Braver, stronger, Harder! Great Dane Pernille is a role model and will be key as Chelsea look to see off Bayern Munich in Champions League semis
- Chelsea face Bayern Munich in the Women’s Champions League semi on Sunday
- Pernille Harder will play a pivotal role in the Blues’ quest at European glory
- She joined Chelsea from Wolfsburg for a world-record £250,000 in September
It’s probably no coincidence that Pernille Harder is an avid viewer of Borgen, the hit Danish political drama in which a woman within a complicated, high-pressure environment eases past the obstacles put before her to become Denmark’s prime minister.
‘It’s one of my favourite shows,’ Harder says, from the home she shares with her Chelsea team-mate Magdalena Eriksson, before they head out to Germany for Sunday’s Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.
‘It’s only a TV show but I guess it says something about women succeeding in our country. Women with ambition and ideas and drive.’
Pernille Harder has a Champions League semi-final to look forward to with Chelsea Women
The BBC4 drama’s central character, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen – played by leading Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen – had a role subsequently reprised by the two women who actually have become successive prime ministers of Denmark.
‘It’s really good we have a lot of power women in Denmark,’ says Harder. ‘I’m really proud of that. I don’t know what it comes down to. We are just pretty modern, going with the times. Of course, there will always be some conservative people in the country but we want to go forward and be a role model as a country.’
Harder has certainly done that. The 28-year-old, approaching the climax of her first English season after a world-record £250,000 move from Wolfsburg last summer, was a source of inspiration to millions because of the now iconic image of her and Eriksson sharing a kiss after her partner’s Sweden side had beaten Canada in Paris in the 2019 World Cup.
‘It was really spontaneous and that was what people really liked about the picture,’ she reflects. ‘I had no idea that someone would take a picture of us. I guess I should have thought there would be someone with a camera! But it was just normal. I was supporting Magda and it was “congrats”.
‘From that day to the next, I got 10,000 new followers on Instagram. We both got a lot of messages, not only because of the picture. People who were following us might be in the closet and not brave enough to come out and it was really good for them to see others being natural about it. We got a lot of messages about that.’
Eriksson had already been a Chelsea player for two years by then – they met while playing for the Linkopings side who took Sweden by storm under coach Martin Sjogren – though Harder continued her four-year career at the Wolfsburg side who kept Bayern in their shadow.
Harder (right) was a source of inspiration after she kissed her partner Magdalena Eriksson following the latter’s victory with Sweden against Canada during the 2019 Women’s World Cup
Each country she’s played in has been different. In Denmark, the focus was possession. Sweden brought more emphasis on zonal defending. Germany was about man-to-man marking and more aggression. But the WSL has taken physicality to new levels.
‘All WSL teams press much higher than anywhere else I’ve played,’ Harder reflects. ‘They really go for it (with a high defensive line) and there’s a lot of space behind the back lines instead of in front. I actually prefer to have space on the ball in front of the back line but it’s been a good way for me to develop.’
Players like Fran Kirby and the wonderfully gifted South Korean Ji So-yun help open up space in the small spaces, says Harder. ‘And then you have a player like Sam Kerr who is really good playing high up; a fast player.’
You sense that the constraints of lockdown have meant Harder hasn’t been able to get to know London as she would want, just yet. But Chelsea’s impressive work in the community during lockdown – helping pensioners and children home-schooling – has provided one means of doing so. She’s been involved in the club’s extensive food box distribution scheme.
Harder joined Chelsea Women in a world-record £250,000 deal from Wolfsburg in September
Thoughts now turn to Bayern, a club Harder knows so well. ‘It was always pretty even between us,’ she says. ‘They were open games, not usually one team dominating. We were good in transitions. It was always intense. Best memory against them? A winning goal not long after I’d arrived in Germany.’
Wolfsburg claimed four successive titles during her time there.
But it’s the defeats which perhaps equip her best for Sunday’s game against a side in which she sees midfielder Lina Magull and Linda Dallman as threats and defender Simone Laudehr as a major obstacle. Harder was in the Wolfsburg team who lost in the 2018 and 2020 Champions League finals to Lyon – a club eliminated in the quarter-finals by Paris Saint-Germain this time.
‘In the first final we went 1-0 in extra time but lost 4-1. That showed us it’s not over until it’s over,’ she says. ‘It’s important not to be afraid going into these games. Don’t be too motivated and over excited, because that can sometimes also ruin things in the game. But be brave, apply pressure, go forward.’
Spoken like a true Dane.
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