When Solveig Gulbrandsen announced her retirement from football after a successful 2010 season with Stabaek, the Norwegian international could already look back with pride on an impressive career.
But little did she know that there were plenty more chapters ready to be written in Gulbrandsen's football story. "Expect the unexpected" should be the Norwegian's motto...
"I quit* when I was pregnant with my second child. I thought that it would be difficult to play with two kids and all of that stuff," she told *FIFA.com.
"But then I became being an assistant coach for Valerenga in the top division of Norway, and when you have a second child, you want to get back in shape," she said with a grin as she explained how she came to return to playing.
"I started to train a little bit with the team during the winter," she went on. "Then the head coach and I thought that maybe I needed to play a bit, because we needed someone who had played there before, someone with experience. I started to play a little bit and suddenly I was playing in every training session and then in every game."
When I played against Iceland and started that game it felt really right. It was a really good feeling to put that jersey on again.
Gulbrandsen's efforts after her two-year hiatus paid off as she managed to help Valerenga to eighth place, maintaining their top-flight status. And after her domestic comeback, an international recall for Norway was soon on the cards.
The value of experience
Gulbrandsen's statistics speak for themselves. As a mere 19-year-old she bagged Olympic gold and went on to follow that up by appearing in three FIFA Women's World Cups™ (1999, 2003 and 2007) and UEFA Women's EUROs (2001, 2005 and 2009).
With the national team in need of some older steadying influence, it is little wonder that Gulbrandsen was called upon for the recent EURO qualifiers against Belgium and Iceland.
"The national team was struggling a little bit. A lot of the older players had been out with injuries, we had two games left in the qualifiers for the EUROs and we needed to win both of them," she said of her return to the national set-up.
"I thought maybe they needed someone with experience in these important games, someone who wasn't that nervous. And the head coach agreed. When I played against Iceland and started that game it felt really right. It was a really good feeling to put that jersey on again."
With Gulbrandsen in the ranks, Norway won those two crucial matches to top the group and qualify for the forthcoming UEFA Women's EURO in Sweden, where they have been drawn against Germany, Iceland and the Netherlands in Group B.
Have fun and results will come
Gulbrandsen has not yet said whether she will take part in next year's tournament, and it will be a tough decision either way for the mother of two - who has to weigh up not only what she wants, but what would be best for her family.
"I am struggling a bit to find the time because I have a family. I haven’t decided yet what to do next year. Actually my plan was not to play this year, so now I've told everyone not to listen to me because everything I say is not true at the moment," said the 31-year-old with another smile. "Maybe it'd just be nice to take this tournament as the last one."
The attacking midfielder has particularly fond memories of EURO 2005 in England, when Norway made it all the way through to the final before losing to Germany. Gulbrandsen was an integral part of the success of the Gresshoppene, notching the winner in the 109th minute of their semi-final against neighbours Sweden.
I think I have to choose Iniesta because he's my son's favourite player.
"When you score a goal in extra time, there's such an adrenalin rush that runs through your body," she said of that defining moment in her career. "When I watch that moment from that game it gives me still goosebumps. The team was just great and we had so much fun. It is really important to have fun."
Iniesta and Sinclair the gala favourites
That is also the advice that Gulbrandsen gives to any girls looking to follow in her footsteps: have fun and play lots. "Women’s football has developed tactically and technically and has a lot of good players now. It has so much more speed in it," she explained.
Kids and professionals alike are all eagerly awaiting 7 January, when the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala will be held in Zurich. For Gulbrandsen, Canada's Christine Sinclair will be the favourite for the FIFA Women's Player of the Year award after her performance at the Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
But when it came to the men, she chose to buck the prevailing trend. "It's always difficult because everybody wants [Lionel] Messi [to win]. But I think I have to choose [Andres] Iniesta because he's my son's favourite player," she said, signing off with her trademark smile.
And who knows, if her son is anywhere near as talented as his mother, then maybe we will be hearing a lot more about him in a decade or so.