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Why Ada Hegerberg, the first-ever female Ballon d'Or winner, could be set to boycott the 2019 World Cup

Last night was just the latest accolade for an individual who seemed destined for greatness from the outset.

Ada Hegerberg (file pic).
Ada Hegerberg (file pic).
Image: Imago/PA Images

FEW PEOPLE WITH even a basic knowledge of women’s football would have been surprised last night when Ada Hegerberg was named the first-ever female winner of the Ballon d’Or.

It is just the latest accolade for an individual who seemed destined for greatness from the outset.

Born in Molde, the footballing prodigy made her debut as a 15-year-old in 2010 with Norwegian outfit Kolbotn. 

“I started at maybe seven years old but I really got into it at 10, maybe 11.

“I grew up playing with boys, that was a natural thing for my sister [Paris Saint-Germain’s Andrine Hegerberg] and me. We played with boys until we were at least 13 or 14,” she told The Guardian last summer.

Her extraordinary gifts were evident almost immediately. Less than a month after her 16th birthday, Hegerberg became the youngest player ever to hit a hat-trick in the Norwegian top flight and finished the season as her club’s top scorer in addition to being named the league’s Young Player of the Year.

She signed for rival team Stabæk the following season, averaging more than a goal a game, with her club securing the Norwegian Women’s Cup in the process.

After a year in Germany with Turbine Potsdam, in which Hegerberg’s goals helped them finish second in the league in addition to reaching the DFB-Pokal final, she joined Lyon in 2014, six days after turning 19.

In France, she helped consolidate Lyon’s legacy as arguably the greatest team ever to grace the women’s game.

Hegerberg has finished as the league’s top scorer in three of the past four seasons in France, while Lyon have won three consecutive Champions Leagues in addition to 12 league titles in a row.

The club’s relentless dominance was epitomised by the presence of seven of their players on the 15-woman Ballon d’Or shortlist.

Yet Hegerberg is a standout even in a team of superstars. Already, she has managed close to 300 career goals, including 154 in 125 games for Lyon, and helped guide the team to two trebles — lifting the Division 1 Féminine, Coupe de France and UEFA Women’s Champions League — in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaign.

Her style is often compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, and she managed to eclipse even the Portuguese attacker in 2016, when she hit more goals in Uefa competitions than any other footballer — male or female.

The star has unsurprisingly been handsomely rewarded for these incredible feats. She recently signed a contract extension to keep her at Lyon until 2021, which is reportedly worth around £300,000 a year, at a club where the average salary is understood to be approximately £145,000 a year

And at international level, Hegerberg has been similarly prolific, registering 38 goals in 66 appearances for her country, who named her Norwegian sportsperson of the year in 2016.  

Having impressed at underage level, helping Norway reach the final of the 2011 Uefa Women’s U19 Championship. She made her debut for the senior side the same year, coming off the bench in a game against Northern Ireland in Lurgan.

Two years later, Hegerberg helped Norway reach the final of the 2013 Uefa Women’s Championship, where they lost 1-0 to Germany.

In 2015, the 19-year-old scored three times at the World Cup, earning a nomination for the competition’s Best Young Player award, though they suffered disappointment in the Round of 16, where they were beaten 2-1 by England.

At Euro 2017 though, Hegerberg was part of a disastrous tournament for Norway, as they lost all three matches against Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, and failed to score a single goal in the process.   

Source: AV Sports/YouTube

Since then, Hegerberg has opted to take a break from international football, which is why she was nowhere to be seen when Norway faced Ireland in a World Cup qualifier in Tallaght earlier this year.

Norway still prevailed in the absence of their star player, and she may be unavailable again when her country travel to France this coming summer. 

Last night’s twerking controversy at the Ballon d’Or ceremony was not the first sexism row the star has been at the centre of.

The reasons for her self-imposed exile from international football are as a result of what Hegerberg perceives as a lack of respect for female players in Norway and the poor state of the game over there in general.

“A lot of things need to be done to make the conditions better for women who play football,” she said last night.

“It’s all about how we respect women’s football. I don’t think the respect has been there.

Sometimes you have to take tough decisions to stay true to yourself. I let them [the Norwegian FA] know, quite clearly, what I found wasn’t working.”

She elaborated on her reasons for turning down international call-ups in an interview with The Guardian last July.

 “Football is the biggest sport in Norway for girls and has been for years, but at the same time, girls don’t have the same opportunities as the boys. Norway has a great history of women’s football but it’s harder now.

“We’ve stopped talking about development and other countries have overtaken us.”

In her young career, Hegerberg has already won virtually every major honour in the game, with the exception of the European Championships and the World Cup .

It seems unthinkable that women’s football’s best player would miss out on its biggest competition next summer, but sadly, this outcome looks a distinct possibility, with no sign of a forthcoming resolution to the argument.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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