Why The World’s Best Player Refuses To Play At The Women’s World Cup

Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Feb. 26 and has been updated to include Norway’s final World Cup roster decisions.

The best women’s footballers on the planet will gather in France for the Women’s World Cup this summer. 

Well, the best players minus one.

When the Women’s World Cup kicks off in June, the woman widely recognized as the best in women’s soccer right now will be sitting at home watching on TV. Not because her country didn’t make it, but to make a stand.

Norway coach Martin Sjörgen confirmed Tuesday that Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, will not play for his side at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. 

“We tried to solve it, we had meetings, but she decided not to play," Sjörgen told BBC. "We respect that and we have been working hard with the other players and they have been doing a great job."

Norway, which kicks off the Algarve Cup on Wednesday, has been without Hegerberg since the 2017 European Championship. So what gives?

Who Is Ada Hegerberg?

Ada Hegerberg is a 23-year-old Norwegian forward who plays for Lyon, the record five-time winner of the Champions Leaague. 

She’s currently one of the top strikers in the world, scoring at an absurd clip of better than a goal per game. In the most recent completed season (2017-18), she netted 46 goals in just 29 appearances. 

In 2018 she won the first Ballon d’Or Féminin. This came on the heels of being named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2017 and Norway’s best player (male or female) in 2015. 

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Hegerberg has 66 caps for Norway, making her debut at the age of 16 and scoring 38 goals since.

Why Ada Hegerberg Isn’t In The Women’s World Cup

In 2017, Ada Hegerberg quit the Norwegian national team, which had just been knocked out of the Euros without scoring a goal. 

Hegerberg didn’t like how women’s soccer was treated in her home country, so she wanted to make a statement.

Not long after Hegerberg stepped away from the team, Norway signed an historic equal pay agreement, with the men’s national team taking a pay cut to give the women a pay raise. 

But this deal wasn’t enough to appease Hegerberg, who has remained apart from the team since 2017. 

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After she won the Ballon d’Or in December, Hegerberg said she had no plans to return to the team, saying it’s not all about money. 

“Obviously, I’d love to play for my country,” Hegerberg said. “It’s about preparing, taking action, professionalism, really clear points I’ve put quite directly to them when I made the decision. I wanted it to be a clear case, but it got quite messy in the media unfortunately. That was not my intention at all.

“I know what I want and know my values and therefore it’s easy to take hard choices when you know what the ambitions are and what values you stand for, so it’s all about staying true to yourself, be yourself.”

Norway qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup ahead of 2017 European champion Netherlands without Hegerberg. The team was drawn into Group A with host France, South Korea and Nigeria. 

Speaking ahead of the Algarve Cup, in which Norway plays Denmark and China in the group stage, Sjörgen confirmed there has been no headway in convincing Hegerberg to play at this summer’s World Cup, nor is there any expectation for her to play. 

“She is a big profile in the game and Ada of course would be a great add to our squad if she wants to be a part of it,” Sjörgen said. “I don’t think much about it because we have to put all of our focus on the players who want to be here. We won’t get that phone call because she has declared she is not going to play the World Cup.”

Sjögren announced his final World Cup roster deicision on May 2, without Hegerberg. 

There will be plenty of big stars at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, from Alex Morgan and Marta to Kumi Yokoyama and Asisat Oshoala. Sadly, Hegerberg won’t be one. 

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