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AC Milan’s Nora Heroum: Brave and Tough

A child of two worlds.

Fantastic Finn
Rio Gandara (@GandaraRio) | Twitter

During the fall of 2019, AC Milan’s malleable midfielder, Nora Heroum, gave an interview to the Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat.

The interview was published seven days before Milan’s fateful match against Juventus. Nora was instrumental for Milan during that match, as she usually is for all of the team’s matches.

The article is hidden behind a paywall, so I won’t post everything from it.

Fortunately, I signed up to read it so you don’t have to.

Since I don’t speak a lick of Finnish (and you probably don’t either), I had a long time friend of mine who happens to be Finnish, translate this for me.

Special thanks to my friend, Milla, for the flawless translation. (And for being proof that there’s still a reason to go to Tumblr after all.)

Now, enjoy.

The toughness learned from boys’ games helped footballer, Nora Heroum, find her way to the national team and to the prestigious club of AC Milan. In Italy, women’s football is growing at a rapid pace as the traditional great clubs of men’s football have started investing in it.

In the early 2000s, in the Vuosaari neighborhood of Helsinki, a little girl watched longingly from the edge of the pitch as her older brother ran football drills. The same girl was always there to watch the local club, FC Viikingit, train. Nineteen years later, the girl has grown into the women’s national team player, Nora Heroum, age 25, who plays for one of the Italian greats, AC Milan.

Nora’s Family

Heroum is the youngest of four children.

The Finnish-Moroccan family consisted of a Moroccan father, and a Finnish mother, Nora, her two older sisters, and an older brother.

Why she wanted to become a footballer

“I was always watching the practices of my big brother, who’s one year older than me, and wanted to join. Eventually, I got to play with them. I played four years with boys. Then, I moved on to play with girls a year older than me,” Heroum says. All the kids in the family played football. But why was it that the youngest one, was the only one who eventually became a professional footballer?

“I guess I had the biggest desire to be a footballer. It was always my clear goal, to play as a professional.”

On being both Finnish and Moroccan

The parents’ different backgrounds could mainly be seen at the dinner table, where they sometimes had different kinds of food. Otherwise, the Moroccan culture was hardly visible in the family, says Heroum.

“I feel much more Finnish, and I don’t know my father’s language. My father got ill when I was a few years old, which also changed the way we lived. The main thing is that all is fine now.”

The Trajectory of Her Career

Heroum followed her coach to local clubs in neighboring towns, first to Koivukylän Palloseura and then to Tuusulan Palloseura. From there, she moved to HJK in Helsinki, which was the starting point in her rise to the top of Finland.

“I don’t know if I was always the best player at my clubs, but [I was] still one of the best. It helped that I had played with boys. I had courage and toughness. I always had the ball with me as a kid, so in terms of skill, I was ahead of many.”

The Transition from Brescia to Milan

“Milan bought Brescia’s license and ten players were transferred in the deal. It was a bit exciting.”

Heroum found out about the deal a bit earlier, and that Milan wanted her.

“It was a great feeling. I’ve never been in such a big club before. The foundations are all there and everything’s top-notch. You can tell it’s a big club.”

The Team

The AC Milan Women have their own guarded training facilities. The name sheet of support staff is almost as long as the list of players. There are video analysts, a nutritionist and individual coaches. According to Heroum, everything has been taken into consideration.

Heroum says she has made the most of the opportunities provided by the club. She watches her performances together with a video analyst, and the nutritionist makes a daily nutrition plan for each player.

“Last year I worked with an individual coach more than this year. We have stayed behind after training to work on a few things. Last year, the coach told me my headers weren’t that good. We did some training on that. I was served with different kinds of crosses and long balls.”

The shift from midfield to defense came as a surprise

The focus on heading was due to a shift in roles. During Heroum’s first training camp in Milan, the coach told her that she was not a midfielder, but a defender.

“I was absolutely stunned because I hadn’t played in defense before. We started working on that, and then I was playing all matches and training as a defender.”

“She [Carolina Morace] thought I had the necessary qualities to be a defender. Last season we were playing with a lot of possession, so I got to open up the game and make crosses. I made runs from the middle. She liked my crosses and my ability to open up a game.”

Last season, Heroum played all matches as a fullback. This year, her role has moved back to the midfield.

“We’ve had a few midfielders out with injuries. I’ve been given a big role, and it’s been going well.”

“Milan is a big city.”

Heroum is playing in her third season in Italy, and she has completely adapted the Italian way of life. Still, she does “lose her head” on occasion, but that too needs to be handled with the right attitude.

“Milan is a big city, and sometimes I miss nature. People are very open-minded and friendly. It makes it easy to adapt. When you meet someone for the first time, it might feel like you’ve known them for years.”

The Growth of Women’s Football in Italy

In Italy, women’s football is currently growing fast, as the traditional big clubs of men’s football have started investing in the women’s game.

“They’ve started showing women’s matches on TV. The media attention also shows that women’s football is growing.”

Foreign Imports

The clubs have been compelled to bring in good players from other countries, and that’s how several of the national team players from Finland have also ended up in Italy. AC Milan currently have 12 players who also play for their respective national teams. Some Italians might not be so welcoming to the newcomers.

“To some extent, you can see that when Italians and foreigners compete for the same spot, an Italian will play. I’ve heard from other places that foreigners haven’t been that well-received. I haven’t noticed that in Milan.”

The National Team

Friendly International Women - China v Finland Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images

In Milan, Heroum has been playing consistently, but with the Finnish national team, her spot in the starting line-up is not guaranteed in the same way.

In the previous round of European qualifiers, she started as a fullback, while Juventus’ Tuija Hyyrynen started from the bench. In the matches prior to that, she often came on as a sub for Hyyrynen.

Now, she can better compete for the midfield spots in the national team, as she has returned to playing in her old position for her club.

“We have quite a lot of competition for playing spots on the national team, which is a good thing. In training, we also see who’s in form.”

Heroum was part of the squad that played in the European championships in 2013, and she believes the current national team has a good chance of making it to the final tournament again.

“We have a good team and a good team spirit. Our goal is to play in the tournament.”

Currently, Serie A Femminile, like most other leagues, is suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The qualification matches for the women’s Euros have been postponed as well. There is also talk of moving the women’s Euros to 2022 to avoid conflict with the men’s Euros and the Olympics, both of which have been rescheduled for 2021.

Nora Heroum is currently in Finland, as she was sent there by Finland after the Cyprus Cup had ended.

She has stated, however, that she will rejoin Milan again at the earliest available opportunity.