Peanut butter and jelly, Rose Lavelle and Wilma or, my personal favorite: bacon and more bacon. Some partnerships were just meant to be. Although men’s soccer is replete with attacking duos whose harmonies would be welcome in any glee club, women’s soccer sits a way behind with a few notable exceptions.
One such seamless and intuitive partnership that has been delighting fans around Germany is that of Caroline Graham Hansen and Pernille Harder. Unfortunately, it appears to be coming to an end.
Graham Hansen declined a contract extension from Wolfsburg and rumors around her future have been whirling around all year. The Norwegian is primed for a move away from Lower Saxony and although most of the big names have come calling, her new home reported to be either Barcelona or PSG. So, it’s time to gear up the Adele, pull the biggest tub of ice-cream you have out of the freezer and sob over Wolfsburg highlight videos.
When we think of impressive levels of dribbling, two things usually come to mind. First, a Ronaldinho or Neymar; a Brazilian with a natural flair for the eye-catching move, a deft touch and understanding of how to manipulate the ball to have it on a string, drawing defenders in and leaving them for dust.
So, it’s a little surprising that one of the finest dribblers playing in Europe is a wiry Norwegian who sees defenders as little more than training cones to dance around.
For most people, trying to get from A to B when there’s a person in the middle of their path requires a rethink. For Caroline Graham Hansen, the opponent barely registers in her calculations. A feint to the left, a side-foot around the corner, a nutmeg with more spice than an autumnal trenta latte; around, under, over or simply and unfathomably, through – Graham Hansen finds a way.
With a career that has run parallel to countrywoman Ada Hegerberg, Graham Hansen has often been shaded from the limelight by her compatriot. Both were born in 1995. Both played for Stabæk. Both had less than successful spells outside of Norway for the first time in 2013 before finding long-term clubs in mainland Europe in 2014. Hegerberg’s Lyon usually have the margins to beat Graham Hansen’s Wolfsburg, injuries to the lanky technician leaving her sidelined as her former teammate exploded onto the world stage. In an age of minimal statistics in women’s soccer, Hegerberg’s goals are easier to quantify than Graham Hansen’s assists and play-making.
Both are Norwegians and stars on their respective, stacked teams. Yet, Graham Hansen has remained a star in her own right and more recently became the flag-bearer for the Norwegian national team since Hegerberg has stepped back.
It was at the start of a turbulent 2017, returning from a fractured leg, that the waiflike winger struck up one of the most formidable partnerships in Europe.
Better, faster, stronger… Harder
Blasting into the Frauen-Bundesliga after a ruthlessly dominant Damallsvenskan season with Linköping, Pernille Harder took less time to adjust to her new surroundings than it takes NWSL commentators to remind you that Ellie Carpenter was only 18-year-old when she scored her first goal in the league. The Dane quickly silenced those who doubted she could take the step up to Germany.
I’m not going to tell you that Harder is the best player in the world — you can always follow me on Twitter for that. You might say it’s Sam Kerr, Amandine Henry, Ada Hegerberg or Marta. It’s academic at this point. It’s something we can agree on, without the need for a flame war, is that Harder is world-class. And it was that move to Wolfsburg, coupled with a summer delighting fans in the Netherlands at Euro 2017, that cemented her as so. It was then that you could finally understand the hype your Swedish friend had been propagating for years.
Light on her feet with an incredible determination, even the most stubborn of Frauen-Bundesliga defenses parted for Harder. The Dane is a guile-filled battering ram who fired her way to the top of the goalscoring charts while racking up a fair few assists, too. Yet, it wasn’t just about Harder getting better, faster and stronger (with apologies to Daft Punk) in Germany, but about her mouth-watering partnership with Graham Hansen.
Singing from the same sheet
As their styles of play would suggest, one of the key factors in the pair establishing such a fruitful connection is a mutual understanding and view of the game. A Dane and a Norwegian who grew up learning the same principles, playing similar styles and (in what surely upsets most of us) cheering for Manchester United.
These are two players that fell into sync with each other overnight, benefiting from the type of partnership that takes months, if not years, to cultivate – and it made for some damn good soccer. And here we are, with Graham Hansen all but confirmed to be leaving Wolfsburg for a warmer climate after five seasons in Germany.
The world will continue to turn, Harder will continue to be a revelation, Graham Hansen will continue to humiliate defenders and one of them might even (at long last) lift the Champions League trophy. However, after a season and a half of a formidable partnership that has seen both players thrive off of Ewa Pajor, as well as each other, this good thing looks to be coming to an untimely end.
As I sit here, sobbing into my Häagen-Dazs, singing along to “Someone Like You,” I urge everyone to dig out a stream for one of Wolfsburg’s last games of the season and revel in these players’ partnership for one last time.
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