How brilliant is Chelsea and Denmark's Pernille Harder?
Sunday, May 21, 2023
The first player to win the UEFA women's award twice and Denmark's all-time leading scorer: we salute Pernille Harder.
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Pernille Harder has a habit of making headlines.
In 2020 alone she wrote plenty, becoming the first player since Marta in 2008/09 to score four goals in a UEFA women's club quarter-final before helping Wolfsburg finish UEFA Women's Champions League runners-up. Then came her high-profile move to Chelsea and – to top the lot – she made history as the first person to be named UEFA Women's Player of the Year for a second time.
It continued in 2021, as in March she helped Chelsea knock Wolfsburg out of Europe before reaching their first final, in April she equalled and that September she surpassed Merete Pedersen as Denmark's all-time leading scorer. More honours have followed and she announced her Chelsea departure in 2023 have helped them be as dominant in England as her Wolfsburg had bene in Germany.
What they say
"Pernille has been a big influence in rebuilding the Danish national team this year both on and off the field. She still creates and score goals, but her leadership and work rate also deserve credit!"
Lars Søndegaard, Denmark coach
"Harder is someone who has always performed well and always won the titles with Wolfsburg. In terms of playing style and technique, I constantly find her one of the better players."
Vivianne Miedema, Arsenal and Netherlands forward
"Even when she is at less than 100%, you feel her presence. If you're in a game and need one moment to make the difference, she's the player for it, no matter what condition she is in."
Stephan Lerch, Wolfsburg coach
"Pernille is always in the right place at the right time because she really watches the game. On the pitch she works so hard; she has a huge desire to win and she's one of the most intelligent attacking players I've seen. She creates so many goals for herself. You can't coach what she has; it's given. You can mould it and I think you'd have to challenge her because she's so incredibly gifted. How can you make this 100% player a 110% player?"
Ella Masar, former Wolfsburg team-mate
"Pernille is one of the best players in the world. Her record at Wolfsburg and Linköping, as well as internationally with Denmark, shows how valuable she has been to her teams."
Emma Hayes, Chelsea manager
Claims to fame
Team Viborg, Skovbakken
• A child of football players, aged ten she joined Midtjylland's academy along with her sister (the only girls there).
• Team Viborg gave Harder her senior break before she moved to Skovbakken aged 17 in 2010, as one of only four contracted players at the club; another was Nadia Nadim.
• Harder averaged more than a goal a game at Skovbakken and in 2012 was snapped up by Sweden's Linköping.
• Linköping were 2009 Swedish champions and 2010/11 UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finalists but had fallen behind ambitious Tyresö and Rosengård. Harder had a decent goalscoring record there but in 2015 she made a breakthrough, registering 17 goals in 22 league games and helping Linköping to a second straight Swedish Cup.
• In 2016, Harder and Stina Blackstenius were unstoppable as Linköping clinched the league title. Harder finished as Damallsvenskan top scorer on 23 goals and was snapped up by Wolfsburg.
• Harder joined Wolfsburg as a league champion and has remained one ever since, adding German doubles in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.
• Harder was Bundesliga top scorer in 2017/18 and 2019/20. Her haul of 27 goals last season was the best since Inka Grings' 28 for Duisburg in 2009/10.
• Harder helped Wolfsburg to the 2017/18 Women's Champions League final and opened the scoring in extra time, only for Lyon to surge back and win 4-1. Still, she was named UEFA Women's Player of the Year, 12 months after coming second following her UEFA Women's EURO 2017 exploits for Denmark.
• Harder was the 2018/19 Women's Champions League top scorer with eight goals despite Wolfsburg's quarter-final exit. In 2019/20, she netted four times against Glasgow City to take her tally for the campaign to nine – and 25 in European club competition overall.
• However, as in 2018, Harder and Wolfsburg suffered defeat in the final against Lyon, and the forward then announced her transfer to Chelsea on 1 September 2020. In only her second game for the Blues, she scored a superb goal not long after being brought off the bench against Bristol City.
• Not long after that, Harder was named UEFA Women's Player of the Year again, the first time anyone had won the award twice.
• In March 2021, Chelsea were drawn against Wolfsburg in the Women's Champions League quarter-finals and Harder found the target in both legs against her old club in a 5-1 aggregate win.
• She scored again in the semis as Chelsea reached their first final. Their English title success meant that Harder had won six league titles in the space of five-and-a-half years.
• In Chelsea's opening game of the first group stage in 2021/22, Harder equalised in added time against Wolfsburg for a 3-3 draw and on Matchday 2 struck the winner at Juventus, though the Blues did not get into the knockout phase.
• The Blues did do another English double with Harder playing a key part despite an injury-hit campaign. And having begun 2022/23 with plenty of goals including a Champions League hat-trick against Vllaznia, a hamstring injury on international duty with Denmark in November sent Harder back to the sidelines.
• Returned in April in time to aid another FA Cup success at Wembley and title push, though in May announced her Chelsea departure.
• The 14-year-old Harder announced herself pretty well on her competitive debut for her nation with seven goals against Armenia in a UEFA Women's Under-17 EURO qualifier in October 2007. Denmark would take bronze the following May in the inaugural finals in Nyon, also travelling to the first FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in New Zealand.
• Harder's senior debut in October 2009 also went pretty well: a hat-trick against Georgia in a FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier.
• She was Denmark's nine-goal leading scorer in UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying and crucial in their surprise run to the semi-finals in Sweden.
• In March 2016, aged 23, Harder was named Denmark captain and led them all the way to the UEFA Women's EURO 2017 final, scoring in the 4-2 loss to hosts the Netherlands. The Danes had won 2-1 in the quarter-finals against Germany, then the reigning title holders for 22 years.
• Harder hit five goals in Denmark's 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign, ended by the Netherlands in the play-offs, and got eight as her side cruised to UEFA Women's EURO 2022.
• In April 2021, Harder got her 65th Denmark goal against Wales to equal Pedersen. And then in the opening World Cup qualifier against Malta on 16 September she claimed the record outright. They were to reach the finals for the first time since 2007.
• At UEFA Women's EURO 2022, Harder got the only goal in what proved Denmark's sole win, beating Finland 1-0.
What you might not know
• Harder hails from the small Danish town of Ikast, born to footballing parents, but it was her sister Louise's enrolment in a youth camp that inspired her to get involved. "My sister got called up and basically I wanted that because my sister did it. I've always looked up to her."
• Whether it's jiving on the touchline, raving in the aisle of the team bus, or flossing in lockdown, everywhere's a dance floor for Harder. Her moves can often be found posted to Instagram as the energetic forward shows her rhythm off the pitch. She's also a keen golfer.
• When she was young, her teacher asked her to write about her life goals: "I felt quite early I was maybe a little bit better than the other girls in my team. I wrote something at school when you were asked what you want to do in life. I think I was maybe ten and I wrote I wanted to be a professional footballer in Germany and play for Denmark."
• In 2016, Harder was honoured by being placed on the city of Linköping's Wall of Fame of local notables.
What she says
"I started playing when I was five or six years old. I played with boys until I was 11 because there was no girls' team. It has always been accepted where I come from. Even though I was the only girl in the guys' team, they wanted to play with me."
"I don't feel any pressure. The pressure I feel is for myself; I always have a lot of expectations, so I think it's just about being focused on what you have to do on the pitch."
On being an LGBTQ+ role model alongside her partner, Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson: "We play as role models individually, but also together, having come out and having to be open about it. I didn't realise until that picture came out how big an inspiration we actually are for a lot of people."
On joining Chelsea: "I'm excited to just play for such a big club, to play with so many amazing players and to also be playing in the league. The English league, it's so exciting at the moment and I'm really looking forward to it."
After her second UEFA award: "These individual awards you get, it always shows that what you're doing is the right thing and that I'm on the right path. So obviously I'm super happy about it."
What she might achieve yet
• "I want to win the Champions League, win titles in different leagues and play in the Olympics. I think it would be quite cool to say that I've won titles in different countries."
• Denmark are yet to win a major title, but with Harder as their spearhead that is not out of the question.