Andrine Hegerberg – Andy to her family and friends – laughs when I ask her about sibling rivalry with her younger sister, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, Ada. “I try to just turn it around,” she says with a grin. “When we’re playing with our dad, I’m always joking around. If I have a better practice than her, I’ll be like: ‘I’m better than the Ballon d’Or.’ I flip the coin and use it as a motivation, rather than being jealous. That wouldn’t help anyone.”
The Roma midfielder, and senior Hegerberg by two years at 26, also has the upper hand from the two times the sisters have met on the pitch, with Ada at Lyon and Andy then representing Paris Saint-Germain. They drew in the league and PSG pipped Lyon to the French Cup in torrential rain. “So far I haven’t lost a game against her,” she says with another big grin. “At least that’s something I have. During family dinners that’s what can go to. My mum was like: ‘OK, that’s fair enough, actually.’”
It is all jesting and playful because the Hegerberg sisters are extremely close. “She’s really humble and she would work the same way if she won or didn’t,” Andy says of Ada. “If she wins a prize she works even harder to remain at the top level. It’s something that I admire and we keep pushing each other, even though she might win prizes, I know there’s some days that are more rainy than others and the important part for us is just that we keep backing each other.”
To talk to either sister is to be immediately struck by their overwhelming desire to change the game for the better and their awareness of its social impact. Where does that social consciousness come from? “I’ve been thinking a lot about it myself,” says Andy. “We were born and raised in a small town, with 7,000 people living there and I think we both got our values from there. It was a sort of humble way of life with lots of people helping and supporting each other.
“I didn’t have any big role models growing up, but I had a lot in the community that helped me and pushed me when life got harder really. I feel like that stuck to the whole family throughout. And we’re still the same people. We’re still from Sunndal. No one even in Norway knows where that is. It’s such a small place. But I think that’s shaped us, and is still with us every day and still I just feel like when you have the opportunity to give back, it’s important too.”
The sisters joined the German side Turbine Potsdam when they left Norway, from then their paths split – Ada went to Lyon while Andy has played for Göteborg in Sweden, Birmingham, PSG and, now, Roma.
“That’s actually a bit special,” she says when I ask about the picture of her as a child in a Roma shirt. “It’s always been Roma for me growing up. It’s a cliche but it is kind of dream come true.
“There was a lot of Serie A on television. I don’t really know why. I watched [Francesco] Totti, of course, and we visited Rome on holiday, went to the Roma store and that was it. I had, like, four or five jerseys and a hang up on Roma. I really love them.”
Women’s football in Italy is somewhat in its infancy – despite providing some of the game’s first professional environments in the 1970s. For Hegergerb being involved at the start of a project and using her experience to help drive standards is hugely motivating. “I like when I get responsibility, when I feel like I have ownership. That’s when I perform the best. And in Rome I feel like I’ve got that role. Roma feels like a family too. That helps speed up progress. People care about each other.”
The league has impressed her. “It’s really, really competitive,” Hegerberg says. “There’s no easy game, which might have surprised me a little bit. Even the bottom teams fight really well, defend well, and there’s a lot of individual talents. That’s where I think they can grow, they have the talent. When they bring together the styles that’s when I think the league will be really, really strong.
“I think the league also has stuff to work on when it comes to professionalism. The pitches we play on, some have been really bad. That needs to be taken care of, for the product to keep developing and grow. The players, with the talent and hours we put down working to progress the game, deserve better arenas.
“The World Cup really helped the league in Italy. So there’s a lot of enthusiasm and I feel like we’re being taken seriously and that’s also something that motivates me to keep pushing and develop.”
Hegerberg’s next steps, when football resumes, are to “give back to the club” that she has watched do so much for fans during the pandemic and then play her way back into the fiercely competitive Norwegian national team. Unlike Ada, Andy has not taken a step back from the team but she admires her sister’s stance. “Norway has done a lot. We’ve gotten far but we still have a long way to go so we can’t be too happy about every improvement because it probably should have been made earlier. Her using her voice to push for the next generation that’s coming, that’s something I respect her for.”
And on football’s recovery post-pandemic? “Football is not important in the bigger picture but it is also so important for so many. I’m afraid, yes, that women’s football might suffer a bit after this time and I don’t have any answer for what will happen and what should or shouldn’t be done right now, but I think it’s important that we keep pushing. Financially, I hope that we won’t be the last pick in every situation. That’s also one of the reasons I’m so satisfied with the way Roma are treating us.
“I just hope that people in charge also see women’s football and keep pushing in the right direction.”