Meet the Norwegian who’s scored more Champions League goals than Ronaldo

Football superstars Ada Hegerberg and Liv Cooke are fronting a new UEFA campaign that encourages young girls to kick off careers in ‘the beautiful game’.

Meet the Norwegian who's scored more Champions League goals than Ronaldo
Photo: UEFA

Norwegian footballer Ada Hegerberg enjoyed a dream 2017 with her club Olympique Lyonnais. The 22-year-old striker played a pivotal role as the French side won the treble of the French league and cup as well as the Champions League.

Hegerberg's goal-scoring feats earned her the BBC Women's Footballer of the Year accolade. She also scooped Norway's Golden Ball, which is awarded to the country's best player, becoming the first female to win the prize in two decades.

Oh, and she scored more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League in the 2016/2017 season. A fact she was only too happy to point out to the Real Madrid legend.

Ada Hegerberg. Photo: UEFA

“I grew up in a football family and it was the big thing in our house. It just grew on me and as I got older I realised how much it meant to me,” Hegerberg tells The Local after completing training with her teammates at Lyon.

Find out more about UEFA's Play Anywhere campaign

Her prodigious talent meant that Hegerberg rose through the ranks fast and was playing at a senior level at the age of just 15. However, her rapid rise didn't go down well with everyone.

“Often I would take a spot on a men's team and some parents didn't like that. For the most part, I have had good experiences (as a female footballer) but there is a long way to go for women to get the same respect as men in the game,” she says.

And it's exactly this desire, which is to get more girls playing football, that made Hegerberg so eager to be a part of UEFA's Play Anywhere campaign.

European football's governing body has teamed up with some of the top names in the women's game for the initiative and the resulting film that was shot in 13 unique locations as part UEFA’s Together #WePlayStrong campaign.

Hegerberg, who is also a UEFA ambassador, returned to her native Norway where she filmed her scenes on the Lofoten Islands.

“This project is very close to my heart. We want to inspire more young girls to play football and take the next step.

“There should be the same possibilities for boys and girls and this campaign is a part of trying to make that happen. It is a great privilege to be involved and to give something back,” says Hegerberg.

Find out more about UEFA's Play Anywhere campaign

Together with her older sister Andrine, who plays with Paris Saint Germain and also features in the UEFA film, the Hegerbergs are paving the way for girls to follow in their footsteps.

And their message is simple.

“You have to dream big. That has always been my motivation, even if you come from a small country such as Norway. My goal is always to push myself on and reach the next level; I want to be the best,” says Ada.

Across the channel, British teenager Liv Cooke (18) is the current Freestyle Football world champion. Cooke regularly dazzles crowds with her ball juggling skills and showcases her abilities in the Play Anywhere film.

Cooke was dispatched to multiple locations and performed her skills in a ski lift in Switzerland as well as a fishing boat in Norway.

“What's amazing is seeing the reaction from the fans when I perform a skills set. In particular, from little girls; you can see that it gives them that instant confidence and they can go out and do it for themselves,” Cooke tells The Local after returning from a competition in Tokyo.

Cooke travelled to several countries to shoot the promotional video. Photo: UEFA

Like the Hegerbergs, Cooke comes from a football-loving family and was intent on a professional career until a recurring back injury put an end to her playing dreams. Not that it put a stop to her conquering the world. Far from it in fact.

“When I was injured, I did keepie-uppies and tricks with the ball in the garden. Through this I discovered freestyle and just loved it,” she says.

The teenager became Freestyle World Champion in 2017 and tours the world as a professional freestyler. Despite her success, she still encounters the odd bit of sexism but brushes it off.

“It does happen both in person and online. People will say 'she is pretty good for a girl' but that is changing now that I have become world champion. It doesn't happen so much now as more girls are playing football,” says Cooke.

The Brit relished getting involved in the #PlayAnywhere campaign and became friends with the Hegerberg sisters when they were filming in Norway. Indeed, the Norwegians encouraged Cooke to try out her freestyle skills on a fishing boat and she was only too happy to accept the challenge.

“It was difficult but also tremendous fun! Football can be played anywhere and that is what this campaign is all about.

Photo: UEFA

“Football is my life. The best advice I can give young girls is to never give up. You can do anything on your own as long as you believe in your own ability,” says Cooke.

UEFA has also launched a Europe-wide competition for girls to show their love of football by posting photos and videos of kickabouts in the most random and unusual locations possible for the chance to win an amazing family weekend at Disneyland Paris and exclusive weekly prizes from the stars of the Play Anywhere film.

To enter the competition, young people are asked to post a photo or video of themselves with a football in a cool or unusual location, tagging @WePlaystrong and using the hashtag #PlayAnywhere.

Entrants have until 30th April to submit their quirky clips and snaps, with UEFA set to reveal their winning post shortly after May 1st 2018. You can view the full terms and conditions here.

Cooke will meet the competition winners at Disneyland Paris and is eagerly looking forward to it.

“I think I will be more excited than the competition winners! I've never been to Disneyland and I can't wait to meet the winners next month,” she tells The Local.

For more information about UEFA’s Together #WePlayStrong campaign visit:

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by UEFA.



Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.