On the pitch, Kristine Hegland is capable of fulfilling many roles, something which marks her out as a player of great quality. But the young Norwegian is aware that one person can only do so much, and does not hesitate to dish out useful pointers to keep her team-mates on the right track.
Completing an array of attributes that make her the ideal captain of a Norway side preparing for the upcoming FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Japan 2012 is another essential asset: experience.
A glance at the precocious Scandinavian’s impressive CV reveals an appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, as well as previous experience of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, at Chile 2008, and all of this before she has even turned 20. The youngest member of the squad four years ago, she travelled to South America with her eyes and ears wide open, ready and willing to learn as much as possible.
And she has not forgotten how valuable an experience it was. “I’m sure it’ll be of great help,” she told FIFA.com. “I know what to expect. I’m familiar with this level, and that will no doubt enable me to better prepare myself – mentally and physically – for our matches,” she continued.
I’m familiar with this level, and that will no doubt enable me to better prepare myself – mentally and physically – for our matches.
Among her many qualities, Hegland is highly organised, leaving nothing to chance. “Hopefully the experience will also help me to make the right choices, particularly in terms of when and what to eat and drink, or the amount of rest that I need, and all the other little details that a footballer has to think about,” explained the Norwegian skipper.
Small country, big results
By covering all possible angles, she will be keen to avoid a disappointing conclusion similar to the one endured by the Norwegians at last year’s UEFA European Women’s U-19 Championship, just when they appeared to have perfectly negotiated the prestigious tournament.
But that was not taking into account the superiority of Germany, who beat Jarl Torske’s charges twice, once in a tight group-stage encounter (3-1), and again in the final, by a much more comprehensive scoreline of 8-1.
It was a result that reminded Hegland and Co of the work still required to compete with the world’s elite teams. “Germany are a very strong side, and not just at U-20 level,” pointed out the versatile Norwegian.
“They have several players that are both skilful and physically imposing. We can learn a lot from them,” she said, before adding, “But you also have to remember that they have a much bigger pool of players to choose from than a small country like Norway.”
With a population of just four million, the northern European nation nevertheless managed to claim runners-up spot at the 2011 continental contest in Italy. Despite the heavy defeat suffered in the final, it remains a laudable achievement.
“It’s never much fun to lose a game, and even less so when it’s a European Championship final,” said Hegland, who also participated in one of Norway’s ‘big’ FIFA Women's World Cup matches in 2011, a 2-1 loss to Australia.
“I can’t remember exactly what I said to my team-mates in the dressing room after the European final, but we were very down. The match wasn’t a fair reflection of how we’d played during the rest of the tournament. But after a few days, I realised that what we’d accomplished was really quite special, and is something that we can be proud of,” she added.
For Hegland, that feeling of pride comes with a combination of humility and respect for those that have gone down this path before her. But instead of the usual global icons such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marta or Birgit Prinz, her idols have more of a local flavour to them. “Even though he’s retired now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will always be my role model,” said the player who plies her trade with Bergen-based Arna-Bjornar.
This season, I’ve played every position apart from goalkeeper!
Understandably, she also holds the Norway side that lifted the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1995 in high regard. “We’re lucky enough to have two of them in our backroom staff, Ann Kristin Aarones and Heidi Stoere. They’ve got a wealth of experience and are always there at our training sessions. What those players managed to do is the dream of any female footballer,” she explained.
That is a dream that Hegland shares, of course, even though she is not quite as clear as to the position on the pitch from which she might achieve that feat. “I’ve played just about everywhere,” she said with a smile.
“With my club, I usually play in midfield, but I’ve also been used in defence and up front. I’ve played at full-back with the senior Norway set-up, and in this team I’m on the wing. This season, I’ve played every position apart from goalkeeper!” she continued.
While filling in between the sticks is unlikely to be part of her future, she has put a plan in place for when she eventually hangs up her boots. “I’m studying psychology,” stated the 19-year-old.
“We don’t have a long career and don’t earn as much as male players. And so getting a good education is a natural step and will be very important after I’ve stopped playing. Although I hope to make a living from football for a few years still,” she said.
Although Hegland may not yet know what her best position is, she likely has a long career ahead of her in which to figure it out.