2015 WWC: I Don’t Play Like Men Do

14 Jun

Miedema_giIt is inevitable male-female comparisons are going to happen when a female player gains a certain level of success. I’m guilty of it at times. Our frame of reference for football is largely dominated by the male game.

We know via Zlatan male players aren’t necessarily very receptive to being compared to female players. But how do female players feel about being compared to their male counterparts? Marta has long been tagged as “Pele in a skirt” which irritates me to no end. Is she okay with it? I don’t really know.

New York Times writer Victor Mather decided to investigate this situation in a recent article. I have to say, I liked Vivianne Miedema before I read this. I like her just a little more now.

Megan Rapinoe controlled the ball at the halfway line at the Women’s World Cup and sped forward. When she finally encountered a defender, she effortlessly jinked past her and shot the ball into the net to seal a victory for the United States over Australia on Monday.

What is the right way to describe such a feat?

“I was doing my best Messi impression,” Rapinoe said Monday, referring to the Argentine star Lionel Messi.

As the World Cup in Canada gives women’s soccer its time in the spotlight, fans, coaches, the news media and the players themselves are closely watching the stars of the women’s game — and then likening them to men.

So anyone watching the matches is likely to hear France’s best player referred to as the female Zinedine Zidane, or Sweden’s as the female Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Marta, the Brazilian star and a five-time world player of the year, was once described as “Pelé in a skirt” by Pelé himself.

Some players do not especially welcome the comparisons. Vivianne Miedema, the 18-year-old Dutch star, is often called the female Arjen Robben, after the wing who led the Netherlands to the men’s World Cup semifinals last summer.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Miedema told FIFA.com. “But Arjen plays very differently to me. It’s really cool to be compared to him, but, as a woman, it’s a bit strange to always be compared to a man. I’m Vivianne Miedema, and I don’t play like men do.”

Lotta Schelin, Sweden’s star forward, is often compared to Ibrahimovic, the dominant player on her country’s men’s team.

“The comparisons are nice in a way,” Schelin said last year. “But although he inspires me, and I love watching him play, there are big differences between us, too. And I like that young girls look up to me as Lotta Schelin, not as the female Zlatan.”

Julie Foudy was a star on the 1999 World Cup team that put women’s soccer on the radar in the United States and is now an analyst and commentator for ESPN. She said she wished players in the Cup were more often compared to female stars of the past, like Mia Hamm. But she knows that, because of the ubiquity of men’s soccer, comparisons to men are inevitable.

“I get it, because that’s what people see on television,” Foudy said. “There’s no opportunity to follow the women’s game. It’s really hard to find it.”

Many female players are avid followers of the men’s game, Foudy said, and the players themselves are often the sources of the comparisons to men.

“Messi’s my role model,” Ramona Bachmann of Switzerland told FIFA.com. “He’s so exceptional, it’s like he’s from another planet.”

Gaëlle Enganamouit, who scored a surprise hat trick in Cameroon’s opener, even compared herself to her country’s most famous men’s player. “In my view, Samuel Eto’o is the greatest forward in the world,” she said. “I’ve always said that one day I will be the Samuel Eto’o of women’s football.”

Enganamouit’s team is making its Women’s World Cup debut. “They are the first generation,” Foudy said. “There is no Michelle Akers or Mia Hamm for them. You hope the next wave behind them will have them as role models.”

There is nothing new about comparisons like this. In Brazil, where interest in women’s soccer lags far behind that for the men’s game, Marta has long been compared not only to Pelé but to other famous male players; another of her nicknames is the female Ronaldinho. Louisa Necib of France is the female Zinedine Zidane, also a French player of Algerian ancestry. Zidane led France’s men to the World Cup title in 1998.

And the phenomenon is not unique to women’s soccer. Sheryl Swoopes, the three-time W.N.B.A. most valuable player, has often been called the female Michael Jordan. But the male-female comparisons do not seem to be so common in individual sports; Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn and the mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey are mostly recognized for their own achievements, rather than as female versions of Roger Federer, Bode Miller or Brock Lesnar.

But because many people follow women’s soccer only once every four years, they find the easiest analogies in comparisons to the men’s game.

Foudy said she “would not necessarily go to a male player” when making a comparison on the air. On ESPN the other day, she compared the current South Korean player Ji So-yun to the former Chinese women’s star Sun Wen.

But Foudy is in the minority. Ji’s nickname is Ji Messi.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: