Tuesday 16 June 2020, 05:50

Harder: Becoming the world's best still motivates me

  • Pernille Harder is one of the world’s top players

  • But the Denmark captain, 27, has never played at a World Cup

  • She speaks to FIFA.com about her career and future plans

When she was ten years old, Pernille Harder was asked by her teacher to write down what she wanted to do in life. The resulting essay stated clearly that this little Danish girl not only wanted to become a professional footballer; she wanted to be the best in the world.

“That has always been a goal for me,” Harder told FIFA.com. “Although it’s incredible now to think of me as a little kid writing an essay like that, putting it out there that I want to be the best in the world.

“Back then it was just a dream – a really big dream. But then as I got older, I got better and better, and you start to think, ‘Why not?’ Becoming the best is a big goal to have, I know that, but it’s something that motivates me and that I train for every day.”

Some believe that Harder has, in fact, already attained this long-held ambition. The Denmark forward was named UEFA’s Player of the Year in 2018 and, the same year, ranked No1 when The Guardian published its list of the world’s top 100 female footballers.

There is no denying, however, that the 27-year-old is not as well known or celebrated across the world as the likes of Megan Rapinoe and Marta. And there is no question that this lower global profile reflects the fact that Harder has not yet appeared in the game’s global showpiece.

The talented Dane’s absence has been a loss to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™. But given the huge importance of international tournaments in women’s football, no-one has suffered more than Harder herself. “It’s very frustrating – it has hurt not to be a part of it,” she admitted.

In the end, of course, Harder did make a contribution of sorts at France 2019. But it was from the stands rather than the pitch, and in the yellow of Sweden instead of the red of her beloved Denmark, as she cheered on partner Magda Eriksson.

“Once I’d got my head around not playing, I just put all my energies that summer into supporting Magda and, actually, it ended up being a really nice experience," Harder said. "She had such a good tournament and I really enjoyed being a part of that.

“It was strange at times too – a lot of mixed emotions, I can say. Games I went to where Magda wasn’t playing were the toughest. That was when I thought, ‘I should be out there playing, not sitting here watching’.

“But when I watched Magda it was different. I really enjoyed those games as a supporter, got totally into them, and it actually felt like I was on the pitch at times. It was also really interesting to see a big tournament like that from a fan’s perspective.”

Enjoyable as the experience was, Harder has no plans to repeat it any time soon. That means ensuring Denmark are represented at the rescheduled UEFA Women’s EURO, a tournament in which she and her team have tended to excel.

“We’ve got some good history at the EURO, reaching the semi-finals in 2013 and the final in 2017, and we know what a fun, cool tournament it is,” she said. “So we’re desperate to be there - even more so after missing the World Cup.”

Five wins from five, with 29 goals scored and none conceded, has made for the perfect start to qualifying. But the biggest test lies in wait in the shape of an ever-improving Italy side who emerged as one of France 2019’s great success stories.

“Those games will be really interesting,” said Harder. “Honestly, I think it’s 50-50 between us and Italy. But they will be fun matches too. And I do think Denmark have been developing with every game we play. We have a lot of young players right now and they’re really talented, with lots of potential, so I feel good about the future.”

Harder is also positive about her own form, and with good reason. The Denmark captain went into the COVID-19 shutdown with 35 goals in just 31 appearances for club and country this season, and has been firmly focused on maintaining that momentum.

“That was a frustrating element of the shutdown for me personally,” she admitted. “Initially, I kept thinking, ‘Can we please keep going – I’m in really good shape just now!’ But once I got my head around it, I just re-focused on coming back in even better shape than I was before.

“I looked to take the positives wherever I could – and there were some positives in being able to focus on small details in our training sessions. I definitely feel good coming out of it and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a good period for me.”

Pernille Harder of Wolfsburg before the Allianz Frauen Bundesliga match between VfL Wolfsburg and 1. FFC Frankfurt.

The year ahead could also be last we see of Harder in the green of Wolfsburg. Having signed for the club in 2017, and won the Frauen-Bundesliga every year since, she now finds herself beckoned by fresh challenges and new surroundings.

“I’m very happy at Wolfsburg but I’ve also been here a long time,” she explained. “I have one more year on my contract and, after that, I think I will look to see what comes next. Not because I’m not satisfied here; I just want new challenges at some point.

“There are so many leagues progressing really well just now, and it’s great to see. I’ve tried the Swedish league, tried the German - enjoyed both - and before I finish I want to try two more leagues if it’s possible. Let’s see.

“I definitely feel like I’m developing all the time, and that I’ve improved a lot over the last two or three years in particular. This season has been really good, both for the team and for me personally, so it feels like I’m in a good moment. But I’m also always looking to build and improve, and I really believe there is still more to come from me.”

That desire to be the best burns as brightly now as it did 17 years ago in that Danish classroom. Such passion, combined with Harder’s remarkable natural talent, are sure to make her highly sought-after when the time comes to bid Wolfsburg farewell.

Pernille Harder in training with VfL Wolfsburg