Following injury and criticism, Ada Hegerberg is ready for the next stage of her career

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Hegerberg: Rapinoe and USWNT are role models for women (2:11)

Ada Hegerberg explains her admiration for the USWNT following their legal battles with US Soccer. (2:11)

From her football to her activism, Ada Hegerberg's approach to life has three simple characteristics -- precision, repetition and ambition.

In their early years, Hegerberg and her older sister Andrine -- who is also a professional footballer -- were taught by their parents not to accept the conditions the world offered them. As young women obsessed with football, they were told they could gain respect and be the best. They just had to work hard for it.

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Videos of the sisters growing up in Norway show two young blonde girls taking shot after shot at their father in goal. Their small bodies fall over the ball but they get up and go once more. Hitting the target is only useful if you can do it again and again and again.

"I grew up in a football family," Hegerberg, who signed a lucrative, long-term sponsorship agreement with Nike on Monday, tells ESPN. "I had no choice other than playing football or if not it was right out the door. I kind of feel like it was the destiny, me playing football."

Since joining Lyon in 2014 she has racked up four consecutive Champions League titles alongside six consecutive Division 1 Feminine titles. Her accolades include being the Women's Champions League all-time top scorer with 53 goals -- which would put her in the top eight of the men's competition record -- and winning the inaugural Ballon d'Or Feminin.

Even as a non-exhaustive list of achievements it sounds like a player nearing retirement, not a 24-year-old who insists there is plenty more left to give.

"If I'm looking back on my career when I'm done and I know that I've done everything in order to stay on top as long as possible I think I will be satisfied. I think there are a lot of cool things to come," she says.

As is the case for most athletes, however, 2020 has put a dampener on these plans. While football has been shut down across Europe since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hegerberg's season ended much earlier after she suffered a ruptured ACL in January.

One of the most difficult and time-consuming injuries to recover from, female footballers are four to six times more likely to suffer an injury to their ACL than their male counterparts. While this means there was a lot of support available to Hegerberg, her return to play has still been slow and difficult.

"I think everyone who finds themselves in a situation like this are asking a lot of questions in the beginning like why now, why me and you get yourself through those phases of sorrow almost," she says.

"In the end you just have to let it go and let the emotions out, accept it and really take your time mentally.

"For me I needed to take a step back and take my time and slowly the motivation is starting to grow again and one day you wake up and you're just like alright let's do this."

On the day we talk, Hegerberg has just received the news that she can run outside on grass for the first time since January and her excitement is palpable. All going to plan, coronavirus included, she hopes to be back on the pitch for September. As for what player we can expect to see, even she isn't sure what is to come.

"I think coming from an injury like this you learn a lot," she says. "You don't come back as the same player I'm positive because you're going through a lot of work mentally and physically and you get a lot of experience."

The set up in Lyon is incomparable to most teams in Europe. A dominant force that has long attracted many of the game's top players, Hegerberg's teammates include England's Lucy Bronze, France's Amandine Henry and Germany's Dzsenifer Marozsan to name but a few stalwarts of the women's game.

"It keeps you on your toes," she says of the club. "I love being in an environment where you feel you have the right people with the right mindsets.

"We need to have that in order to continue to win. That's the most important thing I would say, to have characters who would sacrifice everything in terms of winning because we're here for the long run.

"Obviously the hardest thing is to stay on top. It gets harder and harder so you always need to push yourself to the limits as a team and as an individual as well and it takes a lot of courage, character, a lot of work."

Hegerberg's ambition and expectation of the best extend outside the pitch too. Much has been made of her decision not to play for the Norway national team since 2017 but her stance often gets filed away as being related to equal pay like those on the U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) despite her repeated assertions that her situation is more nuanced than that.

While she has long-standing respect for that team, in particular Megan Rapinoe, removing herself from the national side has never just been about the pay.

"It is all about giving the same opportunities from day one," she says. "Giving young girls the same opportunity and now we're talking about giving women footballers a professional football life."

One of the criticisms levelled at supporters of the women's game is that the economic disparities between it and the men's game mean that women shouldn't seek equality within the sport. To her credit, Hegerberg has never shied away from discussing the imbalance.

"Obviously the men's game has a massive amount of money and I don't think that's kind of the general need," she adds. "I think the general need is to get what we deserve for how we perform because we have a huge responsibility as well. I think it is very important not to forget that we need those equal opportunities but we also need to perform to show that we have a quality product that people can't out see the need.

"We need economic help on the road to create something good and that's where federations -- UEFA, FIFA, clubs -- have an enormous responsibility."

After several years of progress, the stall to global sport brought by the coronavirus pandemic presents a new challenge. Hegerberg is under no illusion that women's football, often seen as the sport's "weakest link," is going to be top of many club's priorities.

"It is all about not losing position again. I think it is very important to stay in the discussions with the women's football because I think it has been a very positive trend the last years and we need that to continue," she says.

With Hegerberg only contracted to Lyon until 2021, there is a buzz about where her future might lie. It is clear that, should she move, it will only be to a team ready to compete with Lyon's dominance.

"Right now I am just giving it my all in the gym and on the pitch to get back 100% for the team and you never know what the future brings."