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.
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.
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.
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.
“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: weplaystrong.org
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by UEFA.