The presence of the world’s best player is generally considered a minimum requirement for a good World Cup.
Sadly, this summer’s premier international tournament will not feature Ada Hegerberg, the current Ballon d’Or Feminin holder.
The 23-year-old is widely regarded as the standout player in the women’s game having inspired Lyon to three consecutive trebles.
However, she has not played international football since Norway were eliminated from the Euros in 2017 without scoring a goal.
Hegerberg cited a lack of respect for female players in her home country as she declared herself unavailable for selection for the foreseeable future.
Many in Norway, including national coach Martin Sjogren, had hoped she would return for the World Cup but the friction has not been smoothed.
“We tried to solve it,” Sjogren said. “We had meetings, but she decided not to play.”
One of the key factors in Hegerberg’s dissatisfaction concerns pay.
Terje Svendsen, president of Norwegian FA, voted against an increase in funding for the Women’s game, despite heralding Hegerberg as a poster-girl for sport in Norway.
Since then an equal pay agreement has resulted in an increase in pay for Norway’s women players, while the men have agreed to a pay cut.
But Hegerberg remains unsatisfied.
“This is the hard side of playing football,” she told CNN.
“Obviously, I’d love to play for my country. I’ve been quite critical, direct with the federation [about] what I felt hasn’t been good enough in my career in the national team.
“In the end it was an easy choice for me to move on in my career. I’ve been quite clear with them the whole way.
“It’s not always about the money. It’s about preparing, taking action, professionalism, really clear points I’ve put quite directly to them when I made the decision.”
The situation is regretful.
A World Cup without Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would be a PR disaster for the men’s game and the equivalent is similarly frustrating for those involved with the Women’s World Cup.
But Hederberg’s stance is understandable.
In December she made history as the inaugural winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or — the men’s award began in 1956.
The ceremony was supposed to be a significant step in the right direction for equality.
But Hederberg’s achievement was overshadowed by an offhand remark from DJ Martin Solveig, who asked the Norweigian forward if she knew how to twerk.
The Lyon star’s moment of glory was instantly soiled by objectification.
Needless to say, Solveig did not ask Luka Modric to twerk after he was named as the standout individual in his field for 2018.
With the World Cup just three months away, Hegerberg’s expected absence represents a significant threat to the tournament’s commercial success.
But perhaps such drastic action is required to change attitudes for the better.
- We spoke to former players who defended against Ronaldo to see if it was as thankless as it looked
- Oleksandar Zinchenko is the latest midfielder to thrive in one of Pep Guardiola’s defences
- When will Sean Longstaff play for England?