At 23 years of age, Olympique Lyon forward ADA HEGERBERG is already on the record books with her numerous goals and silverware collection. Although her mindset is on securing a fourth straight UEFA Women’s Champions League crown, Hegerberg still focuses on helping the women’s game to develop across the world. Gianluca Lia writes...
Over the last few years, women’s football has evolved massively across the world, in particular due to the growing attendance figures, development at grassroots level and the increase in media exposure.
Following England’s impressive display in the 2015 FIFA World Cup, the FA Women’s Super League saw an increase of 30 per cent in attendances following that tournament.
Moreover, the FA Women’s Cup final is starting to become an annual fixture at Wembley, with Arsenal and Chelsea contending the 2017-18 edition in front of 45,000 people.
Media houses are inviting female footballers or former members of the game to be part of their punditry panel, something unheard of until few years ago.
However, women’s football’s breakthrough in society has been down to the talent and competitiveness of legendary players such as Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Carolina Morace who paved the way for the future generation that nowadays is inspiring thousands of girls across the globe.
Ada Hegerberg is one current player that can be considered as an ambassador of the women’s game.
Born in 1995, Hegerberg has registered over 250 career goals, collecting three UEFA Women’s Champions League titles, four French championships and three French Cup titles in the process.
“I have always had to contend with pressure since I was a little girl,” Hegerberg told the Times of Malta. “However, I always managed to handle my responsibility by remaining focused on my goals.
“Being considered as one of the elite players in the game is a good position to be in, as it shows that I am doing a good job while it motivates me to work even harder to stay at the top.”
Football runs in the Hegerberg family as Ada’s sister, Andrine, is also a footballer and currently plies her trade with another French club, Paris St-Germain, after a spell in England with Birmingham City.
“Football is a massive thing in my family and that triggered my passion for the sport,” Hegerberg said.
“I tried other sports but having a sister who liked to play football, it became sort of my lifestyle and I continued to train with Andrine since then.”
On her social media profiles, the Sunndalsora-born player sometimes shows affection for star players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Francesco Totti. Still, Hegerberg is looking forward to see women players share the same stardom that their male counterparts enjoy.
“As a young girl, I watched a lot of men’s football and eventually I had my own idols,” she revealed.
“However, in the near future, I would like to see girls but also boys, watching women’s football and look up to the female athletes as role models and a source of inspiration for their sporting dreams.”
Hegerberg always had a knack for scoring goals since joining Kolbotn in Norway’s top-tier prior the 2011/2012 season.
With the Norwegian side, she became top scorer of the league before signing for Stabaek. After netting 25 goals in 18 games for them, Hegerberg moved to Germany with Turbine Potsdam, who were one of the top teams in the country at the time.
Although her goal tally was not as high as in her previous years, Hegerberg still left a positive mark in Germany as Lyon, possibly the biggest team in women’s football right now, came knocking at her door in the summer of 2014.
“I have always been a prolific scorer, since my playing days at youth level,” the Lyon forward said.
“I was born with predatory instincts in front of goal but naturally, the move to Lyon helped me develop that trait much more.
“I worked hard to arrive at this prestigious club, but once I was here, I realised that I was part of a family as the players welcomed me and this has been the best place to be, even for the years to come as well.”
Hegerberg lived up to her billing of a clinical forward as she went on to find the net 26 times in 22 league matches, propelling Lyon to a ninth straight championship.
Come 2018, Hegerberg not only has continued to score but her name started to circulate across the globe thanks to her goals and accolades.
In the Champions League, Hegerberg was the top scorer twice in the past three seasons and with 41 goals in total, she is 10 goals away from the competition record held by Germany forward Anja Mittag.
The Norwegian striker was named the UEFA’s Best Women’s Player in 2016 and 2017 BBC Women’s Football of the Year.
Most recently, she was finalist in both the 2018 UEFA Best Women’s Player and 2018 FIFA Best Women’s Player awards.
She is also one of the 15 nominees in the first-ever France Football Ballon D’Or for women players alongside six other Lyon team-mates.
According to Hegerberg, Olympique Lyon president Jean Michael Aulas deserves all the credit for all the success achieved by the club.
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“Here at Lyon the women’s team is treated the same way like the men’s side,” she said.
“We should never stop mentioning Jean Michel Aulas, our president, who is like the godfather in the whole picture. I respect him a lot, because he helps us and provides any facilities and things we require in order to build on what he started here.
“He put the ambitions and facilities on the same page and while it will help us become more competitive, I hope it inspires other clubs to put in the same effort so that this movement can maximise its potential.”
Lyon are on course for another European crown after dispatching Avaldsnes, of Norway, 7-0 on aggregate, in the round of 32 and eliminating Netherlands Ajax in the last 16 with an aggregate scoreline of 13-0.
“Every year, we hear a lot of teams saying that they want to beat us but at the moment we are still thriving in Europe,” she said.
“Being the best keeps us on our toes but at the same time I hope that other clubs adopt playing styles that helps them to be more competitive and attracts more people to the game, because that is the beauty of such competition after all.”
Speaking about other countries, Hegerberg highlights Spain in particular where last season Atletico Madrid hosted Madrid FC at the Wanda Metropolitano in front of 20,000 fans.
“Development comes according to how much help you have and what you are ready to do,” Hegerberg said.
“For example, affiliating a women’s club within the men’s team is a fundamental step because financially the club would be already in a strong position and then you can build up step by step.”
Promotion of the game
An additional boost is the fact that UEFA and FIFA have been promoting women’s football more than ever.
In 2017, UEFA launched the Together #WePlayStrong campaign, of which Hegerberg is one of the faces as well. The idea of this project is to make teenage girls aware that they can be part of the footballing world while using this sport as a tool for inclusion.
“The media stuff produced by UEFA and FIFA is always a helping hand for us, but there is still a long way to go especially in terms of conditions and finances,” she said.
“To sell our product, we have to raise our level on the field but we also need the help of the authorities to give us that extra boost.”
In France, women’s football has been given a major boost thanks to Canal Plus, one of the biggest private network in France, who broadcast five games over the weekend.
“For us girls, sometimes, it is not easy to stand up for our passion and maybe lack of confidence is something that we need to diminish in our society, because at the end of the day, even a girl from a small town in Norway can win the Champions League.”