Status of UEFA Women's award highlights priceless opportunities
The shortlist for the UEFA Women's Player of the Year has been announced ahead of the award ceremony that will take place in Monaco on Thursday, 30th August.
But while the recognition of being considered the best of the best is a defining moment in the career of the eventual winner, it is the growth of the women's game on a global scale that has allowed opportunities to emerge that were out of reach just a few years ago.
Pernille Harder, Ada Hegerberg and Amandine Henry are the three international stars that have made the shortlist for the award.
Chosen from a selected panel of journalists and coaches involved in the women's game from across Europe, there is a notable trend amongst the ten players that received the most votes.
Of the ten players that were in contention for the eventual shortlist, only three play their domestic football in their native country, and all three feature for Olympique Lyonnais, the current dominant force in the European club game. Wendie Renard and Eugénie Le Sommer are the only other French nominees to Henry, and all represent the European champions.
But it is the other seven names that define the opportunity that now presents itself to young girls looking to make it as a professional footballer. Not only are these women living their professional dream, but they are doing it in a different country, and in a different culture, from where they were born. Football has taken them on a life journey far beyond the realms of their profession.
Work hard, play hard
Pernille Harder, 25, is the impressive Danish striker who starred for her country at the UEFA Women's EURO finals in 2017. Last year she finished second behind award winner Lieke Martens, and the fact that she has again been shortlisted shows how consistent her form has been for German outfit VfL Wolfsburg again this season.
Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg won the award in 2016 and has again scored for fun in the UEFA Women's Champions League last season. A natural finisher, Hegerberg has achieved an incredible goal return with Olympique Lyonnais, and her consistent form has played a key role in the team winning the Champions League trophy in each of the last three seasons.
Hegerberg's teammate Amandine Henry completes the shortlist thanks to her defensive midfield flawlessness.
Now back at Olympique Lyonnais after spells in the United States with Portland Thorns and French rivals Paris Saint-Germain, Henry argues the case for recognising the defensive contribution when it comes to deciding such awards, as it is almost always the goalscorers that shine when it comes to individual prizes.
Although Henry is now back playing in her native France, football has taken her to play professionally in the United States, and such privileges are enjoyed by a number of professional players in the women's game around the world.
Individual accolades are important, trophies can be career-defining, but it is the experience of working in a different country that offers so much more personal reward
The women's game has never enjoyed such a high-profile status in the media as it does now, and the game continues to grow at an incredible rate.
Opportunities available for young girls to take up the sport have never been more available, and even alternative areas such as refereeing and the media offer careers for women in the game that was never a viable option before now.
The fact the UEFA Men's Player of the Year and UEFA Women's Player of the Year awards now hold equal status on the stage in Monaco serves only to highlight the development of the women's game to the point where such equality is expected.
Each major international women's tournament becomes significantly bigger than the one before, and Europe is quickly catching up with the profile of the women's game in the United States.
On Thursday, either Harder, Hegerberg or Henry will take to the main stage alongside either Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modrić or Mohamed Salah. It is a simple gesture, but a triumph for the women's game that it is now acceptably recognised in this way. Regardless of who wins the award, it is the women's game that has already won, and the rewards will continue to get bigger as the game continues to grow.