How Ada Hegerberg became the face of women's soccer

By James Nalton, Football Whispers

Now officially the best women's soccer player on the planet, Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg has the world at her feet. Yet it's highly unlikely she'll be participating in next year's FIFA World Cup.

To understand why there is a need to understand the struggles women's soccer has faced throughout history, and continues to face. In Hegerberg, soccer has a player, a role model, an ambassador, who is taking action on and off the pitch to help change the game.

Despite having just been named the best player in the world, we have still seen very little of Hegerberg in action on the field. The news bulletins beamed around the world chose to focus on an incident at the event itself, rather than the soccer.

Few highlights, if any, were shown of the numerous honours Hegerberg has won. Glimpses of any of the 200-odd goals the Norwegian has scored in her career to date were rare. YouTube compilations were few and far between, and there was generally very little coverage of the game itself.

Hegerberg's all-round talent and eye for goal should be about to change that. Here we take a look at her rise to the top.

It’s no coincidence that Olympique Lyonnais’ domination of the UEFA Women's Champions League began with Hegerberg’s arrival at the club.

The French champions have assembled an impressive team, but Hegerbarg’s goalscoring feats on the continent have really driven them forward.

She had made appearances in the tournament for previous clubs Stabæk and Turbine Potsdam, getting off the mark for the former – the Norwegian club she joined as a teenager having begun her career at Kolbotn, where her pro soccer story begins.

Despite being born in the north Norway city of Molde, and growing up in the nearby town of  Sunndalsøra where she began to play soccer as a youth, the Hegerbergs moved south to Kolbotn near Oslo where Ada and her sister Andrine joined the local club.

Sisters

“I grew up playing with boys,” Ada told The Guardian this year.

“That was a natural thing for my sister and me. We played with boys until we were at least 13 or 14.”

The sisters displayed their soccer talent from an early age, with Ada becoming the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the Norwegian first division, the Toppserien, going on to finish that season as the club’s top scorer and be named player of the year in 2011, aged just 16.

That hat-trick came against eventual league winners, Røa, who conceded just 18 goals throughout the entire season.

From here the pair moved to Stabæk where Ada once again finished the season as the club’s top scorer. They increased their profiles further, aided by their first  appearances in the Champions League which saw clubs around Europe begin to take note of the new Norwegian stars.

They won the Norwegian Women's Cup and finished runners up in the league, and a move to Turbine Potsdam was the next port of call on their journey. But a year after joining the Bundesliga club where they finished runners-up in the league and cup, the sisters went their separate ways.

Adrine left the club stating: "The decision is based on the fact that I no longer want to play for [head coach] Bernd Schröder."

She joined Swedish side Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC and is now with French giants Paris Saint-Germain, whom she joined this season.

Ada remained at Turbine for another season, adding two more Champions League goals before Lyon came calling.

“The best club called me and wanted to know if I wanted to go there and play and I was like: ‘Yeah, I’m totally doing this,’" she said. 

Substance

Since scoring 24 goals in 18 games during the 2012 season for Stabæk, Ada Hegerberg had managed around a goal every other game, but the goals began to flow again in France.

Thirty-four strikes in 32 games in all competitions during her first season at Lyon were a sign of things to come, and in her second season they started to flow in Europe too.

Lyon have now won the French league every season since 2007. With Hegerberg in their ranks they have enjpyed similar domination in Europe.

They had won the Champions League previously, in 2011 and 2012, but in 2016 they began a run of three consecutive continental title. They're now the most successful team in the competition with five wins, overtaking 2015 champions and four-time winners Frankfurt.

Hegerberg receiving the UEFA Best Women's Player in Europe award in 2016

During the 2015/16 season Hegerberg racked up a remarkable 54 goals in 35 games in all competitions. She almost broke the record for goals in a Champions League season with 13, just one behind Célia Šašić who scored 14 for Frankfurt a season earlier. During the 2016 calendar year she scored more goals than any player on the planet.

In the 2017/18 tournament, having scored a modest four in eight in 2016/17, Hegerberg overtook Šašić, netting 15 as Lyon triumphed in the Kyiv final in which she scored in extra time against familiar foes Wolfsburg, whom they had also beaten in the 2016 final and lost to in 2013.

This took her combined league and Champions League total to 46 goals in just 29 games. It was another season which marked Hegerberg out as one of the game’s greats, and at the time she was still only 22.

Style

Hegerberg is a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. From tap-ins to long-range blasts, and headers to volleys, left foot or right foot, she has scored all types of goals during her burgeoning career.

The 23-year-old has plenty of praise for her team-mates, who have helped her become the player she is.

"I've developed a lot since I came to Lyon two years ago. Coming here with all these world-class players has really pushed me,” she said.

“I think it's easy to say that a club like Olympique Lyonnais can just go and get a title, but there's so much hard work behind it, every day in training, mentally and physically."

In turn, her team-mates must enjoy playing alongside her. She’s not just a poacher or a penalty box striker, and in many of the moves which lead to her goals she will have been involved earlier in the play.

She was joint second for assists in the 2015/16 Champions League campaign, and is able to use her excellent aerial ability in open play as well as in front of goal.

There is speed to get behind defences, good positioning and awareness which enables her to split opposition centre-backs, and a hurriedness off the ball which sees her defend from the front.

Hegerberg is a complete forward for the modern game, and given she hasn’t yet reached what would widely be considered the peak years for a striker, her best is yet to come.

She has also enjoyed some success with the national team, and in 2016 was named Norwegian Sportsperson of the Year, but has since taken a break from international soccer.

There is some disappointment on her part at the way the women’s game is treated in her homeland.

“Young girls do not have the same opportunities as young boys and it hurts me," she said earlier in the year. "I know the importance of this and I do not understand why there is a difference between girls and boys.

"On this point there is a way to go and it is still not done, that's for sure.”

"This is the hard side of playing football," Hegerberg added after winning the Ballon d’Or.

"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."

Although the Norwegian Football Associaiton (NFF) and the country's players' association (NISO) signed an agreement on equal pay, the issue goes further than this.

"It's not always about the money. It's about preparing, taking action, professionalism, really clear points I've put quite directly to them when I made the decision.”

Next year’s World Cup will certainly be much worse off for her absence. The hope is winning the Ballon d’Or might encourage, not just her own nation, but countries around the world to approach the women's game in a more professional manner on and off the pitch, allowing stars such as Hegerberg to showcase their talents on the biggest stages. She certainly deserves one.

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