'I don't stop now'

Lyon striker – and legend – Ada Hegerberg secured her sixth Women’s Champions League winners’ medal last season. She also did something in the final that comes very naturally to her: she scored. But this time around, after everything she’s been through, it was all the sweeter…

INTERVIEW Jérôme Vitoux

Interview
Lyon emerged from the 2021/22 season with yet another Women’s Champions League title to their name; it’s their eighth in total, and sixth in the past seven seasons. But that’s not to say it was easy this time around: they only just edged past Juventus in their quarter-final – having lost the first leg in Turin – and a tense semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain was exacerbated by 43,254 intimidating fans at the Parc des Princes. But if it was a hard road for Lyon, it’s been even harder for their star striker. Ada Hegerberg was out from January 2020 till October 2021, owing to not just an ACL rupture but also a stress fracture in her left tibia. It was a long way back to full fitness but she got there – and the 26-year-old wasted no time carrying on where she left off.

Hegerberg returned as a substitute on the first night of the inaugural group stage at Häcken on 5 October, then netted her first Champions League goal following that prolonged absence against Benfica on Matchday 5 (in the first minute). There were five more goals in the competition this season, not least one in the final as Lyon beat Barcelona 3-1. Here the Norwegian reflects on the joy of that win – and of being back on a football pitch. 

Regaining the title was a fairytale ending. When you were sidelined because of your injury, were there moments where you thought you weren’t going to get back to your best? 

I think it’s very natural to have those thoughts. Obviously it’s been really challenging: I had my lowest days and it took a lot of resilience, patience, repetition. I would never say that I doubted myself and my ability to come back, though; I’ve always had this experience with hard work and resilience. That’s kind of been my success my whole career. I just stuck with good people who gave me good energy. I got great medical help and I took it day by day. 

And how has it felt to be back on a football pitch?

I mean, life is good. I’ve been happy ever since I got back and enjoying every day – and I’ve got to say, it’s been a long road. You’ve got to seize the moment. I couldn’t imagine this last year. To be honest, these are the most beautiful games you could experience as a footballer.

When you first came back you spent a few games starting on the bench. How is Ada Hegerberg on the bench? 

I would love to tell you that I’m a very patient person – but I’m a competitor. I just want to be on the pitch at all times, because you are so much more stressed when you’re sitting on the bench watching your team play. So it was a tricky balance.

It wasn’t an easy route to the final for Lyon this season either.

Every year has been very hard. Maybe people on the outside take it for granted that we won five years in a row, but winning every single trophy over those years was incredibly hard. The focus you have to have, year in, year out; you have to show up to a new season with the same ambition. You have to think anew. We had to analyse ourselves. And when you look back on it, it’s like, ‘It shouldn’t happen, being able to win five years in a row.’ So I wouldn’t dismiss the fact that we did that.

“I visualise football every day before practice; after practice I analyse what can be done better”
Hegerberg was back on the scoresheet against Benfica

What were the key moments for you last season?

The quarter-final, coming back from Turin and turning the result around. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in a position where we were down 2-1 to Juventus, but we stuck together and really bounced back at home and won 3-1. And then those two games against PSG in the semi-final. I mean, credit to PSG because they were two really tough games physically and tactically. And showing up at the Parc des Princes, with that crowd… it was such an amazing atmosphere. It was that hostile atmosphere that you need; people really showed up and it was a great, great night of football.

You play with another legend: Wendie Renard. A record 100 appearances in the Champions League... 

It’s incredible. She deserves all the credit that she can get. A fantastic leader, an icon on the pitch. The grit, the character that you need to stay on top. I’ve been working with her for eight years now and it’s been a pleasure – and 100 games speaks for itself. It’s setting the bar for all of us.

Did you two hit it off from the outset?

We definitely laughed a lot, because Wendie didn’t speak as much English as she does now and I didn’t speak as much French. But it just shows how cool and beautiful football can be, because I don’t think you need to speak the same language sometimes in order to be able to communicate. But I definitely had to learn French to actually get to know Wendie, and we have had a very close relationship over the years. We have the same competitive mentality; I think we can both be a pain in the arse to play against. I’m very happy that she’s on my team.

Back to this year’s final – talk us through your goal.

It was a fantastic cross from Selma [Bacha]. We know each other by now – I know the quality of her left foot – so it was about finding the right space. And when you get a chance on goal, it should be a goal. That was the case on the day.

That’s a record 59 goals in 60 Champions League games now.

I think it’s very important to just take a pause sometimes and realise what you’re achieving along the way, in order to always stay motivated and hungry for more. But I share every goal with my team-mates. Now it’s all about keeping it up and chasing 100.

You’ve now got six Champions League winners medals. What are your favourite memories? 

Every final we have won has been special in its own way. The first one because it was the first one, but it’s always the next one that is the most difficult. So, there have been some incredible football games in the Champions League – I can look back to the year of 2016 and some fantastic performances – but all the finals are held dearly. And the day I beat the record of most goals scored [in 2019] was special because I know Anja Mittag very well; a legend in the world of football. Taking over her spot was a huge deal and she sent me a little text. That shows her class. So that was a good day.

What would you say to young girls with a dream of playing in the Champions League one day?

There is so much to tell. The first thing I would say is to really dig deep and find out what your qualities are. We all have different qualities; we are all unique in our own way. And keep watching the games, be inspired, try to get into the stadium and actually feel the atmosphere live. I think that does something to you, to see the level live and just take that inspiration, go home and work hard.

Was last season a turning point for women’s football?

For sure, you could feel that there’s some special attention. The Champions League format changed a little bit with the group stages and the way it’s televised. It’s been absolutely amazing and honestly, as a player, seeing the development, seeing how many people actually care about these types of games, it’s what you train for. You shouldn’t forget that we’ve come from a year without any spectators in the stadiums. So these are special times and what we want as players is to give the audience a good game – a spectacle.

You’re one of the world’s most decorated players. What’s the next step for Ada Hegerberg?

As clichéd as it sounds, it is very much about hard work. I visualise football every day before practice; after practice I analyse what can be done better. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was 11 or 12 years old, starting with my dad. It’s all about working on details every day, always wanting to take the next step. There are always new areas where you can improve. I can honestly say that having this injury… obviously I could have lived nicely without it, but it has helped me to reflect in a completely different way on how I train, eat and take care of my body. So I feel like it has given me an extra level of competence.

Given everything that’s happened, how do you sum up the season?

Looking back, what we achieved, what I achieved personally after what I’ve been through… I mean, it’s emotionally very inspiring to continue. I don’t stop here. I feel like I’m going into some beautiful years of football and I’m just ready to enjoy it.  

Insight
Rising to the occasion

No one has scored more Champions League final goals than the Norwegian ace

“Wherever you play, you just want to have fun,” says Ada Hegerberg, a smile never far from her lips. And whether in the rugged landscape of Sunndalsøra – where she grew up – or some of the greatest stadiums in Europe, that philosophy remains the same. 

Never phased by the enormity of an occasion, the 2015/16 UEFA Women’s Player of the Year is most at home on the biggest stage, having amassed a record six goals when it matters most: Women’s Champions League finals. (Note: Conny Pohlers has scored more, but her tally of eight stretches back to the era of two-legged finals.)

Hegerberg’s final goals have all been classic centre-forward strikes in and around the six-yard box: a tap-in for her first in 2016 against Wolfsburg; a first-time close-range volley against the same opponents in 2018; escaping her marker each time to turn in crosses from the wing for a 16-minute hat-trick against Barcelona in 2019; then a header against the same opponents in Turin in May. Fun indeed – unless you happen to be a defender.

Additional reporting: Vanessa Tomaszewski

Hegerberg returned as a substitute on the first night of the inaugural group stage at Häcken on 5 October, then netted her first Champions League goal following that prolonged absence against Benfica on Matchday 5 (in the first minute). There were five more goals in the competition this season, not least one in the final as Lyon beat Barcelona 3-1. Here the Norwegian reflects on the joy of that win – and of being back on a football pitch. 

Regaining the title was a fairytale ending. When you were sidelined because of your injury, were there moments where you thought you weren’t going to get back to your best? 

I think it’s very natural to have those thoughts. Obviously it’s been really challenging: I had my lowest days and it took a lot of resilience, patience, repetition. I would never say that I doubted myself and my ability to come back, though; I’ve always had this experience with hard work and resilience. That’s kind of been my success my whole career. I just stuck with good people who gave me good energy. I got great medical help and I took it day by day. 

And how has it felt to be back on a football pitch?

I mean, life is good. I’ve been happy ever since I got back and enjoying every day – and I’ve got to say, it’s been a long road. You’ve got to seize the moment. I couldn’t imagine this last year. To be honest, these are the most beautiful games you could experience as a footballer.

When you first came back you spent a few games starting on the bench. How is Ada Hegerberg on the bench? 

I would love to tell you that I’m a very patient person – but I’m a competitor. I just want to be on the pitch at all times, because you are so much more stressed when you’re sitting on the bench watching your team play. So it was a tricky balance.

It wasn’t an easy route to the final for Lyon this season either.

Every year has been very hard. Maybe people on the outside take it for granted that we won five years in a row, but winning every single trophy over those years was incredibly hard. The focus you have to have, year in, year out; you have to show up to a new season with the same ambition. You have to think anew. We had to analyse ourselves. And when you look back on it, it’s like, ‘It shouldn’t happen, being able to win five years in a row.’ So I wouldn’t dismiss the fact that we did that.

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“I visualise football every day before practice; after practice I analyse what can be done better”
Hegerberg was back on the scoresheet against Benfica

What were the key moments for you last season?

The quarter-final, coming back from Turin and turning the result around. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in a position where we were down 2-1 to Juventus, but we stuck together and really bounced back at home and won 3-1. And then those two games against PSG in the semi-final. I mean, credit to PSG because they were two really tough games physically and tactically. And showing up at the Parc des Princes, with that crowd… it was such an amazing atmosphere. It was that hostile atmosphere that you need; people really showed up and it was a great, great night of football.

You play with another legend: Wendie Renard. A record 100 appearances in the Champions League... 

It’s incredible. She deserves all the credit that she can get. A fantastic leader, an icon on the pitch. The grit, the character that you need to stay on top. I’ve been working with her for eight years now and it’s been a pleasure – and 100 games speaks for itself. It’s setting the bar for all of us.

Did you two hit it off from the outset?

We definitely laughed a lot, because Wendie didn’t speak as much English as she does now and I didn’t speak as much French. But it just shows how cool and beautiful football can be, because I don’t think you need to speak the same language sometimes in order to be able to communicate. But I definitely had to learn French to actually get to know Wendie, and we have had a very close relationship over the years. We have the same competitive mentality; I think we can both be a pain in the arse to play against. I’m very happy that she’s on my team.

Back to this year’s final – talk us through your goal.

It was a fantastic cross from Selma [Bacha]. We know each other by now – I know the quality of her left foot – so it was about finding the right space. And when you get a chance on goal, it should be a goal. That was the case on the day.

That’s a record 59 goals in 60 Champions League games now.

I think it’s very important to just take a pause sometimes and realise what you’re achieving along the way, in order to always stay motivated and hungry for more. But I share every goal with my team-mates. Now it’s all about keeping it up and chasing 100.

You’ve now got six Champions League winners medals. What are your favourite memories? 

Every final we have won has been special in its own way. The first one because it was the first one, but it’s always the next one that is the most difficult. So, there have been some incredible football games in the Champions League – I can look back to the year of 2016 and some fantastic performances – but all the finals are held dearly. And the day I beat the record of most goals scored [in 2019] was special because I know Anja Mittag very well; a legend in the world of football. Taking over her spot was a huge deal and she sent me a little text. That shows her class. So that was a good day.

What would you say to young girls with a dream of playing in the Champions League one day?

There is so much to tell. The first thing I would say is to really dig deep and find out what your qualities are. We all have different qualities; we are all unique in our own way. And keep watching the games, be inspired, try to get into the stadium and actually feel the atmosphere live. I think that does something to you, to see the level live and just take that inspiration, go home and work hard.

Was last season a turning point for women’s football?

For sure, you could feel that there’s some special attention. The Champions League format changed a little bit with the group stages and the way it’s televised. It’s been absolutely amazing and honestly, as a player, seeing the development, seeing how many people actually care about these types of games, it’s what you train for. You shouldn’t forget that we’ve come from a year without any spectators in the stadiums. So these are special times and what we want as players is to give the audience a good game – a spectacle.

You’re one of the world’s most decorated players. What’s the next step for Ada Hegerberg?

As clichéd as it sounds, it is very much about hard work. I visualise football every day before practice; after practice I analyse what can be done better. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was 11 or 12 years old, starting with my dad. It’s all about working on details every day, always wanting to take the next step. There are always new areas where you can improve. I can honestly say that having this injury… obviously I could have lived nicely without it, but it has helped me to reflect in a completely different way on how I train, eat and take care of my body. So I feel like it has given me an extra level of competence.

Given everything that’s happened, how do you sum up the season?

Looking back, what we achieved, what I achieved personally after what I’ve been through… I mean, it’s emotionally very inspiring to continue. I don’t stop here. I feel like I’m going into some beautiful years of football and I’m just ready to enjoy it.  

Insight
Rising to the occasion

No one has scored more Champions League final goals than the Norwegian ace

“Wherever you play, you just want to have fun,” says Ada Hegerberg, a smile never far from her lips. And whether in the rugged landscape of Sunndalsøra – where she grew up – or some of the greatest stadiums in Europe, that philosophy remains the same. 

Never phased by the enormity of an occasion, the 2015/16 UEFA Women’s Player of the Year is most at home on the biggest stage, having amassed a record six goals when it matters most: Women’s Champions League finals. (Note: Conny Pohlers has scored more, but her tally of eight stretches back to the era of two-legged finals.)

Hegerberg’s final goals have all been classic centre-forward strikes in and around the six-yard box: a tap-in for her first in 2016 against Wolfsburg; a first-time close-range volley against the same opponents in 2018; escaping her marker each time to turn in crosses from the wing for a 16-minute hat-trick against Barcelona in 2019; then a header against the same opponents in Turin in May. Fun indeed – unless you happen to be a defender.

Additional reporting: Vanessa Tomaszewski

Hegerberg returned as a substitute on the first night of the inaugural group stage at Häcken on 5 October, then netted her first Champions League goal following that prolonged absence against Benfica on Matchday 5 (in the first minute). There were five more goals in the competition this season, not least one in the final as Lyon beat Barcelona 3-1. Here the Norwegian reflects on the joy of that win – and of being back on a football pitch. 

Regaining the title was a fairytale ending. When you were sidelined because of your injury, were there moments where you thought you weren’t going to get back to your best? 

I think it’s very natural to have those thoughts. Obviously it’s been really challenging: I had my lowest days and it took a lot of resilience, patience, repetition. I would never say that I doubted myself and my ability to come back, though; I’ve always had this experience with hard work and resilience. That’s kind of been my success my whole career. I just stuck with good people who gave me good energy. I got great medical help and I took it day by day. 

And how has it felt to be back on a football pitch?

I mean, life is good. I’ve been happy ever since I got back and enjoying every day – and I’ve got to say, it’s been a long road. You’ve got to seize the moment. I couldn’t imagine this last year. To be honest, these are the most beautiful games you could experience as a footballer.

When you first came back you spent a few games starting on the bench. How is Ada Hegerberg on the bench? 

I would love to tell you that I’m a very patient person – but I’m a competitor. I just want to be on the pitch at all times, because you are so much more stressed when you’re sitting on the bench watching your team play. So it was a tricky balance.

It wasn’t an easy route to the final for Lyon this season either.

Every year has been very hard. Maybe people on the outside take it for granted that we won five years in a row, but winning every single trophy over those years was incredibly hard. The focus you have to have, year in, year out; you have to show up to a new season with the same ambition. You have to think anew. We had to analyse ourselves. And when you look back on it, it’s like, ‘It shouldn’t happen, being able to win five years in a row.’ So I wouldn’t dismiss the fact that we did that.

“I visualise football every day before practice; after practice I analyse what can be done better”
Hegerberg was back on the scoresheet against Benfica

What were the key moments for you last season?

The quarter-final, coming back from Turin and turning the result around. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in a position where we were down 2-1 to Juventus, but we stuck together and really bounced back at home and won 3-1. And then those two games against PSG in the semi-final. I mean, credit to PSG because they were two really tough games physically and tactically. And showing up at the Parc des Princes, with that crowd… it was such an amazing atmosphere. It was that hostile atmosphere that you need; people really showed up and it was a great, great night of football.

You play with another legend: Wendie Renard. A record 100 appearances in the Champions League... 

It’s incredible. She deserves all the credit that she can get. A fantastic leader, an icon on the pitch. The grit, the character that you need to stay on top. I’ve been working with her for eight years now and it’s been a pleasure – and 100 games speaks for itself. It’s setting the bar for all of us.

Did you two hit it off from the outset?

We definitely laughed a lot, because Wendie didn’t speak as much English as she does now and I didn’t speak as much French. But it just shows how cool and beautiful football can be, because I don’t think you need to speak the same language sometimes in order to be able to communicate. But I definitely had to learn French to actually get to know Wendie, and we have had a very close relationship over the years. We have the same competitive mentality; I think we can both be a pain in the arse to play against. I’m very happy that she’s on my team.

Back to this year’s final – talk us through your goal.

It was a fantastic cross from Selma [Bacha]. We know each other by now – I know the quality of her left foot – so it was about finding the right space. And when you get a chance on goal, it should be a goal. That was the case on the day.

That’s a record 59 goals in 60 Champions League games now.

I think it’s very important to just take a pause sometimes and realise what you’re achieving along the way, in order to always stay motivated and hungry for more. But I share every goal with my team-mates. Now it’s all about keeping it up and chasing 100.

You’ve now got six Champions League winners medals. What are your favourite memories? 

Every final we have won has been special in its own way. The first one because it was the first one, but it’s always the next one that is the most difficult. So, there have been some incredible football games in the Champions League – I can look back to the year of 2016 and some fantastic performances – but all the finals are held dearly. And the day I beat the record of most goals scored [in 2019] was special because I know Anja Mittag very well; a legend in the world of football. Taking over her spot was a huge deal and she sent me a little text. That shows her class. So that was a good day.

What would you say to young girls with a dream of playing in the Champions League one day?

There is so much to tell. The first thing I would say is to really dig deep and find out what your qualities are. We all have different qualities; we are all unique in our own way. And keep watching the games, be inspired, try to get into the stadium and actually feel the atmosphere live. I think that does something to you, to see the level live and just take that inspiration, go home and work hard.

Was last season a turning point for women’s football?

For sure, you could feel that there’s some special attention. The Champions League format changed a little bit with the group stages and the way it’s televised. It’s been absolutely amazing and honestly, as a player, seeing the development, seeing how many people actually care about these types of games, it’s what you train for. You shouldn’t forget that we’ve come from a year without any spectators in the stadiums. So these are special times and what we want as players is to give the audience a good game – a spectacle.

You’re one of the world’s most decorated players. What’s the next step for Ada Hegerberg?

As clichéd as it sounds, it is very much about hard work. I visualise football every day before practice; after practice I analyse what can be done better. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was 11 or 12 years old, starting with my dad. It’s all about working on details every day, always wanting to take the next step. There are always new areas where you can improve. I can honestly say that having this injury… obviously I could have lived nicely without it, but it has helped me to reflect in a completely different way on how I train, eat and take care of my body. So I feel like it has given me an extra level of competence.

Given everything that’s happened, how do you sum up the season?

Looking back, what we achieved, what I achieved personally after what I’ve been through… I mean, it’s emotionally very inspiring to continue. I don’t stop here. I feel like I’m going into some beautiful years of football and I’m just ready to enjoy it.  

Insight
Rising to the occasion

No one has scored more Champions League final goals than the Norwegian ace

“Wherever you play, you just want to have fun,” says Ada Hegerberg, a smile never far from her lips. And whether in the rugged landscape of Sunndalsøra – where she grew up – or some of the greatest stadiums in Europe, that philosophy remains the same. 

Never phased by the enormity of an occasion, the 2015/16 UEFA Women’s Player of the Year is most at home on the biggest stage, having amassed a record six goals when it matters most: Women’s Champions League finals. (Note: Conny Pohlers has scored more, but her tally of eight stretches back to the era of two-legged finals.)

Hegerberg’s final goals have all been classic centre-forward strikes in and around the six-yard box: a tap-in for her first in 2016 against Wolfsburg; a first-time close-range volley against the same opponents in 2018; escaping her marker each time to turn in crosses from the wing for a 16-minute hat-trick against Barcelona in 2019; then a header against the same opponents in Turin in May. Fun indeed – unless you happen to be a defender.

Additional reporting: Vanessa Tomaszewski
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