It takes a rare athlete to be the centre of attention without being present, but Ada Hegerberg is a very special footballer. The Lyon striker, who came to wider prominence when asked if she “twerked” as she became the first winner of the female Ballon d’Or last December, will be much discussed when Norway play France at Nice’s Riviera Stadium on Wednesday night. It should be one of the highlights of her 23 years, representing her nation at a World Cup in the country in which she lives, against that country and many of her club team-mates.
But Hegerberg, scorer of 38 goals in 66 internationals, will not be playing. She is in dispute with the Norwegian Football Federation and has boycotted the national side since they crashed out of Euro 2017, pointless and goalless. It is the Norwegian version of Roy Keane’s exile from the Irish side and just as divisive. It is increasingly clear that most of her erstwhile international colleagues have had enough of hearing about it and want the focus to be on the 23 players who are playing in the World Cup, not the one who is there as a TV pundit. As far as they are concerned, they are doing perfectly well without her and meet France with a 3-0 win over Nigeria already in the bag.
That is understandable, but as with Keane in 2002, it is not as simple as that. An interview with Hegerberg, conducted in February but published this week as part of a series, re-ignited a debate that had barely cooled. Martin Odegaard, the Norwegian tyro whose career has stuttered since signing for Real Madrid at 17, responded with an Instagram post that included: “Couldn’t you find anything better to do just before the World Cup begins? Your team-mates deserve better.” Read more