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Ada Hegerberg: How crucial is her return before the Euros?

Ada Hegerberg at a Nowray press conference
Hegerberg says it is good to be home after joining up with Norway this week

Ada Hegerberg is one of the most decorated and well-known footballers in the women’s game.

But for the last five years the inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or winner has been absent from the international stage.

The Lyon forward took the decision to walk away from her country in 2017 in protest at what she saw as a lack of respect for female players in Norway.

Now, with just three months to go until the Women’s Euros get under way in England, the 26-year-old is preparing to make her international comeback this week after being named in Norway’s squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Poland.

So, what has changed? And just how crucial is her return for women’s football?

‘Not satisfied with the system’

Hegerberg’s decision to step away from the Norwegian national team was rooted in a desire to make things better for the next generation of female footballers.

Despite an incredibly successful club career, she had become disillusioned with the national team, unhappy with their treatment of women’s football and what she saw as inequality between the men’s and women’s teams.

“Being on the national team took away more energy from her than it gave in many ways,” Norwegian football journalist Christina Paulos told BBC World Service’s Sport Today programme.

“She wasn’t satisfied with the system in the national team and with how things were around preparations and around games and training.”

A deciding factor in Hegerberg’s return seemed to be Lise Klaveness’ arrival as president of the Norwegian Football Federation – a former player who had voiced concerns about inequality among the men’s and women’s teams herself.

“She’s been in this situation before. I think that makes Ada trust her and she hopes that she really means what she’s talking about.

“Lise has been there before criticising things inside the federation and I believe, not just the fact she’s a female but the person she is, had a really huge effect on Ada coming back,” Paulos said.

Announcing her comeback, Hegerberg said she didn’t regret the decision to step away from the national team but she was excited to “get a new story started”.

The forward returned to action for her French club in the autumn after a 20-month absence following an anterior cruciate ligament rupture.

“She has been out injured for a long time and I think she believed she had more to give for the national team and, after such a long time out, everyone wanted to put things behind them,” said Paulos.

“Now everyone has grown they can move forward together into a new era.”

‘I want to create more records’

I feel like a little kid again when I play football – Hegerberg on her return

Any questions marks over whether she could rediscover her top form following her serious injury have quickly faded.

Last week, the all-time top scorer in the women’s Champions League claimed her 57th goal in the competition to help Lyon beat Juventus and reach the semi-finals.

In a recent interview with the New York Times,external-link she said: “I want to create more records. I want to be back scoring 40 or 50 goals a season. They’re mad numbers, and it will take time, but I know I can.

“I want to get ahead of my limits. That is what I want to do as an athlete – explode all limits that exist.”

At the age of 26, she has already won five Women’s Champions League titles, six French league titles, five French Cups and the Norwegian Women’s Cup.

And being named as the first recipient of the Women’s Ballon d’Or at the infamous ceremony in 2018, saw her gain wider recognition beyond the sport.

Her decision, then, to not be involved in international football robbed the game of one its leading lights, on and off the pitch.

Rumours began circulating a few months ago that she was reconsidering her international position and when she was named in Norway’s squad last month, she was welcomed back with open arms by national team head coach, Martin Sjogren.

“She is world class and has delivered goal after goal on the biggest football stages for a number of years,” he said. “Of course, getting her back means a lot to the Norwegian national team.”

Having a figure of her stature and her experience can only help the side, currently ranked 11th in the world, says Paulos. “The Norwegian national team has been missing a striker of that kind of quality – they haven’t had a goalscorer like her since she left the national team in 2017.”

Klaveness said it had “not been a good feeling to have one of our best players outside the national team”.

But with the European Championship on the horizon – and games against England and Northern Ireland in the group stages, it’s not just Norway fans, but supporters of the game as a whole who are eagerly anticipating her return.

Former Germany player and Uefa’s chief of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, spoke for many when she tweetedexternal-link “great to have you back”.

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