Hanna Bennison: The Special Swede
in Pursuit of Perfection
By Ameé Ruszkai
“That is something special,” remarked former U.S. women’s national team midfielder, Aly Wagner.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist was on commentary for Vlatko Andonovski's first game in charge of the world champions, but she wasn't talking about anyone in the United States’ changed red and blue strip.
Instead, she was applauding Sweden’s 17-year-old debutante, who had just chipped the ball over the defence to find Sofia Jakobsson, who in turn teed up Anna Anvegard for the visitors’ first goal of the day.
It wasn’t the only time the teenager had the fans in Ohio - the majority of whom had come out to join the celebrations of the USA’s victory tour, following their second successive World Cup title - showing reluctant appreciation.
A nutmeg on Lindsey Horan, named the best player in the NWSL just 12 months prior, was also added to her highlight reel.
The occasion may have been about the home team and Andonovski, but it was also the moment when the world was introduced to Hanna Bennison, Goal’s 2021 women’s NXGN winner.
In Sweden, Bennison’s talent has been known for some time. Anders Jeppsson first met the midfielder since she was five years old, as his daughter was friends with her from a young age. He was also her first coach at her former club, GIF Nike, and now works at her school, coordinating her balance of education and football.
Asked if anything about her career to date has surprised him, Jeppsson’s response is telling: “No, not really. That’s the scary thing!
“She was phenomenal, even then,” he tells Goal, recalling his first memories coaching Bennison. “She has always been that director on the pitch. She was always in the centre, making the team good, and that's the same player today, only 10 years older and much, much better.”
When she made the move from GIF Nike to Rosengard aged 11, it would only elevate that talent. At the time, the Malmo-based club were the dominant force in Sweden, winning five Damallsvenskan titles between 2010 and 2015, becoming the competition’s most successful club of all time the year Bennison joined.
“The resources were better, with the trainers and all the other stuff outside of football. It was more professional and I learned a lot when I came here,” Bennison tells Goal.
“I remember my first practice. I was really nervous but the team and the girls were so nice, so it felt like home already after the first practice.
“I also remember my first tournament we played and we won. It was an amazing feeling. I really liked it here from the start.”
“She was phenomenal, even then”
That Bennison began her career at Rosengard with a success is fitting, as plenty has come since.
At the age of 14, she received her first call-up to Sweden’s youth teams. Within a year, she was part of Rosengard’s first team.
“The first time I met Hanna was during post-season physical test day with the senior team in November 2017,” head coach Jonas Eidevall remembers. Bennison had only just celebrated her 15th birthday, but she was about to make a big impression on the new coach.
“She was invited to participate together with a couple of other young players from our academy. In the endurance test, Hanna ran until she collapsed on the ground.
“I remember I was very impressed by her effort and will. When I later saw her ball [control], I knew she was, and still is, a very special player.”
It wasn’t just the coach that Bennison was impressing. Asked what she remembers of her first training session with the teenager, Caroline Seger, captain of Rosengard and Sweden, says: “That she had [an] enormous amount of talent and willingness to learn and be better.”
Unsurprisingly, then, Eidevall didn’t hesitate in bringing Bennison into his first team plans, despite her age.
Her first inclusion in a matchday squad came in February 2018. Two months later, she came off the bench against Kalmar in the league for her senior debut. “I was a little surprised,” Bennison remembers.
If that experience caught her off guard, what came the following year was a big shock. After making just four league appearances from the bench in 2018, the midfielder quickly became one of the first names on the teamsheet in 2019. In the Damallsvenskan, Bennison started 16 of the club’s 18 league games – and helped them win their first league title in four years.
“[Eidevall] has done a lot for me, because he gave me an opportunity to play,” she says. “He believed in me and that was really nice to feel.
“[That support] is really important because you really need to learn and to grow and to be allowed to make mistakes. I think that they have done with me. That's why I think I'm as good as I am now.”
Bennison didn’t just play – she excelled. At the end of the year, she was named the league’s breakthrough talent, with three goals and two assists to her name. One of those goals remains her favourite. In one of the toughest games of the season, against title rivals Goteborg, the teenager scored superbly from the edge of the box.
But what she likes about it the most is what highlights the kind of player she is: “The whole action before the goal. The play until we scored was good.”
That love for the attractive, attacking style of football has always typified Bennison. As a young girl, her favourite teams were Real Madrid and Rosengard. Her idols were Ramona Bachmann, the creative midfielder who starred in Rosengard’s title-winning sides, and Marta, widely considered the greatest player in the history of the women’s game.
Jeppsson even recalls Bennison telling him as a young girl that she wanted to play for Barcelona, with whom an attractive style of football is always associated.
The flair she enjoyed from those players and teams was certainly evident in her Sweden debut at the end of 2019, as she showed glimpses of her brilliance to the American crowd, while rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s best.
Carli Lloyd is one player she was often running alongside, another name that Bennison mentions several times during her interview with Goal, picked out as the opponent she is proudest to have played against.
The story of that first senior call-up is certainly juxtaposed with the impressions she made during it.
“I was in school with my classmates,” Bennison recalls. “We were watching the press release, when the head coach was selecting the squad. Then he said my name and I was just like, 'what?'
“I was overwhelmed and I didn't know what to do, really, but I was so, so happy. That's something I had dreamed about since I started playing. It was like a dream come true to me.”
Some young players might get carried away with such quick and relentless success, but Bennison’s personality kept her grounded throughout.
“I learned to enjoy when it's good and when you do well, but also that you always need to keep working. There's always stuff that can be better, so never relax,” she says, reflecting on a phenomenal 2019.
That humility isn’t a show, it’s something that is picked up on by many. “She's not at all like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or something,” Jeppsson laughs. It’s not the only quality that makes her a popular character, either.
“Hanna is a very calm and thoughtful person that makes you feel safe. She always puts her friends ahead of herself,” Matilda Kristell, Bennison’s Rosengard team-mate says. The two are the same age and met when they were 10 years old. “Since then, we have walked side by side, both in football and as really good friends.”
There are few people better placed to understand why the midfielder has been able to thrive at such a young age, then.
“I think it comes from her being very confident and that she adjusts well to her environment,” Kristell explains.
“Hanna also has a stronger mind than most people do. She always wants to do better and works very hard to achieve her goals. She likes to learn by listening to the older players on the team and others around her.”
“I'm very stubborn,” Bennison adds. “If there's something I can't do, I really practice until I get it right.”
“She has it all to become the very best.”
2020 was another learning experience. After the highs of 2019, Bennison missed most of the year through injury, her first big setback.
But that she was recalled to the national team as soon as she was back fit, speaks wonders. A month after celebrating her 18th birthday, she even scored her first goals in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
As such milestones continue to be reached, and those around her continue to create a real buzz, the hype around her will only grow. European champions Lyon are already rumoured to be interested in signing her.
Seger, who won a Champions League trophy with Lyon herself in 2017, previously described the 18-year-old as the greatest talent she has ever seen.
Asked what it is that made her say that, the midfielder explained: “Everything about her. Her physique, technique, how strong she is mentally and her character of always wanting to learn and be better. She has it all to become the very best.”
It’s a sentiment shared by everyone around her. Jeppsson says “she could absolutely be the best girl in the world, that’s not a problem”, while her coach, Eidevall, gives a particularly glowing review.
“Hanna is already a player of high quality, but in my eyes, she has the potential to be the best player in the world,” he believes.
“In order to be that she would need to continue to develop her game insight. For a player with Hanna’s technique, decision-making is harder because her technique allows her to have so many possible options in every situation. She will perfect that during her career.”
As Bennison prepares to enter her fourth senior season with Rosengard, she is more than deserving of Goal’s 2021 NXGN award, worthy of being recognised as the best young player in the women’s game.
That she cut her teeth among the world’s best on her international debut is fitting, too, as the 18-year-old appears destined only to be among them in the years to come.