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Joanne O'Riordan: Formiga up there with the greats of all time

Brazilian midfielder has overcome adversity and scaled the heights during an epic career

Brazil’s Formiga has been playing football for the last 22 years, making her World Cup debut in 1995 at the age of 17. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty

The past weekend we have seen how cruel sport can be. Gianluigi Buffon, at the third attempt, did not get the right to lift the one title that has eluded him – the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo is claimed to have cemented his place among the all-time greats after breaking records set by Di Stefano, a Real Madrid icon and club legend.

The idea of legacy and what a player or manager has left behind has been put under intense scrutiny for some time. Cristiano leaves behind a goalscoring record, while Buffon has shown the world how to be full of class, pride and integrity, and even in defeat, one can still pick themselves up, one more time.

In my mind, we overlook many all-time greats and many throw around the actual definition of the acronym GOAT, greatest of all time.

Here’s a player I want to put forward – introducing Brazilian midfielder, Formiga. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing, but Formiga is a 39-year-old midfielder who just last week played over 120 minutes and featured for Paris Saint-Germain in the Women’s Champions League.

Why is she the greatest? Formiga has been playing football for the last 22 years, making her World Cup debut in 1995 at the age of 17. Known as Formiga, meaning the little ant, for her incredible engine and constant running, Formiga plays football for a country that never takes her seriously.

When she was younger, she was given a doll while her brothers were given a football. Formiga cut the head off her doll and refused to be a girly girl. She took the ball and started playing with it, although a girl playing football was met with criticism by others in her area.

She recalls times in her childhood when she got beaten just for playing football. Often playing by herself, Formiga became a natural on the ball and she cites her past experiences as the impetus for her desire to play. In her words, “the harder it is to reach the goal, the more she is willing to get there”.

In a country that has ridiculed her for playing football, even going as far as calling her macho woman, Formiga still had a dream.

She wanted to be like her hero, Dunga, and win titles, and although the peak of a World Cup still eludes her, she has won Pan-American Games (2003, 2007 and 2015), two silver medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and the South American title of 2010.

The cracks

She is also quite a success in club football.

While playing for São José Esporte Clube (SP), she won a Club World Cup medal in 2014 and is a three-time champion of the Copa Libertadores (2011, 2013 and 2014). These titles would crown a hero and a possible GOAT, but, since Brazil only looks at male football successes, Formiga has slipped through the cracks and is consistently overlooked.

Now playing with Paris Saint-Germain Feminine, and bringing that Brazilian charisma to European football, Formiga remains shy and prefers not to deal with the press. She’s old school and lets her football do the talking.

Formiga has played in all six Olympics for As Canarinhas and, when retired from international football, she wants to help grow the game even further in Brazil.

“We need women’s football in schools, in the big [football] clubs,” she explained. “All of Brazil needs to open doors for the women’s game, for the talents. Unfortunately, many [talents] are wasted or leave our country very early on . . . the foundation needs to be renovated if we want to think about medals in the future. Wherever there is an opportunity, I’ll be there to help.”

Formiga is an inspiration to anyone who wants to play football, male or female.

She has taught people to never give up and that no matter what you should always chase your dream. She has become an icon for the next generation of Brazilian footballers, not just female.

She has sparked hope for the future of women’s football and is prepared to fight for the future of the game. Her one and only request came in the bronze medal match in Rio 2016. Through tears and disappointment, Formiga asked the Brazilian public for one thing – “I only ask you not to give up on us, because we will never give up on you”.