Ada Hegerberg: ‘Mentally broken’ by treatment of women’s football, Lyon star enjoys ‘joyful’ return to Norway national team

“The crowd came, they came to support it, which I find amazing,” Hegeberg tells CNN’s Christina MacFarlane.

“Obviously I’m very focused ahead of games and everything, but seeing the national team again and seeing all these young girls and boys showing up to watch us play hit me deeply. And it was just a joyful feeling that I will cherish for a very long time.”

“I can say very clearly that I never hope that something like this happens to another player, that you should be put in a position where you have to make a decision like that,” she said after returning to the team.

“But right now I would never forget it. I think we should embrace the whole story. But at the same time I kind of moved on.”

Hegerberg celebrates after scoring the first goal of her hat-trick against Kosovo.
During her absence from the national team, Hegerberg established herself as one of the best players in the world. She holds the record for most goals scored in the Champions League at 56 and was awarded the first-ever Ballon d’Or Feminine in 2018.

As well as these individual accolades, Hegerberg found great success with Lyon, guiding the club to five consecutive Champions League titles – a record for a side of either gender. On Saturday, Lyon will face Barcelona in this season’s Champions League final.

‘A new chapter’

Despite these achievements, Hegerberg stayed outside the international arena and steadfastly maintained their stance towards the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF).

The 2019 Women’s World Cup didn’t lure her back into the national lineup and Hegerberg says it was only the recent election of Lise Klaveness as president of the NFF – the first woman to hold the position – that persuaded her to return.

The pair played together when Hegerberg was just starting out in her career and she says discussions with Klaveness were central to her return to the national team. They spoke about their shared struggles with the association and the challenges women’s football faces.

“I felt like I grew a lot during those talks, but I felt it was the right time to go back and play for my country again,” says Hegerberg.

“I really think Lise can be a very important figure and position to shake things up so that young girls can be better cared for in the future. I would absolutely support them to push women’s football in the right direction. So it feels very good.”

Lise Klaveness made headlines in March when she condemned the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup.

Since Hegerberg retired from the national team, the NFF has changed its approach to the women’s team.

Men and women now receive equal financial compensation for representing Norway after an agreement was reached that doubled the pay pot for women from 3.1 million Norwegian kroner (US$330,739) to 6 million kroner (US$640,150).

“Obviously, one shouldn’t forget so as not to repeat the same story, but I feel like it’s a new chapter, it’s moving on, and it’s also very refreshing,” says Hegerberg.

“And obviously you’re trying to build on something because you have very good players in Europe now, Norwegian girls.

“So I think now is the time to build brick by brick. And I’m also very motivated to take on some of the responsibility to keep pushing football in Norway in the right direction.”

“Give the conditions players deserve”

It’s not just in Norway that discussions about women’s football have changed in the years between Hegerberg’s last two international matches.

Last month, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) announced that women footballers playing in Italy’s top women’s league – Serie A – would be reclassified as professional athletes, ending years of salary caps imposed by their amateur status.

“I have the feeling that we are slowly regaining momentum to get back into the good rhythm that we had before Covid hit us and build up more professionally,” says Hegerberg.

“Give the players the conditions they deserve and get a far more professional day-to-day life so we can get even better and show even better football in the long term. It’s about pushing us players – we just have to perform.”

Players are increasingly appearing on the biggest stages. Camp Nou – Barcelona’s stadium – has sold out twice in recent months, setting consecutive records for the most attendances at a women’s football match.

In March, 91,553 fans watched Barça beat Real Madrid in a UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and less than a month later, 91,648 were cheering their home side’s 5-1 win over Wolfsburg in the semi-finals.

“It’s brilliant,” says Hegerberg. “That’s what you want to achieve in the game and to see this sold out packed Camp Nou – it’s really amazing.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve, every women’s club. We’ve seen some good trends. And now the big challenge is to get those people back into the stadium week in and week out and get the stability that we need.”

Hegerberg has won five Champions League titles with Lyon.

“The best part of the season”

Last season, without the injured Hegerberg, Lyon failed to reach the Champions League final for the third time in ten years, ending the club’s five-year tenure as European champions. Barcelona took advantage of Lyon’s absence and are now aiming for a first consecutive title.

“Barcelona are obviously a very strong team,” said Hegerberg. “You can see that they have been given time to develop their playing style together. They also play very possession-oriented football.”

Hegerberg is playing knockout soccer for the first time in three years after missing nearly two seasons in January 2020 due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a stress fracture to her left shin.

“I’m just trying to enjoy every day, every second with the ball and spring is here and the big games are coming up,” she says. “So it’s probably the best part of the season too.”

After the Champions League final, Hegerberg is looking forward to the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Championship – her first major tournament since returning to the Norwegian team.

“It’s a tough tournament,” says Hegerberg. “It can go both ways. It’s about preparing very calmly but with focus. And yes, we will be prepared for anything. But we know from the past that we had a final in 2013 and then we did.” experienced the very tough Euro 2017.”

Norway lost all three group games in 2017, a disappointing streak for a side that started the tournament in fourth place.

This time the Norwegian campaign begins on July 7 with a game against Northern Ireland, who are looking to advance to the knockout stages from a group that also includes Austria and England.

“It’s about learning from these experiences and being as prepared as possible,” says Hegerberg, “but also having fun because these tournaments are a highlight of your career.”

Leave a Comment