Only the most proficient of anoraks would have heard of 28-cap Irish midfielder Stephanie Roche before her nomination for the Fifa Puskás Award alongside World Cup stars James Rodriguez and Robin van Persie thrust her into the limelight as the new poster girl for women’s football.
Inaugurated by Fifa in 2009 to commemorate the year’s “most beautiful” goal, this year’s Award arguably overshadowed the crowning of Cristiano Ronaldo with football’s greatest individual prize, the Ballon d’Or, such was the interest generated by the 25-year-old forward, whose effort came in an Irish women’s league match between Peamount United and Wexford Youths watched by less than 100 people. It all happened in a flash; controlling an in-swinging cross on her right foot with her back to goal, Roche flicked the ball over the covering defender with her left before volleying into the corner from the edge of the box. Footage of the goal quickly went viral and helped her earn a professional contract with newly promoted French Division 1 side ASPTT Albi.
It is not the first time a female has been nominated for the award. Both Lisa De Vanna and Louisa Nécib were shortlisted last year, but had the misfortune of coming up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sensational bicycle kick against England, but crucially this was the first time a woman made it to the final three. And while she ultimately didn’t win – Rodriguez’s dipping volley in the World Cup knockout stage against Uruguay, recognised by opposition manager Oscar Tabarez as “one of the greatest goals the World Cup has ever seen”, took home 42% of the vote – Roche has at the very least succeeded in furthering the credibility of the women’s game.
Make no mistake about it, Roche was included on merit, and her timing couldn’t have been much better – with the Women’s World Cup set to be held in Canada this summer and one of the sport’s biggest stars in freefall.
United States goalkeeper Hope Solo, who played every single minute of the USA’s run to the World Cup final in 2011 and was awarded with the prestiguous Golden Glove for her performances, was this week hit with a 30-day suspension after a police altercation alongside her husband Jerramy Stevens. Solo, who last summer faced accusations of domestic violence which were subsequently dropped, seems to attract attention whatever she does, and not all of it positive. The female Mario Balotelli, if you will.
With Women’s football in dire need of a morale boost after Solo’s fall from grace, Roche’s nomination is a moment to cherish. As a role model for women’s sport, Roche is an ideal candidate, the model professional to inspire young girls to play the beautiful game.