Ada Hegerberg won’t be at Women’s World Cup
To make history, to be the first, but to have the world focusing elsewhere. The talk is not about what has been achieved; of the goals scored or records broken. The questions asked are not about outrageous talent or phenomenal performances but twerking. That is what it is like to be the best female footballer in 2018.
“Obviously, I was expecting a question about my football skills, how [I was] feeling to stand there and win, but in the end I was really happy to get the award and wasn’t quite thinking about what’s going on in the media and social media,” Ada Hegerberg, the winner of the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or, tells CNN Sport, attempting to cause as few ripples as possible.
Hegerberg is a gifted footballer. She has won a hattrick of Champions League trophies, scored 33 goals in 21 games last season in helping French club Lyon to a fourth league title and broke the record for the number of goals scored in a single Champions League campaign.
Aged 23, her best years are still ahead of her. There is greatness to be achieved for a striker who has already nearly amassed 300 career goals.
It was expected that the first female winner of what is regarded as the most prestigious individual prize in football would make headlines. The Norwegian will now always be remembered. But there will also be a footnote, an aside about DJ Martin Solveig and how he asked her to twerk on stage.
On a night which was supposed to be a great leap forward for the women’s game, the spotlight highlighted the progress which still needs to be made.
Hegerberg did not feel harassed, she says. The striker was too overcome with joy at being the recipient of an award which has been presented to men since 1956.
“It depends how you look at the situation,” adds the articulate Hegerberg. “I didn’t feel in an awkward position.
“Obviously, the question could’ve been asked in another way. When you’re on stage you want to get questions about how you feel winning such an award.”
Hegerberg moved to France in 2014 to join women’s football heavyweights Lyon, but says she was fortunate to grow up in Norway, a country she describes as giving men and women an equal chance to succeed.
The Norwegian and her elder sister, Andrine, who currently plays in midfield for Paris Saint-Germain, grew up in a home “where equality was important.”
Her mum, she says, gave her confidence, encouraged her to use her voice, which is why the world’s best female footballer is prepared to sacrifice her own career so that the next generation of female footballers “have better conditions when they grow up.”
Hegerberg is as extraordinary off the pitch as she is on it.
In 2017 she stepped away from the Norwegian national team because of frustrations with the way women’s football was treated within the country. With just seven months until the Women’s World Cup in France, the prolific striker is not about to reverse her decision.
“This is the hard side of playing football,” Hegerberg explains.
“Obviously, I’d love to play for my country. I’ve been quite critical, direct with the federation [about] what I felt hasn’t been good enough in my career in the national team.
“In the end it was an easy choice for me to move on in my career. I’ve been quite clear with them the whole way.”
2017 was the year women’s football teams stood up for parity with their male counterparts on the international stage and Norway was described as a pioneer after the Norwegian Football Associaiton (NFF) and the country’s players’ association (NISO) signed an agreement on equal pay.
But the deal was no succor for Hegerberg and her quest for progress and professionalism. “It’s not always about the money,” she says.
“It’s about preparing, taking action, professionality, really clear points I’ve put quite directly to them when I made the decision.
“I wanted it to be a clear case, but it got quite messy in the media unfortunately. That was not my intention at all.
“I know what I want and know my values and therefore it’s easy to take hard choices when you know what the ambitions are and what values you stand for, so it’s all about staying true to yourself, be yourself.”
A spokesperson for the NFF told CNN Sport that the association “continuously wants to have dialogue” with Hegerberg and that they were hopeful she would play for the national team again “further down the line.”
But despite what would be the biggest tournament of her young career on the horizon, Hegerberg is, for now, focusing on her club career and is aiming to maintain the unprecedented levels of success achieved with Lyon.
Last season Lyon won its 12th consecutive title in France’s Division 1 Feminine and for three seasons in a row the Norwegian has finished as the league’s top scorer.
“I’m just focused playing 100% as best as I can at my club. Of course I have ambitions even if I don’t play for the national team,” she says.
“I know I raised the bar quite high when I settled for 50 goals per season. I know it’s going to be a challenge to maintain that rate. It’s all about finding solutions when things are challenging and looking forward to working on the details and stay on top for as long as I can.”
Will winning the Ballon d’Or change her? “I just acknowledge what I’ve done in the past and [that] keeps me hungry and makes me stay on my toes to keep on performing and hit new records.”
Though Monday night’s ceremony was marred by an embarrassing question, it will unlikely be the last landmark reached by Hegerberg. Through her words and deeds, Hegerberg will not be overshadowed.