THE trouble with football these days is that too many influential people have their brains in their heads. It is enough to have made old Eddie Turnbull, who once accused Allan Gordon of suffering from that very weakness, bluster in rage.

What would the traditionalists make of Egil Olsen, who, it was disclosed yesterday, caused a stir at FIFA's player-of-the-year awards ceremony? The Norwegian coach voted for a female footballer as one of his three nominations.

FIFA statistics showed Olsen had named Hege Riise, winner of the Golden Boot award at the Women's World Cup in Sweden last year, as his third choice after Russia's Ilya Tsymbalar and Chilean Ivan Zamorano. It was the first time a woman had been nominated for the award, which was won by Liberian striker George Weah, who is another football person displaying an awareness not often associated with people in the game.

If they are not careful they'll get football the name of being a progressive, caring business of equal opportunity. The old brigade certainly wouldn't be echoing the sentiments of Italy's Gazetta dello Sport, which greeted Olsen's vote thus: ``Egil Olsen, a coach of great culture, deserves a loud round of applause for the intelligence and originality of his vote.''

After having accepted his award, AC Milan's Weah, who claimed a unique hat trick of awards by being named FIFA's world player of the year, said his greatest wish would probably remain unattainable: ``I would love to play in the World Cup but I know it will never happen.''

Weah, 29, also the European and African player of the year, is to lead impoverished Liberia, who have never qualified for the World Cup, to their first appearance in the African Nations' Cup in South Africa this month after years of civil war. ``I would like to use my image to be a sort of soccer ambassador in the world,'' he said, almost Princess Di-like.

He urged champions Nigeria, who pulled out of the cup this month citing fears that their players could be in danger in South Africa, to rethink their stance. South Africa has led a campaign against Nigeria over the hanging in November of nine minority-rights activists.

Weah said African soccer would only really grow when it could win autonomy from politics. ``One can defeat poverty, but it is much harder to rebel against governments. Look at Nigeria. The national team is a hostage to the state,'' he said.