narrowly beaten by Chelsea in the semifinals, which may have overshadowed Bayern’s domestic and international successes.
Sofia Jakobsson (Real Madrid/Bayern Munich, Sweden)
Jakobsson was one of Real Madrid’s top 3 players last year as the team finished second place in the league, qualifying for the Champions League in just their first season of existence. Jakobsson was Madrid’s midfield maestro and one of their most important creators, providing an essential role of leadership in a very young and inexperienced team. The Swede’s season ended with 8 goals and 9 assists in the league, making her one of the top offensive players in Spain.
At the Olympics Jakobsson was also a standout player, registering three assists- one against the United States and two against Australia- and being one of Sweden’s most important players in transition.
Kosovare Asllani (Real Madrid, Sweden)
Alongside Jakobsson was compatriot Kosovare Asllani, Real Madrid’s top scorer in last season’s Spanish league with sixteen goals. Asllani finished her season with the league’s fifth-most overall goals and the second-most goals of a player not from Barcelona. She was also Madrid’s sole goalscorer in Spain’s domestic cup competition, the Copa de la Reina.
At the Olympics, Asllani didn’t have as many goals or assists as Jakobsson, but was their most important midfielder. She also assisted Sweden’s only goal in the gold-medal match, topping off her impressive performances.
Hanna Glas (Bayern Munich, Sweden)
Chelsea’s Magda Eriksson has been Sweden’s standout defender throughout this season, attributed to her domestic success with WSL side Chelsea. However, there was another prominent Swedish defender who had great performances with both club and country- Bayern Munich’s Hanna Glas.
Glas’ Bayern had great domestic success this year, winning the Bundesliga for the first time since 2016 and breaking Wolfsburg’s streak of four consecutive league titles. The Bavarians did so while conceding just 9 goals in 22 matches. Glas was one of Bayern’s most consistent high-level performers throughout this season, providing her team with defensive solidity and offensive danger.
On the international stage, Hanna Glas’ Olympics tournament was great. Her best performance of the tournament was against one of Sweden’s most difficult opponents, the United States, where she was fantastic defensively as well as registering an assist. She then played in each match of the knockouts, with her backline conceding just two goals in 3 games.
Ji So-Yun (Chelsea, South Korea)
Ji is one of the more overlooked players in Chelsea’s squad, often outshone by their illustrious attacking trio of Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, and Pernille Harder. Ji may not make as many headlines, but she was one of Chelsea’s best players this past year as they won the league, won the Conti Cup, and made it to the first Champions League final of their history. Ji's goal against Bayern in the second leg of their UWCL semifinal tie sparked the comeback against the Germans that pushed them to win 4-1 and advance to the final. Her team suffered greatly against Barcelona, but she was one of the few Chelsea players truly giving it their all in that match.
Not only did she have an illustrious campaign with her club team, Ji also made history with her national team by surpassing Cha Bum-kun as South Korea’s all time top goalscorer. She also captained her country to qualify for the 2022 AFC Women’s Cup.
Aitana Bonmatí (FC Barcelona, Spain)
Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmatí had the season of her life this year. Already one of Europe’s best young midfielders, Aitana emerged in this Barcelona side as an irreplaceable part of the team’s starting XI.
In February of 2021, she was awarded the Copa de la Reina Final MVP for her performance against EdF Logroño. In April, she had two great performances against PSG in the UWCL semifinals that included an assist, and in May, she scored Barcelona’s third goal in the 2021 Champions League Final and was named Player of the Match. She was later listed as a nominee for the UWCL Midfielder of the Season award.
Although her Champions League Final performance was undoubtedly the highlight of her season, she had multiple other world-class performances with Barcelona in the league and in the Copa de la Reina. Aitana’s greatness may be overshadowed by the bigger and brighter players around her, but her exclusion from the nominees is still questionable.
Mapi León (FC Barcelona, Spain)
Much is to be said about Barcelona’s incredible goalscoring ability, but not enough is said about their lack of goals conceded on the other end of the pitch. Barcelona conceded 15 goals in 34 league matches and just 6 goals in their Champions League campaign. At the heart of Barcelona’s defense last season was Mapi León, one of the club’s most consistent players.
It’s generally understood amongst the women’s football faithful that Mapi is a top center back in the world. That understanding comes from her unique profile as a versatile defender; Mapi is just as capable of making sliding tackles and goal-line saves as much as she is outsmarting attackers and passing through defensive lines.
Mapi had many notable defensive performances this season, especially those in the Champions League. Mapi played the 2021 UWCL final with a makeshift center back pairing of her and Patri Guijarro, but still allowed in zero goals against one of the best attacking trios in women’s football. This season so far, she has arguably been Barcelona’s best player behind Ballon d'Or favorite Alexia Putellas.
For such an excellent year Barcelona has had, not one of their 2020-21 defenders being nominated is something of a surprise.
Caroline Graham Hansen (FC Barcelona, Norway)
Every year there are a few players excluded from these year-end lists where arguments could be made for or against their inclusion. However, rarely is a player excluded where a very good argument could be made about them finishing top 3, let alone winning the entire thing.
This year, that player in question was Norway and FC Barcelona winger Caroline Graham Hansen. Hansen’s importance in Barcelona’s historic treble-winning season cannot be understated. Between the league and the Champions League, Hansen tallied an incredible 23 assists and 14 goals, with many coming in important and symbolic moments.
In the Champions League Hansen was particularly outstanding- she scored and/or assisted against Manchester City, Paris-Saint Germain and Chelsea, which no other Barcelona player did. Before her heart scare, Hansen was Barcelona’s standout player for this current season despite the excellence and consistency of Alexia Putellas. In complete truth, Caroline Graham Hansen’s absence is a stain on the list of nominees.