Thursday 29 August 2019, 07:00

World Cup absence no barrier for Hegerberg

  • Ada Hegerberg is the only nominee for The Best FIFA Women’s Player award not to have played at France 2019

  • She has made up for that absence with notable individuals and club achievements

  • The Norwegian placed third in 2018

It has become a tradition in the women’s game – and a logical one at that – that individual awards in FIFA Women's World Cup™ years should go to the players who have lit up the tournament.

When Carli Lloyd won the adidas Golden Ball at the 2015 world finals, and Homare Sawa, Marta and Birgit Prinz all did likewise in 2011, 2007 and 2003 respectively (when the trio also collected the adidas Golden Boot), they all went on to collect the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award.

This year may well prove an exception to that rule, however, with Ada Hegerberg very much in the running for the accolade despite sitting out France 2019. The 23-year-old Norwegian is one of the finest players and goalscorers in the world, not mention one of the women’s game’s best-known players, enjoying a higher media profile than most of her peers. She is, without question, a giant of women’s football who also happens to have had an outstanding season.

Ada Hegerberg prior to The Best FIFA Football Awards at Royal Festival Hall on September 24, 2018 in London

There in spirit

Following a disappointing UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 both for Norway and her personally, Hegerberg decided to retire from international football and remained absent when the team took on the world’s best in France this year. Led by Caroline Graham Hansen, whose supreme form earned her a nomination for The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2019, the Nordic outfit enjoyed a fine tournament without their star striker, reaching the quarter-finals.

Hegerberg’s absence had the Norway fans asking one obvious question, however: how far could they have gone with her in the side? The answer will never be known, though the striker never missed an opportunity to show her support for her former team-mates, most notably in her role as a pundit on French TV.

Ada Hegerberg of Lyon celebrates

She shoots, she scores

Question: what does Hegerberg have in common with footballing legends such as Germany’s Gerd Muller, Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis, France’s Just Fontaine, Sweden’s Gunnar Nordahl and Brazil’s Leonidas Da Silva? Answer: they all have more international goals to their names than caps. In fact, Hegerberg’s average of more than a goal a game also applies to her career as whole, having scored 261 of them in only 254 matches.

She showed that prowess in the 2018/19 season. In a Lyon side in which she shares attacking duties with other seasoned finishers such as Eugenie Le Sommer, Delphine Cascarino, Dzsenifer Marozsan, Shanice van de Sanden, Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard, she scored 20 French league goals in 20 appearances. Just for good measure, she also struck seven in nine UEFA Women’s Champions League matches and two in three Coupe de France ties.

Doing it in threes

In winning a French League/Champions League double and scoring a record 15 goals in the European campaign, Hegerberg set the bar very high indeed in 2017/18 and went on to finish third in the race for The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2018 award and collect the first Ballon d’Or in women’s football history.

Faced with the challenge of doing even better the following season, she did just that, helping Olympique Lyonnais land a treble, with the French giants adding the Coupe de France to another league and Champions League double.

Having gone down in history with her record-breaking European goal tally in the previous campaign, she achieved another landmark by scoring a hat-trick in the 2019 Champions League final against Barcelona. The Norwegian is only the second player to hit three goals in the final of the competition, after German striker Inka Grings, who did so for Duisburg in 2009.

Ada Hegerberg (Olympique Lyonnais)

Breaking new ground?

As explained above, Hegerberg will have to go against history if she is to win The Best FIFA Women’s Player award in a year in which she did not grace the World Cup stage. What is more, every single player who featured in the top three in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 played in the world finals in those respective years.

In 2003, Prinz finished ahead of the legendary Mia Hamm and Hannah Ljungberg, while Marta topped the podium from Prinz and Cristiane four years later. Then, in 2011, Sawa was crowned ahead of Marta and Abby Wambach, before Lloyd took the honours from Celia Sasic and Aya Miyama in 2015.

To even make the podium in 2019 would thus be quite a feat for Hegerberg. But, then again, this is a player who has made a habit of achieving the unlikely.