Conflicts surround women’s football

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One of Norway’s biggest football stars, Martin Ødegaard, has publicly scolded fellow football star Ada Hegerberg and all but told her to shut up. The normally mild-mannered Ødegaard seems completely fed up with Hegerberg’s ongoing complaints about Norwegian football management, and claims she’s “disturbing” the Norwegian national women’s team in their run-up to the World Cup this week.

Martin Ødegaard, shown here posing for a selfie with a young fan, is generally viewed as a mild-mannered young man with a ready smile, but he was clearly angered by Ada Hegerberg’s latest round of criticism around Norwegian football. PHOTO: NFF

The highly unusual conflict climaxes months of media coverage of Hegerberg’s own long-running public feud with Norway’s football federation, NFF. She claims the men’s and women’s football teams have been treated unequally for years, both in terms of pay and potential for development.

The feud prompted Hegerberg, who’s ranked as the best women’s football player in the world after several highly successful years playing professionally for Lyon, to withdraw from the women’s national team, meaning she won’t be playing in the World Cup herself.

Ødegaard, the Norwegian “wonder boy” who was picked up by Real Madrid as a teenager, apparently had enough of Hegerberg’s criticism when it reached new heights this week in stories in two Norwegian publications, Morgenbladet and Josimar. Hegerberg now claims she was “psychologically shattered” by playing for Norway’s national team, and even had nightmares after the team had been assembled. She has also branded Norwegian football coaches and managers as incompetent.

Ødegaard fires back
“Maybe you could find something better to do than disturb the national team’s preparations for the World Cup?” Ødegaard wrote to Hegerberg on social media Wednesday night. “They have qualified for the World Cup on behalf of their country, one of the absolutely biggest things a football player can experience, and they’ve already had enough negative attention. They deserve better.”

Norway’s national women’s team has indeed been in the media spotlight because of Hegerberg’s criticism and glaring absence at the World Cup. Ødegaard seemed especially angry with Hegerberg over the timing of the interviews she’d given that were published this week, just before the Norwegian women’s team meets Nigeria on Saturday night. He wrote that he couldn’t understand why Hegerberg would have spoken the way she apparently: “The timing is terrible.”

He concluded by writing that Hegerberg made her own choice not to play for Norway, but he demanded that she “respect Norway and our national team,” adding that Hegerberg has complained “enough now.”

Ada Hegerberg has been angry with Norwegian football management for years and has since left the women’s national football team. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Hegerberg’s manager Halvor Marstrander told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday that Hegerberg “had no comment” for Norwegian media on Ødegaard’s scolding. If Hegerberg wanted to answer Ødegaard, “she has her social media platforms to do so.”

Her agent Alain Naigeon told newspaper VG, though, that Hegerberg was “disappointed” that her interview caused such reaction. “Ada has turned down more than 50 requests (for interviews) on this subject, some of them from the world’s biggest newspapers, in order not to disturb the (national) team and her friends on it whom she wants to cheer more than anything else,” Naigeon told VG.

Marstrander pointed out that she had been interviewed by the Norwegian publications “quite a while ago” (in February, their editors told and VG and TV2), and they was free to publish their stories when they saw fit. Naigeon claimed Hegerberg wouldn’t have answered their questions if she knew publication would occur right before the World Cup. Marius Lien, the journalist for Morgenbladet who interviewed Hegerberg, told VG there was  agreement that the articles would be published prior to the World Cup. Hegerberg’s representatives and the publications thus offer different versions of any terms behind the Hegerberg interview.

Ødegaard, meanwhile, won support from the Swedish coach of Norway’s national men’s team, Lars Lagerbäck. “I must say that Martin just keeps growing in my eyes,” Lagerbäck told NRK Thursday afternoon. “It’s fantastic that such a young man has the personality he has, and that he’s so mature. I told him I thought what he’d written (to Hegerberg) was very well done and that if he stood for it, he should definitely send it out, so I have him 100 percent support.” Lagerbäck said he thinks “respect for Martin just grows more and more.”

Pay differences, too
Hegerberg’s latest round of complaints  also came after other reported conflicts this week around what women football players earn. They negotiated bonuses for World Cup play that are three times what they earned at the last World Cup. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday, however, that they still earn NOK 3 billion less than male players in men’s World Cup football.

Members of Norway’s national women’s football qualified for the World Cup and have tried to ignore all the fuss around Hegerberg. Their opening match is set for Saturday. PHOTO: NFF

Debate has flown around the gender disparity in pay, and that also played into Hegerberg’s criticism of Norwegian football management that allowed big differences between men and women players . A new agreement on equal pay was signed between the Norwegian national teams two years ago, prompting more complaints this from former professional player and men’s team member Jahn Ivar “Mini” Jakobsen. He criticized the agreement and didn’t think the women should have equal pay because the men attract much more spoonsor revenue.

Members of the Norwegian women’s team, who are just trying to concentrate on gearing up for the World Cup, weren’t pleased, with some team members calling Jakobsen’s comments “a low blow.” They now need, however, to set all the fuss aside and prepare to meet Nigeria in group play Saturday, followed by a match against France on June 12 and South Korea on June 17.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund