News Live Scores
Women's World Cup

'It's not about the money' - Why Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg isn’t playing at the Women’s World Cup

23:00 IST 05/06/2019
Hegerberg Modric Mbappe Ballon d'Or
The forward hasn't represented Norway since they crashed out of the group stages at Euro 2017 - but it's not because of those poor displays

When Ada Hegerberg was awarded the inaugural Ballon d’Or Feminin in December, it was a watershed moment for women’s football.

She stood proudly alongside Luka Modric, the winner of the men’s edition, and Kylian Mbappe, winner of the under-21 Kopa Trophy, laughing and joking and, after winning a third successive Champions League with Lyon, certainly not out of place.

Yet, there was one obvious difference between her and her male counterparts – and it wasn’t her gender.

Modric’s Ballon d’Or win came off the back of another Champions League triumph with Real Madrid, but more importantly were his contributions for Croatia, who he had guided to a World Cup final in the summer.

Mbappe too had shone for PSG, but, again, it was his international exploits that stood out – the trophy to be placed alongside his World Cup winner’s medal and award for Best Young Player at the tournament.

Hegerberg, on the other hand, hadn’t pulled on the colours of her native Norway since they crashed out of the Euro 2017 group stages without a point gained or a goal scored.

In fact, she still hasn’t.

And while, at first, many saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to the team’s poor performances in the Netherlands, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I think NFF [Norwegian FA] has a long way to go, and right now it’s not the place for me. It’s as simple as that,” the forward, who admitted her own shortcomings at the Euros in an interview with Aftenpolten, told VG.

In the months that followed, she would elaborate.

“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,” she told the Guardian.

“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.”

The 23-year-old's frustrations are understandable given her environment in Lyon, where equality between the female and male teams has allowed the former to become the best club in the world.

“We need more people in the game with the vision of [Lyon president] Jean-Michel Aulas, who knows that investing in the women’s game is a win-win for the club and the city and the players,” she wrote for The Players' Tribune.

“When you get world-class investment, you get world-class results.

“Football federations, are you listening? We can do better.”

The NFF have made changes since her announcement. A deal for equal pay between the men’s and women’s national team players followed, as did the appointment of Lise Klaveness, a former Norwegian international herself, as the federation’s director.

But, despite her admitting she has had “good conversations” with Klaveness, it hasn’t been enough to change Hegerberg’s mind.

"It's not always about the money," she stated simply.

Across the border, Sweden are setting an example for Norway to follow.

The Damallsvenskan is one of the best leagues in the world, while the Toppserien is simply a stepping stone for Norway’s best talent.

And internationally, they have the ‘takhoyde’ that Hegerberg often talks about when discussing these issues.

Takhoyde’ refers to the ability to express oneself, something that Hegerberg and her compatriots have struggled to do in Norway’s rigid 4-4-2 formation.

But not only rigid, it is stubborn, a formation that has never changed - “Do we have a plan B or C?” she said, venting her frustrations to Aftenpolten.

Sweden themselves used to struggle tactically. However, since the appointment of Peter Gerhardsson, Blagult have played much more attractive and creative football, while his compatriot, Norway head coach Martin Sjogren, has stuck with the unsuccessful set-up that hindered his side at the Euros.

Training every day in an equal environment and seeing the success of Norway’s neighbours, one that her country are capable of emulating, Hegerberg’s frustrations are understandable. But, more than that, they are shared.

While Caroline Graham Hansen admits she would never turn her back on her national team while they needed her, the Barcelona-bound forward admits: "The union could do a lot more for us.

“I can't sit here and say we have everything we need. We don't really have enough money to keep up.”

Hansen adds that Norway invest more than other nations, something that Klaveness stresses regularly. However, as recently as the summer of 2017, one of the country’s biggest teams, Avaldsnes, had to set-up a crowdfunding page to raise 50,000 Norwegian krone (the equivalent of £4,500) to travel to Montenegro for a UEFA Women’s Champions League fixture.

It’s incidents like this that have influenced and since supported Hegerberg’s decision.

“It was the most fantastic night of my life,” she told The Players’ Tribune of her Ballon d’Or win.

“Not because of the award, but because of the respect that was in the room. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

She was central to that watershed moment but, sadly, she will not be at what is expected to be the biggest Women’s World Cup yet.