Ada Hegerberg doesn’t play for Norway. But this isn’t a piece about if she should or shouldn’t play for them.
Alex Morgan plays for the Orlando Pride and US women’s national team. But this is no more a piece on Morgan’s club choice than it is about Hegerberg’s choice to not play for her country.
This is a piece about how we see players and how we vote for awards.
The awards voting is larger than Hegerberg vs Morgan. But they do stand on different sides of a large gulf. On one you have Hegerberg who is in maybe the best club form in the world. On the other you have Morgan who has been excellent for country while having lingering questions about her club form. So for now we stand in the middle and look right and then left.
Awards are complicated when they span time and leagues and bring in factors that can be as complicated as league strength and the roles players play on different teams.
It is made all the more complex because of the way the calendar in soccer works. It is the four year cycle that reigns here and not a calendar that any non-soccer person would understand. It doesn’t matter if you count it as World Cup, Olympics then two off years or if you count it two off years, the World Cup and finally the Olympics. Either way you count you have two on years and two off. And in those years where there is a major international event that crosses from CONCACAF to UEFA to Oceania to the rest of the world we are often heavy handed with support for who scores the most goals in a month or few weeks long event. Because the World Cup and the Olympics are big deals. And they should be big deals.
When I look at Hegerberg’s body of work and the only thing that I am given is her work for Lyon it presents a mental hurdle for me. And that isn’t on her. Club is all she has elected to play and she is under no obligation to change that to make voters more comfortable. While one may quibble if she should or should not play for Norway, frankly that has nothing to do with her performance for Lyon. In the context of voting when judging someone, you can only judge them on what they have given you. On a report card for Hegerberg it would simply be listed as N/A under country.
For Morgan it becomes a little more complicated. She has elected to play club. Partly because the US women’s national team players all play in the NWSL. And in the choice to both play club and country, Morgan has opened herself up to having a larger body of work to judge and all that comes with the league she plays for. The NWSL is, at least in my estimation, more competitive than just about any league in the world. And that changes how we see some players and it changes what those players are able to accomplish on the field. Morgan for club and Morgan for country are often about as related as first cousins. They share a passing resemblance, sometimes strikingly so, but often you can tell they are two different people.
So the judging of Alex Morgan for awards becomes harder because the math is more complex.
It is not Alex Morgan > or < Ada Hegerberg > or < Sam Kerr > or < whoever else you want.
It becomes the much more complex and much less elegant (Alex Morgan for country + Alex Morgan for club / what you think should matter more or if one should matter at all) > or < (Ada Hegerberg for club) > or < (Sam Kerr for country + Sam Kerr for club / what you think should matter more or if one should matter at all) > or < so on and so on.
What I keep coming back to is how are we supposed to judge when all the factors become this complex? And is it fair to judge them based on what they’ve chosen to give us versus what we think they should have given us?
At the end of the day I believe that it is fair to judge more heavily if a player plays for their country in a year when country does take center stage. And in those years where there is no major international tournament that spans the globe I do believe giving more preference to club play is fair.
But I will add this, if you don’t value the fight or the choice Hegerberg has made then it really doesn’t matter if it’s a World Cup year or not, you wouldn’t vote for her. And if you think Morgan should be better at club before winning awards based on her performance for her country then a Golden Ball and/or Boot won’t change your mind.
Voting for awards ultimately comes down to what you value in a player and what you don’t. It is a reflecting glass aimed back at those who cast a ballot.