Ada Hegerberg wants to see how good she can be

Ada Hegerberg apologizes in advance for the upcoming cliché. She knows she sounds shabby, exactly what she would be expected to say, given everything she’s been through. That’s what everyone says, after all.

That, however, is the only way to describe how she has felt these past five months, not finding herself in a treatment room or locked up in a gym as part of her recovery from a serious knee injury, but at a football game. field once more. There is simply no other way to express it: He feels, he says, like a child again.

In part, it’s a little electrical excitement, a pulse of pure, unalloyed pleasure that comes from feeling the grass under her feet, being surrounded by teammates, being able to do what she always did again. She was deprived for almost two years; she is determined to “enjoy the joy” of his renewal.

But it’s not just that. Excitement is also associated with rediscovering possibilities. At 26, Hegerberg once again feels like he is at the beginning of something, blissfully unaware of limitations, horizons or destinations.

“I don’t know what the end looks like,” she said. “Maybe I’m a completely different player than I used to be. And I see it in a positive way. ” It is the joy of youth: not knowing what it could become.

In an ideal world, of course, Hegerberg would not have had that chance. It goes without saying that she would not choose to lose most of the two seasons of her career due to injury, and she would certainly not lose the two seasons she lost.

In January 2020, Hegerberg was more than the best football player on the planet; she was the breakthrough star of the women’s game, which was to become the dominant, animating force in sports – at least in Europe – for the next ten years. The previous year she had been almost untouchable.

In December 2018, Hegerberg was named the inaugural winner of the Golden Ball for women. Six months later, she scored a lightning-fast, devastating hat-trick in the Champions League final, bringing her club, Olympique Lyon, the fourth consecutive European crown. Until October 2019, she secured another part of history, breaking the record for the number of goals scored in the competition.

And then, when the recording confirmed that she ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament of her right knee during training in January 2020, she disappeared from sight. She was absent because the season fell after the pandemic. She was absent as Lyon won their fifth consecutive Champions League title.

It turned out that this was just the beginning. In September 2020, she suffered a stress fracture of her left tibia, which interrupted all hopes she had for a relatively quick return. Shortly afterwards, Lyon confirmed that they will not play at all until the autumn of 2021, at the earliest. In the end, it will be 20 months before Hegerberg plays again.

For most athletes, it would look like a lifetime. In women’s football, it seems like an eternity. The game is developing at such a speed and scale in Europe that by the time Hegerberg returned to the field in the Champions League match against the Swedish team Hacken in October, it had changed almost beyond recognition.

Lyon was no longer the most eminent European superpower; that label now belonged to Barcelona, ​​a team that had broken its homeland in the Champions League a few months earlier. Lyon was rejected by Paris Saint-Germain as France’s champion for the first time since 2006, and even lost its reputation as the most glamorous sporting destination: Sam Kerr, Tobin Heath and Pernille Harder were all drawn to England instead of France by television-created wealth. which flooded the game.

After some time, Hegerberg even lost the position of a prominent player on the continent. Suddenly, the title went to Alexia Putelas, the captain of Barcelona and the current winner of the Golden Ball, with a raft of her teammates behind her. It seemed that Vivianne Miedema, the ruthless striker of Arsenal, even knocked out Hegerberg as the best player in the match.

There were elements of that growth that she considered welcome: the expansion of the group stage of the Champions League, the broadcasting contract with the streaming service Dazn, which, according to Hegerberg, “gave the players the platform we deserve”. She disliked others because she was forced to watch from the outside as the totems and truisms of the game change, as if leaving her behind.

However, she does not show any feeling of bitterness. That is the nature of football: it is, as she puts it, “fresh”, in a state of almost constant renewal. “Life goes on,” she said. “I am fully aware that I have been absent for a long time. People forget about you. ”

Patience, Hegerberg admits, is not something that is natural to her. She is, by her own admission, a “very organized” person, the kind who can look blurred at some minor inconvenience like changing plans at the last minute. Yet her recovery taught her her virtues; she tried as hard as she could not to bother with the little things. “Ask my agent,” she said. “He’s almost proud of me.”

It is as practical a choice as it is philosophical. The injury and strenuous, frustrating recovery that followed changed Hegerberg’s view of her career – hence her greater determination to “take joy” out of her – but it is striking that she describes trivial care as “losing calories”. The only concern is the energy that could be better used elsewhere. She has become more patient because she does not want to waste time.

“I could say that five Champions Leagues and the Golden Ball are enough,” she said. “But I want to make more records. I want to come back with 40 or 50 goals in the season. These are crazy numbers and it will take time, but I know I can. ” She was guided, she said, not by proving points in a game that went without her, but by “proving things to herself.”

“It’s about self-esteem,” she added. “I want to cross my borders. That’s what I want to do as an athlete: explode all the boundaries that exist. “

Her first goal is, of course, to bring Lyon back to the top: to regain both the French and European championships. The club will play against Juventus, the Italian champions, in the quarterfinals of the Champions League this week. “We have won five times in a row,” Hegerberg said, emitting a brief, lonely flash of indignation. “It was something historical, something that maybe no one will repeat. Maybe people forgot that. ”

After that, its goals may include returning to the international community; she has not played for Norway since 2017, in protest of the country’s neglect of women’s play. Martin Sjogren, the national team’s selector, said in February that “closer dialogue” with Hegerberg means that playing for her country “feels possible” again. She may return in time to perform at the European Championships this summer.

Whether she will ever be Ada Hegerberg as she was, he still doesn’t know, of course. She is still waiting, patient and impatient, to find out. The prospects that she will be different, however, do not fill her with fear. Maybe her second edition will be even better. After all, that’s why she feels like a child again: because her world is, again, full of possibilities.

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