Norwegian football star Ada Hegerberg, one of the world’s top players, has issued the ultimate penalty to the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) by quitting the national team and blasting those running it. She shocked not only the country’s football bureaucrats but her teammates as well.
“I think NFF has a helluva long way to go, and right now it’s not the place for me,” Hegerberg told Oslo newspaper VG on Wednesday. “It’s as simple as that,” she added, in explaining why she informed NFF bosses on Tuesday that they can’t count on her contribution to the national team any longer.
Hegerberg’s resignation is a huge blow for Norwegian football, which already is in the doldrums on the men’s side and subject to ongoing criticism over the management and coaching of its national team as well. Now the women’s team is also feared to be going downhill.
Hegerberg, who plays professionally for Lyon in France, shared the stage with Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal just a year ago when they were named Europe’s best football players by the continent’s fooball association UEFA. It was a crowning moment for Norway to claim such a highly esteemed player, who comes from the mountain town of Sunndalsøra. In June she led Lyon to its second Champions League in a row, prompting Lyon’s leader to say he wanted to hang on to Hegerberg for the rest of her career.
While she still seems happy in Lyon, she was decidedly unhappy playing for her homeland’s national team. She told VG that her dissatisfaction involves just about everything to do with the team including management, planning, preparations for matches and carrying them out.
“There’s also been a huge difference over evaluations and how we should move forward after the downturn at the European Championships,” Hegerberg said. Norway’s women’s football team has done well at such internatinal events in the past, including the World Cup in Canada in 2015, but they failed to win a single match and were knocked out of Euro2017 after three attempts with zero goals and zero points.
That was a big disappointment for Hegerberg and she blames the men in charge. “They haven’t been good enough at communication, no matter whether things have gone well or poorly,” she said. In her short announcement that she was resigning from the team, she said her “well-thought-out” decision wasn’t only a consequence of the poor performance at Euro2017 but was also based “on my experiences with the national team over the long term. I want to use my energy in the future in Lyon. That’s where I can develop as a player.”
She didn’t blame the national team’s new coach, Martin Sjögren, and said her reasons for resigning “lie to a large degree outside Sjögren’s responsibilities as coach. If the team (called landslaget in Norwegian) is to achieve its goals and the results management has set, improvements are needed in several areas, both in planning, enactment and follow-up … plus communication and dialogue.”
Sjögren claimed Hegerberg’s resignation and comments came “like lightning from a clear sky,” and said he regretted that she was “taking a break” from the national team. He confirmed to state broadcaster NRK, however, that there had been some “internal unrest” within the team and remarked that there were “some things that didn’t function optimally within the group.” He declined to go into detail.
Nils Johan Semb, a former national team coach who now has overall administrative responsibility for NFF, was described as “vague” when confronted with the national team’s problems. He claimed there were some “internal relations” that the team was working on among management, players and their support apparatus.
Teammates including Caroline Graham Hansen said she was “shocked” by Hegerberg’s decision and had “no understanding for it.” Hansen, who plays professionally for Wolfsburg, said she would always choose to play for the national team and represent Norway abroad, “as long as they need my qualities.”
Isabell Herlovsen, however, has also withdrawn from the team and told NRK that the mood within the team can quickly become negative if they don’t do well. “You have to back one another up, both when things go well and poorly,” she said. “That’s something Norway needs to begin with.”
Maren Mjelde, captain of the women’s team, told newspaper Aftenposten that she can’t understand Hegerberg’s criticism. “We have started with something new together … and I have my focus on a new qualification round,” she said, adding that she thinks Sjögren has been clear in his own communication,
There were some reports that Hegerberg, who’s only 22 years old, could be difficult and that Semb had some sessions with her regarding her attitude. He refused to comment.
“This is surprising,” Mjelde told Aftenposten. “Norway is such a small country that we need all our players, but if this is what she wants, we must focus on the future. I look forward to get started again this fall.”