Hegerberg is not injured, nor did her country fail to qualify. Instead, she is sticking to a decision she made to two years ago to quit her own national team out of long-simmering frustration with Norway’s soccer leaders.
“It is about respect,” she told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in late 2016, months before she finally renounced international soccer. “And I think that women’s football does not have the respect it should have in Norway.”
The last straw for Hegerberg was the team’s disastrous campaign at the 2017 European Championship. The two-time winners of the tournament finished with no points and no goals. Going forward, she decided, that would also mean no Hegerberg.
On her way out, she bemoaned inequalities in investment in men’s and women’s soccer, particularly at the youth and club levels where she felt opportunities were skewed toward developing boys. According to interviews she gave to the Norwegian press at the time, she was also unimpressed with the level of ambition inside the national team setup. Her energy, she said, was better spent focusing on her club soccer with Lyon.
In Norway, where the women’s team historically has been far more successful than the men, Hegerberg’s parting shot made national news. Hegerberg had broken into the lineup when she was just 16. By the time she was 22, she appeared in national ad campaigns as a Norway player for three different sponsors. She averaged better than a goal every two games, putting her on pace to break Norway’s scoring record long before her 30th birthday.
And yet, she told the Norwegian press, “I always felt I was a worse player when I got home from national team camps. That shouldn’t be.”
Through her agent, Hegerberg declined to rehash her precise reasons for the split and didn’t comment for this article. But while the story is old news in Norway, the World Cup starting on June 7 has put the spotlight back on the dispute. Two years on, many in the sport still can’t quite believe that she would skip the chance to star on women’s soccer’s biggest stage.
“Why exactly is Hegerberg not playing with Norway?” former U.S. national team player Heather O’Reilly tweeted after Norway unveiled its Hegerberg-less roster this month. “If Messi or Ronaldo opted to not play in a World Cup the world would know why not with clarity.”