With the rapid growth of women’s football in recent years, fans across the world are becoming more attracted to women’s football as some of the world’s best players are breaking new barriers every other gameweek. However, that doesn’t mean its rich history should be ignored.
From Europe to North America and South America to Asia; the sport has seen some talented players grace the pitch from all across the world, and we here are looking to pay tribute to some of the world’s finest. We’ll not only look at their success on domestic and international levels but also at their individual talents and ability to captivate on-lookers with their play on the pitch.
So, without further ado let’s take a look at the top 20 women footballers of all time.
#20 Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith is arguably the best English female player of all time and certainly the most decorated. Smith was a crucial proponent of the quadruple-winning Arsenal Ladies side as well as helping the club dominate domestic football for years. During her three spells with the club, Kelly won an impressive five league titles and five FA women’s Cups. She also won a Premier League Cup as well as hers and the club’s only European Cup in 2006-07.
An agile forward with quick footwork, immense technicality, and a poacher’s instinct to find the back of the net from possibly any angle, Kelly Smith was a class apart from her compatriots.
Also Read – Top 10 players to watch for at 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup
The 45-year-old Brazilian is a true legend of the game. There aren’t and won’t be many in the future who can replicate the level of performance that Formiga has demonstrated even after getting well into her 40s. The Brazilian who quotedly took influence from former Brazilian men’s team captain Dunga, was an unselfish player who always put her teams first.
Although like many of her counterparts, she doesn’t have the international team accolades to boast of her brilliance, she still enjoyed a rather trophy-laden club career with clubs in South America, North America, and Europe. Formiga is a true legend of the game, the likes of which we’ll never see again.
#18 Heidi Støre
Heidi Støre did what every young kid dreams of, she captained the 1995 Norwegian side to a World Cup triumph. While Norway weren’t considered among the best in the land, Støre’s influence both on- and off-the-field played a pivotal role in the nation’s triumph.
The 59-year-old represented Norway 151 times on the international stage. She was also European champion in 1987 and 1993 as well as finishing runners-up in the 1991 World Cup. Støre won another bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games before hanging up her boots in 1997. A tenacious midfielder with an abundance of talent, Heidi Støre is one of Norway’s greatest players.
#17 Doris Fitschen
Doris Fitschen is considered one of the most decorated players in German women’s football history. The 54-year-old won four league titles as well as seven DFB trophies during her time with German clubs TSV Siegen and FFC Frankfurt.
A technical midfielder, Doris was at the heart of German success on the continental front for over a decade. In a career spanning 15 years and 144 international appearances, Fitschen won a staggering five European Championships from 1989 to 2001 as well as winning bronze at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.
#16 Nadine Angerer
Nadine Angerer is a modern great of the game. After playing understudy to Silke Rottenberg for close to a decade, Angerer finally got her big break at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and there was no looking back from there. A penalty-saving specialist, she kept clean sheets in every single game, which included stopping Marta’s kick in the final, as Germany won their second consecutive world cup.
By the time Angerer hung up her boots in international football, she had won five European Championships, two World Cups, and three Olympic bronze medals. Domestically, the 44-year-old won seven trophies, including the 2005 European Cup with Turbine Potsdam. Besides, she is the only goalkeeper – male or female – to have won the UEFA World Player of the Year award, which she won in 2013.
Also Read – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Sponsors
#15 Carli Lloyd
Carli Lloyd with 316 international appearances and 134 goals, is a true modern great. Not to forget her two Olympic gold medals, two FIFA world cups, and being crowned FIFA World Player of the Year twice.
Her hat-trick in the 5-2 win against Japan in the 2015 world cup final, including that audacious halfline lob will live long in the memories of football fans and will forever be one of the finest performances on a stage as big as the World Cup final.
#14 Christie Pearce
Christie Pearce was the long-standing skipper of one of the most successful women’s football sides, having won two FIFA women’s World Cup titles as well as winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals from 2004 to 2012.
A true leader on the field, the USWNT defender had an incredible 18-year stint at the international level, having represented the US women’s national team 311 times. Moreover, during her latest world cup triumph in 2015, she became the oldest player ever to play in a final. A fitting finale to an illustrious career.
#13 Homare Sawa
Homare Sawa is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest female footballers of all time. The 44-year-old Japanese forward enjoyed a very successful and trophy-laden football career. Sawa won an incredible 11 league titles and 12 cup competitions in her club career.
But the biggest moment of her career came in 2011 when Sawa led her national side to an unthinkable world cup triumph in Germany. Sawa ended the tournament as the best player, winning both the Golden Ball and the Golden Shoe for her exploits. She again led her side to a silver medal place at the 2012 Olympic Games. She announced her retirement from professional football in 2015.
#12 Hope Solo
Hope Solo will go down in history as one of the greatest women’s goalkeepers of all time. She represented the United States national football team for 16 years, winning two Olympic gold medals as well as the 2015 FIFA Women’s world cup. She came close in 2011, but her team lost to Japan in the final, however, she was still adjudged the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
An imposing figure who represented the USWNT 202 times, Hope holds the record for the most number of clean sheets with 102 while her winning ratio (153/202) with the national team is matched by very few.
#11 Hege Riise
Very few players in world football can boast of winning a FIFA World Cup, a European Championship, and an Olympic gold medal; Hege Riise won all three in seven years with the Norway women’s football team.
Hege Riise was the shining star when Norway won the 1993 European Championships, she was again adjudged Player of the Tournament when Norway shocked the world to lift the 1995 FIFA Women’s world cup. She completed the set with a gold at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. She represented Norway 188 times and scored 58 goals before retiring from professional football.
#10 Joy Fawcett
Joy Fawcett is arguably one of the greatest defenders to have played the game. After an incredible 17 years career at the international level where she represented the USWNT 241 times and retired with the record of being the top goal-scoring defender in the country’s history. But more than the goals, it is the role she played for her teams that defined her place as one of the game’s greatest players.
She was at the heart of some of the most successful USWNT teams in the 1990s and early 2000s. She was part of two World Cup winning teams in 1991 and 1999 as well as winning two Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004.
#9 Christine Sinclair
While the 2023 FIFA world cup could be her last major hurrah, Christine Sinclair’s aura and legacy can hardly be diminished by her lack of team success when compared to some of her counterparts. Sinclair has 188 international goals – the most for any footballer at the top level. She is a legend of the game and an inspiration for millions of footballers around the world.
Although the 39-year-old has enjoyed a lot of success domestically, particularly with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL, her first major honour at the international level came in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics where Canada won gold. And despite age catching up, it seems there’s no stopping the 39-year-old.
#8 Abby Wambach
If you had watched Abby Wambach play, you’d know that the 42-year-old was never technically gifted, however, her physical presence and aerial ability turned her into one of the most dangerous forwards of her time. During her 14-year spell with the USWNT, Abby scored 184 goals, which looked like an impossible feat to repeat until Christine Sinclair overtook her (188).
A modern great of the game, Wambach won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2012 as well as finishing runners-up in 2011 and 2013. On the team front, she won two Olympic gold medals as well as finally getting her hand on the world cup medal in 2015.
#7 Kristine Lilly
Kristine Lilly has the record for the most international caps by a single player – male or female. She represented the United States women’s national team a record 354 times across a 23-year-old career– a feat that is unlikely to be broken any time soon.
An attacking midfielder who had the touch of a goalscorer, Lilly scored 130 goals for the US. When you look at the length of her career, she has won everything there’s to be won. She has two Olympic gold medals as well as two FIFA world cups. However, her consistency over a period of two decades and a bit was unparalleled, even during the latter stages of her career, which sets her apart from the rest.
#6 Heidi Mohr
A prolific goalscorer in her time, Heidi Mohr’s lack of team success might dwarf the fact that she was one of the best forwards of her time. But the fact that she was awarded Europe’s Player of the Century in 1999 cements her place as one of the greats of the game. Between 1991-1995, Heidi Mohr won five consecutive Golden Boots in the German Bundesliga, often well ahead of her nearest competition.
For Germany, she has scored 84 goals in 104 appearances in a career spanning over 10 years. She won three European Championships with them, as well as winning the Silver Boot at the 1991 world cup behind Michelle Akers. Though Mohr never quite managed to achieve the profile of some of the other players on this list, it doesn’t mean she was any less effective on the pitch.
#5 Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm ended her international career with 158 goals in 276 games, a record that stood till 2013. However, to date, she still sits in the top three all-time goalscorer’s list. With many talented players to have donned the USWNT jersey, you’ve got to be special to stand out as the best of the pack. And she was for a brief period of time, as evident with her two FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2001 and 2002.
For country, Hamm won two world cups with the national team in 1991 and 1999 as well as winning gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games and 2004 Athens Games. Mia Hamm’s longevity, success, and individual talent make her stand out from the rest.
#4 Sun Wen
It’ll take some effort to dethrone Sun Wen as the greatest Asian female footballer of all time. The fact that Sun shared FIFA’s Footballer of the Century award with Michelle Akers says everything about how world football views the Chinese forward. Sun played for the Republic of China 168 times, scoring 106 goals during her 16-year spell with the national team.
The highlight of her career was definitely the 1999 FIFA world cup where she came agonisingly close to lifting the ultimate, losing in a famous penalty shootout despite scoring China’s last penalty. She ended the tournament with the Golden Boot and Golden Shoe awards. Besides, she also helped her country with an Olympic silver medal as well as four Asia Cup titles.
#3 Michelle Akers
Michelle Akers is without a doubt the best player of her generation and one of the greatest of all time. The USWNT forward still holds the record for scoring the most number of goals in a single world cup event – her ten goals at the 1991 world cup have stood the test of time. Akers was one of the key cogs in the US dominance of women’s football throughout the 1990s.
Akers won one more world cup in 1999 and an Olympic gold medal three years prior. Akers scored 107 goals in 155 appearances for the USWNT but that doesn’t reflect the abundance of talent she possessed. As injuries started affecting her mobility, she moved into a midfield role and dropped deeper as her career wore on. However, Akers still managed to perform and impact games for her country before retiring in 2000 as her country’s second-highest goalscorer.
#2 Brigit Prinz
There were many candidates for this spot, but no one comes close to the German goal-scoring machine Brigit Prinz. If her 128 goals at the international level don’t tell you the full story, her collection of club honours and individual records certainly will.
Prinz was at the forefront of an era of German dominance where the country won an incredible five European Championships and two FIFA World Cups. She was honoured with the FIFA World Player of the Year title thrice while finishing runners-up five times. Besides, she is only behind Marta for most goals scored in World Cups.
At the club level, it just gets more ridiculous. She has won nine Bundesliga titles as well as three European Cups with the mighty FFC Frankfurt side, scoring the winning goal in two of them. The German forward is one of greatest finishers women’s football has ever seen, and it may take a while before Germany can find another striker who can match the legacy left behind by Brigit Prinz.
There are very few players in world football who stand apart from the rest in ways that are beyond description. The Brazilian wonder, Marta, is one of them. If you still haven’t watched her play, the 2023 FIFA World Cup could possibly be the last time we see this magnificent player in action. And while she may not have the same level of international success as some of the other players below her, it is her individual qualities that make her stand out from the rest.
Brazil’s top goalscorer with 115 goals, Marta is also the top goalscorer in World Cups with 17. Incredibly, she has won the FIFA World Player of the Year award six times, including five in a row from 2006-2010. She also finished runners-up on four different occasions.
Although she may never win a World Cup or an Olympic gold medal, given she’s already 37 now, her success at club level and individual brilliance will always set her apart from the rest of the players across generations. It is unlikely there will ever be someone as special as Marta.