Why Irene Paredes deserves to win the 2021 Ballon d'Or Féminin
After the Qatar Sports Investments takeover of Paris Saint-Germain Féminine in 2012, PSG’s main goal was usurp the budding dynasty of Olympique Lyon Feminine. For the next decade, despite assembling superteam after superteam, PSG only managed to best their rivals to one title- the 2018 Coupe de France féminine.
2021 was a year that PSG's luck turned around as they managed to usurp their arch rivals Olympique Lyonnais both domestically and internationally. The Parisians finally fought their way through Lyon’s seemingly impenetrable wall, breaking their 14 year long streak of league title wins and stopping them from winning the Champions League for the first time since 2015.
The player at the focal point of PSG’s success was then-captain Irene Paredes, an imposing center back who made a name for herself as one of the world’s best defenders. In her final season with PSG, she led her side to conquer France’s D1, the club’s second major title and their first ever league title.
Like many of PSG’s successes, Irene’s 2021 was best defined by her performances against their biggest rivals Lyon. In four meetings this season, they won twice, drew once, and lost just once. At the center of those wins was the defensive solidity that Irene Paredes provided. PSG allowed just two goals in those four matches, an unprecedented defensive record in their frequent meetings with their cross-country rivals.
Outside of the domestic rivalry, Irene’s PSG exited the Champions League to Barcelona on a 3-2 aggregate score. Only allowing 3 goals over two legs against that Barcelona team was something that no other team managed to do in the Champions League last year. Not soon after their Champions League exit, in the second to last D1 matchday, her defense held Lyon to a 0-0 draw, essentially winning PSG the league. The league technically ran to the final matchday, where Irene scored a symbolic header in PSG’s final match of the season in a 3-0 win against Dijon. In her last match in Paris, she lifted the club’s first league title. PSG finished their league campaign undefeated with 20 wins, two draws and zero losses, with just four goals conceded over the entire season.
In the summer of 2021, Irene returned to her native Spain to play for semifinal rivals and treble-winners FC Barcelona. She immediately slotted in Andrea Pereira’s place at RCB after Pereira had been starting there for the better part of three seasons. While at Barcelona, she won the UEFA Women’s Champions League Defender of the Season award in commemoration for her great Champions League performances with PSG.
It’s worth noting what PSG’s defense turned into after Irene left. PSG failed to replace their captain with a world class defender, and as a result, the first meeting of the season between the two teams ended in a catastrophic 1-6 defeat for PSG. It one of the worst defeats the Parisians have faced in the history of their rivalry with Lyon, rivaled only by two 0-5 defeats in 2015 and 2019 and an 0-7 defeat in 2016.
When it comes to the Ballon d’Or, the one chosen is almost always an attacking-minded player. They are the players who make the most visible difference, providing the most decisive moments and eye-catching pieces of invention, trickery and skill. However, Irene’s impact on this historic PSG squad is nothing to understate. On her way to conquering France, her quality as a defender outshone some of the world’s best players and dismantled the biggest dynasty in the history of the sport.