VAVEL Top 50 Female Footballers of 2016: 10-1
Image credit: VAVEL

We have undoubtedly ruffled a few feathers on the way down (50-41, 40-31, 30-21, 20-11) and will probably ruffle a few more by the time we reach #1, but such is life. Without further ado, here is our [official] list of the best ten footballers of 2016.

10. Lucy Bronze (Manchester City/England)

Even with Manchester City romping to their first WSL title there was one player who stood out from the rest, not just for City but across the entire WSL, widely recognised as an absolute force in English football; Lucy Bronze.

PFA player’s player of the year for 2013-14, Vauxhall PotY last year and WSL 1 player’s PotY this year, Bronze has long since been lauded for her individual talent on the pitch, as well as enjoying the most decorated year of her domestic career, helping City to the double (scooping her third WSL title). It’s easy to say 2016 has been another good year for Bronze who announced herself to more of the world with her lung-busting performances at the 2015 World Cup.

Exemplifying full-back play, Bronze is a master not just of bombing on down the right, but a devil on the ball when she’s in full-flow, breaking through midfield and skipping around her opposite defenders. A neat lay-off to another in sky blue or a whipped cross to pick out Jane Ross or Jill Scott lurking in the box, keen to get their head on something, Bronze remains a creative outlet in a team of champions.

Excelling not just in attack but defence, Bronze has been utilised by national coach, Mark Sampson in a back three – although arguably better when she’s allowed to chase up and down the channels, Bronze is a committed defender and stubbornly refuses to let attackers pass her. A sharp eye unwilling to be deceived as she times her tackles to perfection, Bronze is more than comfortable at centre-back, her envious work ethic key to her continued eye catching performances at full back.

9. Lynn Williams (Western New York Flash/USWNT)

One of the big stories in women’s football this season was the rise of Lynn Williams. In just her second professional year with the Western New York Flash, the striker had a break out season that not only won her the 2016 NWSL Golden Boot, but also scored the crucial game-tying goal and a penalty that helped her team become the 2016 NWSL Champions. Williams has explosive pace and an eye for goal and those attributes garnered her 11 goals and five assists during this recent NWSL season.

Her performances were nothing short of sensational and earned her a call up to the national team. Once she has handed her first cap, Williams took full advantage of her opportunity and finished her budding international career with a first international goal to her name. The US has an abundance of strikers but at the rate that Williams is developing, it will be very difficult to leave the NWSL 2016 MVP off any future national team roster.

8. Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns/USWNT)

After flattering to deceive for many years, Tobin Heath finally fulfilled the potential that had many coaches hailing her as the next great creative player for the US this year. At club level, Heath was outstanding all season for her team, the Portland Thorns, and became the fulcrum of their offense.

The Thorns finished top of the table at the end of the regular season and Heath’s ten assists were a huge reason for that high placing. The Thorns were scuppered by eventual champions, the Western New York Flash, in the semi-final but Heath was again impressive for the Thorns in that playoff game.

Her performances earned her a spot in the NWSL Best XI and it was fully deserved. For the national team, in a year which saw a disappointing early exit for the United States of America at the Olympics, Heath was one of the few players who did not disappoint for the US. Heath finished her 2016 calendar year for the national team with six goals and five assists, and was announced as the 2016 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year as a reward for her performances.

7. Pernille Harder (Linköping/Denmark)

It has been yet another sensational year for the 24-year-old Dane. She has won the Swedish title Linköping, in a season where she netted 23 times in 22 games, making her top scorer in the league. She added ten assists to that tally, which took her to second in the assist charts. For this she was crowned league MVP and named the league’s best forward at the Swedish football gala. In addition to this, she was voted the best player in the league by her fellow players, as well as being part of the team said players also voted for as their best eleven.

It has not just been a special year club wise. With the national team, whom she was made captain of in march, she enjoyed a successful European Qualifier campaign that saw the Scandinavian side qualify for the tournament in the Netherlands next year. Harder scored seven goals, with six of them coming in 2016. She finished the NT year by scoring twice in a 3-1 win against Belgium in a friendly.

Harder, who is also nominated for Danish female footballer of the year, recently secured a move to German giants Wolfsburg.

6. Sam Mewis (Western New York Flash/USWNT)

Samantha Mewis, like her club teammate Lynn Williams, had a breakthrough second year in her professional career with the Western New York Flash. Mewis was always highly rated throughout her college career and earned a few national team call ups in her rookie year in the NWSL. It wasn’t until this year that the midfielder really found her groove and stamped her mark in the women’s game.

Mewis finished her season with five goals and two assists, and along with a goal in the final and a converted penalty, helped the WNY Flash to their first ever NWSL Championship. What makes Mewis such a talent is her technique on the ball, her ability to pick the right pass at the right time and her height which all help her be the threat from midfield that she proved to be this past season.

On the national team, Mewis plays a slightly deeper role than her role for the Flash but it does not diminish her abilities at all. In her limited minutes this year, Mewis has still managed to find the back of the net four times and continued to knock on the door for a spot in the starting eleven of the USWNT. At the rate that she is currently developing at, fans of the game can look towards hearing her name more often at the very highest levels.

5. Lara Dickenmann (Wolfsburg/Switzerland)

One of the more recognisable names in world football, Lara Dickenmann has had another stellar year, although not amassing as much silverware as others in our top ten there is no denying her continued quality on the pitch.

Versatile to the last, Dickenmann can play anywhere from full back through to winger, her neat runs down the channels making her one of the hardest to live with in the Bundesliga, still able to pick out a pin-point pass running at full speed, there is no denying that she adds to any team she’s on.

Already having netted once and assisted three of Wolfsburg’s Champions League goals this season, Dickenmann has enjoyed some of her best football in the highest level of European competition, particularly memorable as a creative outlet on the left at Stamford Bridge.

Her league form since the start of the 2016-17 season from opening the scoring in WOB’s 2-1 away win over Munich to netting the only goal in their tight match at home to SC Freiburg. Her ability to pop up at just the right time with a goal, assist or just a telling pass hugely important for Wolfsburg as they look not just to secure their third Bundesliga title but come out on top against Lyon when they meet in the UWCL quarter finals next year.

Having started all eight of Switzerland’s Euro qualifying games over 2015 and 2016, the utility woman and Swiss centurion is a key player for Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s team, her versatility a useful weapon in La Nati’s arsenal. Able to drop deeper, push on or stretch the pitch out wide depending on who the opponents are, Dickenmann is guaranteed to always feature in her coach’s plans.

4. Camille Abily (Olympique Lyonnais/France)

Camille Abily is no stranger to the Top 100 lists in the women’s game and once again has earned her place with her ability to control and change games. Abily was part of the Lyon team that completed another historic treble as they won the Division 1 Féminine title for the 14th time, the Coupe de France and the UEFA Women’s Champions League for the third time.

Club teammate Ada Hegerberg may have been the star of the Lyon’s campaign but Abily’s influence cannot be underestimated as she consistently became the provider for Lyon’s strikers as they finished their 2015/2016 on a high. Abily has continued that form into this season.

The creative midfielder has notched up 11 goals and nine assists in 13 matches for Lyon as the French giants look to dominate once again. For the national team, Abily featured at the Olympic games and although France did not advance further than the quarter-final stage, Abily’s command of the game was there for all to see. She finished 2016 with three international goals and will be looking to improve on that as France head into 2017 and the European Championship.

3. Sara Däbritz (Bayern Munich/Germany)

A player who really stepped up her game this year is Bayern Munich’s young Sara Däbritz, although technically a midfielder, the 21 year-old is often seen rampaging down the flanks having started as a winger. Technically proficient and skillful with the ball, Däbritz has become one of the stand-outs in Thomas Wörle’s title winning side, with pace and stamina to burn the German international has been terrorising Bundesliga defences right until the whistle all year.

With a huge creative input in all that the Bavarians do Däbritz has still managed to rack up thirteen goals in 33 starts since moving to Munich in 2015, her long-standing partnership with Melanie Leupolz hugely important not just for Wörle but for Silvia Neid too.

After lifting her first Bundesliga title with Munich in May, Däbritz played a key role in the German national team’s route to Olympic gold. Notching Germany’s first goal of the game in a thorough dismantling of Zimbabwe in the group stages, the Amberg native only went from strength to strength throughout the tournament, helping her side get back into the game against Australia with her goal on the stroke of half-time. Rested for the last group match against Canada she continued to work hard throughout the knock-outs, back on the scoresheet in the semi-final to cement the win for Germany and advance them to the final against Sweden.

Still growing and developing as player at Munich, the only way is up for Däbritz and her eyes will be lighting up at the chance to play at the next major tournament (Euro 2017).

2. Melanie Behringer (Bayern Munich/Germany)

As far as talismanic midfielders go in women's football this year, finding anyone better or more prolific than Melanie Behringer is an impossible task. The Bayern Munich midfielder has starred for club and country in 2016, scoring vital goals at vital times and enjoying an essentially perfect campaign with both.

Her performances in the Olympics were the highlight, as she showed real composure to convert from the spot when needed and also be in the right place at the right time to add to her tally which ended at five. The only game in which the 31-year-old failed to score or assist was the final itself.

Much like Abily above, many would be forgiven had Behringer begun to slow down. 13 goals represents a quite superb return and her incredible knack of hitting the target from range has seen the Lörrach-born bastion of Bayern's midfield regularly feature in the DFB's goal highlights show.

Just three defeats in 2015/16 - Canada, 1. FFC Frankfurt and SC Sand - prevented Behringer from having the perfect season. Nevertheless, a two-trophy haul and a superb individual campaign are well-deserving of such a spot. Having already lost twice, and behind Turbine Potsdam by a handful of points, Behringer will be key in bridging that gap.

1. Ada Hegerberg (Olympique Lyonnais/Norway)

When looking at the best female footballers of 2016, it just had to be Ada Hegerberg at number one didn’t it?

When it comes to the Norwegian forward, it is hard to know where to begin to describe her 2016. If we start with the trophies, she took the triple with Lyon, winning not only the French league and the cup but also Champions League, after a final in which she, to the surprise of very few, got on the scoresheet. In total the prolific 21-year-old scored 54 times for her club in 34 games, with 13 of those coming in the UWCL, making her the competitions top scorer. In the span of her entire club career, she has 163 goals in 169 appearances.

For Norway, she had to see Sweden emerge victorious in the Olympic qualifier tournament, and consequently missed out on the Olympics. However, she, and Norway, went through the European Qualifier campaign undefeated. A campaign where Hegerberg once again found her at the top of the top scorer lists with ten goals (seven of those in 2016), the same amount as Iceland’s Harpa Þorsteinsdóttir and Scotland’s Jane Ross. Including friendlies she has 12 goals in 13 games for Norway this season. In total she has 55 appearances for Norway, and 35 goals.

She hasn’t lacked individual accolades in 2016 either. She started of the year by being only the second ever female, after Hege Riise (in the mid-90s), to win the Golden Ball, which is given to the best footballer in Norway, regardless of gender. She has ended the year by being one of the three nominees to win it again.

In addition to this, she became the first footballer ever to receive the Aftenposten Gold Medal (given out by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten since 1933), which is given to the Norwegian athlete the committee finds has delivered the best performance over the year. It is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards a Norwegian athlete can receive. She has also been nominated as female athlete of the year and name of the year at the Norwegian Sports Awards.

This is just a few among many other individual honours in her native country. However, Norway hasn’t been alone in honouring the young striker, as she was named Best Female Football Player in Europe earlier this year by UEFA.

Lauded as one of the top talents in European football, lighting up domestic pitches in Norway and Germany before her move to France, as well as every international tournament she’s graced with Norway, there was nothing surprising about Hegerberg finally rising to the top in 2016.

One of the best attacking forces in one of the best teams in the world it can be easy to write off her input in, a hat trick against Guingamp in a game that finished 12-0 to the French champions worth significantly less than the opening goal in a Champions League final.

A once in a generation player, Hegerberg has not just the style on the ball and the raw ability to change games but the mental fortitude imperative for a player to push themselves day after day. Having risen up to the lofty ranks of best in the world at a young age, the Norwegian star has taken everything thrown at her in stride, unwilling to buckle under the weight on her shoulders, with an exceptional dedication to her work, pushing herself further and further every day.

In summation, a remarkable year from a player who is still only 21.