As a female footballer it's 'impossible to not be standing for equality,' says Ada Hegerberg

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2018 Ballon d'Or Ada Hegerberg talks to Christina Macfarlane about spending lockdown rehabbing her knee, equality for women's football and what anniversary plans she has with her husband.

Posted: May 30, 2020 9:21 PM
Updated: May 30, 2020 9:21 PM

It doesn't take long to understand what type of person Ada Hegerberg is. One of the world's best female footballers certainly likes to be punctual.

"I'm so, so sorry, I really hate being late!" she says, visibly irked despite being only four minutes behind schedule for the start of this interview. Perhaps unsurprisingly, tardiness isn't in the vocabulary of a striker whose brilliant career has been built on her ability to unerringly be at the right place at the right time on a football pitch.

Deadly in front of goal -- she has scored over 300 career goals -- the Norwegian gives nothing less than 100% to the sport she loves.

It's an attitude that's brought her a string of accolades in recent years. She is the first woman to win the Ballon d'Or, the biggest individual prize in world football, and is the all-time leading scorer in the Women's Champions League, a competition she's won a record four successive times with her club Olympique Lyonnais.

But in January, just before the world was put on hold, Hegerberg was forced to press pause for the first time in her career after sustaining a season-ending ACL injury during a training session.

After months of rehab amidst a global pandemic, the 24-year-old says she's gained a new perspective.

"I think it's the perfect time and opportunity to lean back and discover other sides of my game, and to explore other arenas where you can gain perspective and learn a lot and to be better prepared when you get back on the pitch," she explains.

"My philosophy is that when I get back I really want to be stronger than ever, and for that you need time and you need to know your body, your mind and know when the right time is to get back."

One way she has been gaining perspective is by watching every sports documentary she can. And there's one in particular that has enthralled her -- The Last Dance, a 10-part docuseries which follows Michael Jordan's final, tumultuous season with the Chicago Bulls.

"Oh I'm so glad you asked me about The Last Dance! I just finished the last episode and I didn't want it to end," Hegerberg says.

"It's very interesting to see the coach Phil Jackson's philosophy in terms of managing the team. It's a very, very valuable lesson for me as an athlete as well, to see how he coaches a team. Basically, having the best players in a group and knowing how to get the best out of each and every one of them."

Despite being one of the most celebrated strikers in the world, and with a reputation for being the most competitive player on her team, Hegerberg is reluctant to draw any comparisons between herself and Jordan -- but for one exception.

"What really got me was the episode where he talked about how much it takes to win and how much it took from him to be that winning character," she says of the ruthlessly competitive Jordan.

"When he talks about the fact that it's lonely at the top and got emotional at the end of one episode ... It really got me because I really understood what he meant. I invest everything into football every day in order to perform."

Hegerberg continues to sacrifice her place on Norway's national team.

After taking the conscious decision to step away from the women's team in 2017 over the unfair treatment of her team compared to the men, Hegerberg has been buoyed by the US Women's National team, and particularly Megan Rapinoe, over their fight for equal pay.

Earlier this month a federal judge threw out the unequal pay claims by the players, but allowed their allegations of discriminatory working conditions to go to trial. Attorneys for the players were asking to postpone the trial, which currently is scheduled for June 16.

"The US team is filled with great characters," says the Norwegian. "Rapinoe has always had the guts to stand up for the sport and we really need figures like that. "She's taken a beating for us all at times, standing up for what she believes in, and we need that.

"Being a women's footballer today -- it's impossible to not be standing for equality. That's why we need to be together on this in order to make a change for the future."

However, the future is looking uncertain for women's football.

In England, the remainder of the Women's Super League (WSL) and Championship seasons have been canceled because of the pandemic. In France, elite sport has been put on hold until September, while the women's European Championship has been pushed back to 2022.

There are fears the ongoing pandemic could erode the strides women's football made during and following the hugely successful 2019 Women's World Cup.

Hegerberg says she's particularly concerned about impact of playing behind closed doors. In Germany, the Frauen-Bundesliga will resume on May 29 with all matches played behind closed doors.

"Our recognition comes from the number of people who attend our games," Hegerberg explains. "That was a really good trend before this crisis. It was one of the main goals, to get people to games, to draw more attention to women's football week in, week out. But being in a situation like this, it stops that good trend. We have to deal with [that] and keep pushing in order not to lose that positive development."

As Hegerberg readies herself for a return to the sport, whenever that may be, she and her husband are grateful to finally be able to watch live football on TV.

Hegerberg's husband is Thomas Rogne, who plays for Polish side Lech Poznan. She was recently able to join him in Poland after isolating in France -- although the return of Germany's Bundesliga meant a special occasion almost passed the pair by.

"It's our one-year wedding anniversary!" she says.

"We woke up and a family member told us and we were like, 'What?' We were more thinking about watching a game in the Bundesliga, so we had other things on our mind."

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