Wednesday, September 22

Chelsea’s Pernille Harder: ‘I want to be where there is the most competition’ | Chelsea Women

PErnille Harder is driven by the desire for European success, but on a smaller scale she seeks a sentiment. It’s the feeling you get “when you’re in a flow and everything you do is … right,” she says: “You don’t think much, you’re just in it.”

Harder laughs when asked if he feels that feeling a lot. It’s easy to believe that it does. “No,” he says with a smile. “But that’s the feeling that I try to reach, to find, every time I play, because then I know that I am at my best, playing at my highest level.”

The 28-year-old was featured Friday as the number one player on the Guardian and Offside Rule Podcast’s Top 100 Soccer Players list for the second time in three years.

Harder’s form has been remarkably consistent. Arguably, she missed the top individual awards in 2019 just because they were dominated by World Cup players in France, a tournament that the forward missed when Denmark failed to qualify. The Danes lost their qualifying tie to Sweden as a salary dispute with the Danish football federation escalated, which meant the team finished second behind the Swedes and then lost their play-off semi-final to eventual runners-up from the world Cup. The Netherlands.

Denmark lost their play-off match against the Netherlands, despite Harder's well-scored goal.
Denmark lost their play-off match against the Netherlands, despite Harder’s well-scored goal. Photograph: Yves Herman / Reuters

The story of why players like Harder, Paris Saint-Germain striker Nadia Nadim, Rosengård’s Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen and the rest of a very good team from Denmark were not at the World Cup is often forgotten (they lost a qualifying tie in the middle of a salary dispute, then lost in a play-off against the Netherlands), while the decision of the first Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg to walk away from the Norwegian team and demand greater respect for the female footballers of your country is still in the news.

Harder and Hegerberg’s absence from the World Cup was felt by fans of European women’s soccer, with the former’s only appearances from the crowd, wearing a Sweden jersey, supporting teammate Magda Eriksson.

Harder’s numbers have been remarkable. En route to completing a fourth consecutive national double with Wolfsburg and a Champions League runner-up medal in 2019-20, he scored 27 goals in the Bundesliga and 38 in all competitions. “Yes, the season with Wolfsburg, I don’t think I scored that many goals in one season, it was incredible,” he says.

It was a fitting ending for his time in Germany. When it came to choosing where to go next, there was one thing that was very important to Harder. “The only demand I had for the team I would go to was that they also have [Champions League] ambitions “.

In Chelsea he found the perfect match. The Champions League has long been coveted by coach Emma Hayes, now the only trophy she has left to win after the success of Chelsea’s Continental League Cup last season.

When it comes to European success, Harder, for lack of a better analogy, has been the bridesmaid, but never the bride. He endured the anguish of Euro 2017 in the final after a goal to make it 2-2 when Arsenal’s Sherida Spitse and Vivianne Miedema found the net to secure a 4-2 win for the Netherlands.

In 2018 he hit again in a grand final when he scored in the third minute of extra time to give Wolfsburg the lead against Lyon in the Champions League. However, Alex Popp was sacked by Wolfsburg and Lyon won the game again 4-1. And in 2020 they again endured defeat to Lyon in the final, with Wolfsburg losing 3-1 at the close of the rescheduled tournament.

Wolfsburg's Pernille Harder looks dejected after Lyon won the Champions League final.
Wolfsburg’s Pernille Harder looks dejected after Lyon won the Champions League final. Photography: Daniela Porcelli / SPP / Shutterstock

It was time for a new challenge. “I thought the English league was really interesting. I want to be where I feel there is the most competition. Then Chelsea because they have the same ambitions as me. Win as many titles as possible and also the Champions League, they want to go for that ”.

In 2019, Chelsea came close to ending Lyon’s European dominance when Erin Cuthbert’s away goal in a 2-1 away loss gave them hope of progress. But a valiant 1-1 draw at Kingsmeadow ensured the status quo was maintained. Hayes has since added Australian forward Sam Kerr and Harder, a player who has often been a thorn in Lyon’s side, to his team.

Hayes, for his part, knows the importance of Harder when it comes to competing at the highest level in Europe. “I know what her experiences are in Europe, it is one of the great reasons why she is here and I am looking forward to seeing how she progresses with this team because there is much more to come from her,” said the coach before the Dane. he scored and provided an assist in Chelsea’s first Champions League game, Benfica, on Wednesday.

Harder has quickly settled in Chelsea. He has scored two league goals in addition to opening his Champions League account, but it has been his movement, linking game and assists that has shown just how influential he could become in West London.

“The team has welcomed me with open arms, so it was very easy,” he says. Plus, with teammate Eriksson as team captain, his transition off the field has been easy. “Part of when you move to another country and to a new team is also about trying to feel at home away from the soccer field. Obviously I immediately felt at home, entering Magda’s apartment, where I have been a lot, and living with Magda ”.

Harder celebrates Chelsea's victory against Benfica with scorer Bright, England and Eriksson.
Harder celebrates Chelsea’s victory against Benfica with scorer Bright, England and Eriksson. Photograph: Harriet Lander / Chelsea FC / Getty Images

Another plus is that his relationship with Eriksson meant that his connection with Chelsea began long before his arrival in the summer. “I felt like I already knew all the players and what they were good at, that makes everything so much easier. I watched a lot of their games last season, so when they talk about a game last season, I also remember it because I saw it, so it’s very good. “

That in turn is helping her make connections on the court, something she is improving day by day. “Fran Kirby, I felt a connection to her in the first game I played with her. I’ve felt a connection with a lot of players, to be honest. But of course when new players come in it’s like a puzzle and he doesn’t just do it from day one. “

Now you just need to add team titles to your individual awards. “The feeling you get when you win a title cannot be compared to anything. The individual awards are just a confirmation of what you are doing. It’s a nice feeling, but it’s not like the happiness you feel when you win a championship. “

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