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THE ATTACKING spearhead and perpetual top scorer for a club that has created history by winning three Champions League titles in succession is set to be crowned the best footballer in the world in London in two weeks.
Yet while Cristiano Ronaldo may lose his title to Croatia’s Luka Modric, a 23-year-old from Norway seems certain to add the Fifa award to the Uefa and BBC Women’s Player of the Year awards she won in 2016 and 2017.
The youngest of three siblings, Ada Hegerberg is the highest achiever in a family that have all played the game.
“It’s funny because I was the youngest in my family, my brother [Silas] played, my sister [Andrine] obviously plays and both my parents too. So we always say that ‘I had no choice, it was football.’
“Little by little it interested me more and more and more and more I discovered the feeling of joy when I scored. I always had this feeling for the goal, to be hungry to score goals.
This need was there from a very young age, so I said to myself at the time: ‘I really like to play, to score,’ so it has become, over time, the most important thing in my life.”
Still a teenager when she joined Lyon in 2014, she has tasted defeat in only one league match over four championship-winning seasons in which the team has always scored over 100 goals.
She herself has scored at least 20 league goals in every campaign and top-scored in the women’s Champions League twice, breaking the European record with 15 goals last season.
You may think it is simple to play up front for an all-star team that has won the last 12 French league titles, 6 French Cups in a row and the last three European titles, but Hegerberg disagrees.
“People think it's normal to score 50 goals in a season, but that's not normal in fact … You have to find your place in a team that wins the Champions League, to get to be ‘top scorer,’ so I never ask myself [if it’s easier to score for Lyon].”
June’s French Cup Final, in which Hegerberg lost to her sister’s team Paris Saint-Germain, is the only occasion she has not won a competition she has entered since joining Lyon.
But losing, however unfamiliar it may be, is not something that worries her. “We do not say that we will win everything,” she explains.
“We know that every year it’s hard, every year we challenge ourselves to do it again and that’s one of the reasons that explains the successes year after year.
“We do not defend our titles, we attack the race for titles. We must say that. We are here to regain titles, not to defend them in fact and we know that one day it will come, one day it will be hard if we lose a match, if we lose [a title], but if this day comes, we must keep our character, we must question ourselves, ask ourselves how we will overcome this. That's actually our philosophy.”
In 2016, Hegerberg collected the Uefa Player of the Year Award in Monaco alongside Ronaldo, a role she may reprise in London at the Fifa awards. As the focal point in a team winning three successive Champions League titles, comparisons with the Portuguese are inevitable but Hegerberg will not be following his example by leaving a winning team for a new challenge in a different country.
“I think it shows above all that he is a very intelligent player, I think he felt he needed renewal. He could have easily left for, I do not know, China, or the United States, but it shows that he is a player with extraordinary ambitions, since he made this decision [to stay in Europe].
“But I’m not in the same situation. I’m still in the best club in the world, so why change? Not at the moment, anyway. It’s my club, I’ve grown a lot here, I feel appreciated, I appreciate the club and I know it’s here that I can become the best version of myself, so it’s not the time to leave Lyon, for sure.”
So with the peak of her career ahead of her, what does motivate this 23-year-old who has already won every club title on multiple occasions?
“It’s the little details every day, year after year to correct, to rectify. I do not say to myself: ‘This year I will score 50 goals and then it’s good.’ I always say to myself: ‘OK, there are details to work on and, if I can do that, that, that in training, if I know that the preparation was good, I know it will come.’ And that’s what motivates me, to always see further and this perpetual search for perfection.”
Rather than yearn for the individual awards that will inevitably come her way, that quest for perfection drives Hegerberg to win even more titles.
“It's in my nature a little bit. I think I have ambitions, but you also need to know the consequences of having ambitions because it’s easy to say: ‘I’ll become the best.’ I do not say that, I do not need to say that I will win the Golden Ball, my goals are in my head and I want to say that I want to win everything with my club, because I know that if we win everything, I will have been good too.”
International honours are the only thing missing from Hegerberg’s glittering CV, frustratingly losing the 2013 Euro final to Germany after Norway squandered two penalties and she herself had a goal disallowed.
Following their group stage elimination at Euro 2017, Hegerberg made the decision not to represent her country any more, saying: “I think [the Norwegian FA] has a helluva long way to go and right now it’s not the place for me.”
A year on, she has yet to retract this decision and it seems the Women’s World Cup will be missing the game’s leading striker.
Since making her international debut at the age of 16, Hegerberg has scored 38 goals in 66 matches for her country which she has already represented in a World Cup and two European Championships.
Yet despite maintaining their record of appearing at every World Cup by pipping European champions Netherlands to an automatic qualification spot, Norway, which became the first nation in 2000 to win a World, European and Olympic title, are not the force they were in the women’s game, a situation that frustrates Hegerberg.
“We won everything, but we want to continue to win. It's been a long time since 2000 with the Olympics.
“We must always continue development and it shows in the results especially, that we have not been good enough and that is a pity. It does not come only in relation to the results at the moment, but it also comes with regard to the future generation, the girls who will take our places in the national team too.
“We must help them to have better conditions than those of today. To talk about it I have to start by talking about culture, because we appreciate equality, to have equality between men and women, and so I’m so happy to be born in Norway. It’s really a beautiful country.
“But compared to football it’s completely incompatible. With football we have not managed to find this equality. That’s what we have to say.
“Young girls do not have the same opportunities as young boys and it hurts me. Because I know the importance of this and I do not understand why there is a difference between girls and boys. This is not a question for me. On this point there is a way to go and it is still not done, that's for sure.”
Original interview by Dounia Mesli for Coeurs de Foot
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