Photo credit: (c)Stine Lovmo Lie
Ada Hegerberg: “Lyon can win the Women’s Champions League”.
In lethal goalscoring form for club and country, Lyon’s on-fire Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg spoke exclusively to Women’s Soccer United.
The adjective ‘meteoric’ barely does justice to Ada Hegerberg’s rise to the very top of women’s football. Still just 20 years of age, the Norway and Olympique Lyonnais striker has already appeared at a UEFA Women’s EURO, playing every game in her country’s run to the 2013 final, and a FIFA Women’s World Cup – when three goals in four games earned her a top-three finish in the tournament’s best young player award.
Quick, strong, lethal in the air and on the ground, Hegerberg is a defender’s nightmare, a fact borne out by her goal record for club and country. Scorer of 22 goals for Norway in just 41 senior games, having made her full international debut at just 16, for Lyon her ratio is even better. Indeed, after signing for L’OL in summer 2014, Hegerberg fired a remarkable 26 goals in 22 league games in her first campaign and has already bagged eight in five this term in France’s D1 Féminine, including a hat-trick in 27 September’s 5-0 demolition of big-spending rivals Paris Saint-Germain.
In an exclusive interview with Women’s Soccer United, the former Kolbotn IL, Stabæk IF and 1.FFC Turbine Potsdam front-runner discussed her blistering start to the season, Lyon’s Women’s Champions League hopes, Norway’s fresh style under new coach Roger Finjord and her experiences at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
Women’s Soccer United: First of all, congratulations on a superb hat-trick against PSG. How good did it feel to perform like that against Lyon’s biggest title rivals?
Ada Hegerberg: It felt really good! It was highly motivating to play that well against our main rivals. As a team, we did everything we wanted to do, our team-work was great and we should be proud of ourselves. Personally, I feel in great shape and that game was a real pleasure: everything went well for me and for the entire team. It might be one of the best games I’ve ever played in!
WSU: Lyon already had a strong squad, and in the summer signed three of Europe’s best young players: Griedge M’Bock Bathy, Claire Lavogez and Pauline Bremer. How exciting is this for the future?
AH: I think that it’s very important for the club to keep on recruiting good new players. We already have a lot of experienced players and the new young spirit coming in will help us. Based on my own experience, I’d also say that it is great to learn while the more experienced ones are still there, as that’s what keeps the team moving forward. My situation last year, as a new player, was that coming to Lyon gave me a huge lift. Surrounded by world-class players, all of whom treated me with respect, learning was easier from day one. I’ve always got questions for the likes of [France midfielder] Camille Abily and [Sweden forward] Lotta Schelin, to try and learn from them.
WSU: You’ve scored so many goals since arriving at Lyon. How did you manage to adapt so fast to a new team and a new country?
AH: On some level, my experience in Germany [at Turbine Potsdam] prepared me for France, as it wasn’t my first time being abroad and I was mentally ready for it. Learning the language and integrating into the team is something that I focus on 100 per cent from day one. I think that the language is the most important thing when it comes to living in a foreign country, while I must also say that I’ve been given a great welcome in Lyon. All of that has made it easy for me and I am definitely enjoying life in France.
WSU: Lyon are back in Champions League action, taking on Polish team Medyk Konin in the Round of 32 (Editor’s note: Lyon won 6-0 away in 8 October’s first leg, Hegerberg scoring twice. The second leg is on 14 October). L’OL are two-time competition winners (2011 and 2012) and have a very strong squad: is winning the title again a realistic objective? Which teams do you think will be the biggest rivals?
AH: It is one of our objectives to win the Champions League this season, of course. It’ll be a major challenge but we know we can do it. It’ll take a lot of work and being mentally prepared, but it certainly is a realistic objective for us. In my opinion, Bayern München have a great squad and they’ve had a great start to the new season, so I think they probably will be the biggest rivals, but [2013 and 2014 winners] Wolfsburg and [2015 champs] Frankfurt will be up there again for sure. Hopefully we will meet one of those German teams, it would be fantastic!
WSU: Things are going well for you with Norway too. You scored in the friendly win over Scotland, Roger Finjord’s first game in charge, then two more in the opening EURO 2017 qualifier against Kazakhstan…
AH: We had a really positive time around these two games. We have a new group with some new players and coaching staff. We are now focusing more on possession than before and that will be our style of football in the future, because we have many young players who are capable of playing that way. The atmosphere and hunger for success was really good, so I believe that we can create a positive culture and a winning spirit based around the coaching philosophy and the new players coming in.
WSU: You were part of Norway team that finished second at EURO 2013. Aged just 18 when the competition began, did you expect to get so much playing time? How motivated are the players to reach EURO 2017 and try to do even better?
AH: I was always keen to play and I played in most of our games leading up to the EURO, therefore, at some level, I did expect to play a lot during the tournament too. It was a good experience as it was my first senior tournament, so playing in all the games made the feeling even better.
With regards to the future: the new group of players will definitely help us, as everybody is really motivated to make the most of the fresh start after the World Cup. We all need to work hard with our clubs too, because that’s the basis for everything when it comes to the national team. It’s hard to say whether we will be in the final again in 2017, but we will have a good chance of doing well, no question. We need to believe in ourselves, believe in our new philosophy and make the most of our qualities to build a strong team.
WSU: Norway looked strong in the group phase at Canada 2015 and went 1-0 up in the Round of 16 against England, only to end up losing 2-1. Despite that disappointment, do you think it was a positive campaign? From an individual perspective, what was your World Cup experience like?
AH: It was hugely disappointing to lose against England. We won two of our group games and drew the other against Germany, so we qualified comfortably for the knock-out stages. However, then the tournament was somehow over for us before it really started. We were 1-0 up against England but still lost. In general, I think we needed to work harder and that we simply weren’t good enough to finish in the top eight this summer. That should be a motivation for the future, for all of us.
I must say, though, that the World Cup was a fantastic experience! I can clearly remember how I was watching the 2011 tournament on the TV, and that feeling motivated me so much. Taking part in a World Cup at the age of 19 is incredible and gave me valuable experience. It showed me that I’m capable of performing at that level, which gave me huge motivation to work even harder.
WSU: In March, Norway must play a very tough mini-tournament against Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland for a place at the Olympic Football Tournament in Rio 2016. As Norway are former champions (Sydney 2000), is there a lot of pressure to qualify?
AH: The fact we’re still able to qualify for the Olympics is like a bonus, a second chance, and we need to be happy about that. There is pressure, I think so, yes. After all, the Olympics are an important tournament in women’s football. In that qualifying tournament we will come up against some strong opponents, but we need to see it as a good chance to qualify. Sometimes, when it’s such an important challenge, you need a bit of pressure!
WSU: One last question before you go. Your older sister Andrine was not part of the Norway squad at Canada 2015 but was selected again for September’s matches. How good is it to have her back with you, playing for your country together?
AH: To see Andrine back in the Norway team was a really good feeling, especially because it is so well deserved! It makes me even happier for her as she has been working really hard for it. She is a big part of a new group of hungry and motivated players and she’s always ready to work for the team. I hope the two of us can bring our qualities to the team, on and off the pitch. We’ve played together for the youth national teams and have always been driving each other on, ever since we were young. In a way, we were role models for each other, so playing together while representing Norway is great! We understand and support each other very well and of course, we have a special bond. And, I can guarantee you, as room-mates when on national-team duty, there is a lot of laughter and happiness!
UK-born but currently based in Spain, I’ve been covering men’s and women’s football for UEFA.com for several years, including trips to two Women’s U-19 European Championships