Tuva Hansen interview: Live and let fly – Norway and Bayern defender grasps the moment

Photo: Katie Chan (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

A scene-switcher of a year in Tuva Hansen’s career now takes the Bayern Munich defender to her first World Cup. The Norwegian’s on-field drive comes with an appetite for life, and every now and again, a show-stealing moment to remember.

Norway’s travelling party touched down in New Zealand this week for the FIFA Women’s World Cup – arriving on the wings of a top-tier Tuva Hansen strike. It was the 25-year-old who settled their qualifier in Belgium last September, racing out of the backline onto a loose pass, striding on and stepping around a defender before unleashing a right-footed ripper into the far corner.

Some way to score a first for your country, the goal was a perfect example of impulse paying off to spectacular effect. A spark of imagination is one of many attributes in the centre-back’s favour, and it proved just the ticket shortly after her January move to Bayern Munich.

Having signed off with a Norwegian league-and-cup double, the outgoing Brann captain conjured up her first big performance in Bayern colours during their mid-season trip to Mexico – at a San Pedro Garza García hotel. With Tigres UANL to come in the Copa Amazonas, the new number six had her own initiation hurdle to clear first, turning to ‘80s favourite ‘99 Luftballons’ (Nena).

“It was basically the only German song I knew, or I could try to sing, so that was honestly the reason!” she recalls. “But it was a big song, because I don’t think they expected me to sing in German!”

“It’s easier now to pronounce (the lyrics), because I’ve had a German teacher, but in the beginning, it was a bit hard, so I practiced a bit.”

Earning extra credit for braving the original over the widely-known English version (’99 Red Balloons’), she had something extra to pull out of the bag – quite literally. Coming prepared with props, she handed out balloons for her eager audience to inflate.

“Oh, just a local store,” she laughs, when asked where they came from. “I just tried to make it something else, rather than just me singing, because I feel a bit embarrassed singing, because I’m not that good!”

Such hesitancy doesn’t often show, in a player and character growing in prominence and popularity all the time. Capable also of playing at full-back, the versatile defender arrives in this month’s World Cup after a triumphant first half-season in Germany.

A regular under the management of compatriot Alexander Straus (her former Brann coach), Tuva added the Frauen-Bundesliga to her career’s trophy haul, as Bayern saw off title challengers Wolfsburg by two points. On top of her defensive acumen, she is a player who knows exactly what she brings to a changing room.

“A bit loud! Like a lot of ‘winning’ mentality, a lot of energy.”

Boldness and belief will be essential traits over the coming weeks for a Norway team desperate to blast away the memory of last summer in England. Many around the world were talking up their chances ahead of UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, fuelled all the more by the long-awaited return from national-team exile of star striker Ada Hegerberg.

A rip-roaring start against Northern Ireland in Southampton had onlookers purring, but the 4-1 victory was as good as it would get, as a traumatic 8-0 loss to eventual winners England and a decisive 1-0 reverse against Austria followed. Like other teams in the tournament dealing with disappointment, the relatively-imminent World Cup qualifiers offered comfort.

“I feel like we individually had to go through a mental process, of course, but when we got together again, we had a new coach, new strategy,” Tuva explains. “Everything was new, so I feel like it was easier.”

“We just tried to stick together, and you can tell by some of the results that we had that it’s been much better. I just really want us to continue that, and to stick together, because if someone goes out of the group (and focuses on themselves), that’s not how we do it in Norway.”

With the end of Martin Sjögren’s six-year tenure, an all-time playing great stepped in to lead her country for the first time as head coach, with former midfield marvel Hege Riise appointed after time working with the Under-19s. An interim position with England had seen her also coach Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.

Prior to a 4-3 quarter-final defeat to Australia in extra-time, GB had conceded just once in group games with Chile, Japan, and gold-medallists-in-waiting, Canada. Such solidity has understandably been the aim for Norway since her arrival, as Tuva describes.

“We focus a lot on the defence now, to be compact; I feel like if you have a good defence, then it’s easier to play against better teams. I feel like we’re always saying, ‘One plus one is three,’ so we want to help each other so that it’s not a ‘one-man show’ on the national team.

“Always feeling like we’re more than one player against one, I feel like that’s a big difference.”

Riise had been a leading name when Norway completed the clean sweep of the Euros, World Cup and Olympic tournament, culminating in Sydney in 2000. Returning Down Under to lead this current team in the co-hosted Australia-New Zealand competition, perhaps there is irony in one of the main symbols of their glorious past aiming to help them shed the weight of that history.

With world-class attacking talent like Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen and aforementioned Lyon star Ada Hegerberg, backed up by the likes of Chelsea’s Guro Reiten and Arsenal’s Frida Leonhardsen Maanum, possibility is something they never lack. Like many, though, Tuva feels that the time for an altered perspective has long since arrived.

“I feel like we’re always talking about medals. Always, because in the past, we’ve done a lot of great, historical things, but the time changed, so I think we need to be more realistic this time.

“For example, go through the group stage, and just mentally prepare for each game, instead of ‘we’re going to win the whole thing.’ It’s better for us players too, to accomplish the goals we set, and I feel like we haven’t done that in a few years now, so that’s why our mindset is a bit different now.”

So much in football is, understandably, seen through the lens of results; a disappointing tournament or league season must mean disharmony. Regardless of the outcome of their on-field efforts, though, there are long-standing friendships running through the current Norway team.

With the commitment and sacrifice that an international career demands, the lighter moments in camp provide crucial balance, and never more so than during several weeks together for a major tournament. Taking it upon herself to ignite Norwegian spirits before each game is a pace-setting midfielder.

“Now, it’s Vilde Bøe Risa (who’s team DJ), from Man U. We just listen to music and get a good vibe in the locker room.

“Guro Pettersen, the keeper, from Vålerenga, is the most entertaining.”

After an action-packed and life-changing past 12 months, recent weeks have seen Tuva enjoying vital switch-off time. The break included heading to Vaulen Open Air festival in Stavanger last month, with Zara Larsson and Sting among the headline acts at Vaulen Beach.

Also attending Bergenfest during her time in the city as a player, if she could be in the crowd for any band or artist from all-time, it is Queen she would grab a golden ticket for. Most typically, her listening reflects where her career has so far taken her, and the multi-national company she shares.

“I love a lot of genres, so a lot of different music; Norwegian, of course English, and German now, obviously, because we hear a lot of it,” she says, reaching for her phone to share some examples. “Which song we gonna take then?”

“I have my playlist. ‘Delilah’ by Emma Steinbakken, or ‘Floden.’

“I really like Karpe Diem, they’re really good, and big in Norway.”

Recent years have seen some headliners exit the national-team arena, like goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth, and at the other end of the field, Isabell Herlovsen. Most known for her attacking talents, those who shared a dressing room with the latter remember her for being even sharper on her feet than a back-tracking politician.

Tuva is asked whether anyone in the team has since emerged as a successor to their departed dancing queen.

“Not like she did it, because…it was a lot! But it was really nice, it makes energy.

“I feel like everyone (now) is in a good vibe. Some dance more than others, but it’s not like a dance that everyone gets up and does together before a game – but maybe we should try that for the World Cup, that’s a good suggestion!”

The end of the season brought Tuva’s first taste of a Bayern victory parade, as Munich’s Marienplatz played host to a joint-celebration of the men’s and women’s teams. During the season itself, it is their Serbian forward who brings the bounce for the Bavarians.

“Jovi (Jovana Damnjanović) plays the music. It’s a bit of a different kind of music; a bit old, a bit new, German songs, English songs.

“So, it’s kind of everything, and it’s really funny, because you never know what’s coming on!”

The element of surprise was in full effect with her aforementioned goal against Belgium last September. Darting out of defence to press the Belgian player about to receive the ball, it was that front-foot thinking that ultimately left her in pole position when the pass fell short.

With a gleeful charge to the touchline to celebrate, Tuva was mobbed by a flurry of overjoyed teammates.

“I didn’t expect it to happen, so it was a bit of a weird feeling; I think everyone was surprised! I usually don’t have those kinds of goals.

“It was my first (international) goal too, so…it had to be great!”

She is, however, not such a stranger to a crucial strike, with her 2022 season at Brann including a dramatic, stoppage-time winner against Avaldsnes, pouncing on a loose ball in the box to find the roof of the net. It was another meaningful step in a Toppserien-winning campaign, a year after they had won it in the club’s previous guise as Sandviken.

The foundation for the reputation Tuva currently holds came from almost a decade of senior football back home. The Stavanger-born, Bryne-raised player comes from a football family, with father Hugo also once a Norwegian international, helping Bryne to a historic domestic cup in 1987.

Just over eight years ago, it was Tuva’s older sister Hege who found herself in a World Cup squad, with Canada the destination. The two were teammates at Arna-Bjørnar, Klepp, and briefly for Norway; perhaps poignantly, Tuva’s debut in 2017 was Hege’s last international game.

The recent Klepp captain announced her retirement last year at 32, with the mother of two having scored over 100 goals in club football. Their older brother, Cato, meanwhile, was a forward whose career included time in Norway’s top division.

Continuing a family tradition is not always the straightforward privilege it might appear, with some feeling the weight of expectation and constant comparison. Tuva’s feelings, though, have remained free of such strain.

“Really free; I don’t feel pressure at all, actually. I get a lot of support, of course, but it’s always been free.

“I could do whatever, I didn’t have to play football, but it’s just the way it is when your whole family plays.”

In any case, she is perhaps only the second-most-famous individual in her household! Her beloved cockapoo, Vilja, has reached dog stardom that Air Bud would have been proud of, with a million-strong following on TikTok.

On the theme of branching out and conquering new markets, what if Tuva took her creative talents into the record industry one day? Given her uneasiness for singing, she is permitted to call on any teammates from her career to join her for a cover-track collaboration.

Her choice is a current Manchester United defender who was a Klepp teammate before her career in England. The former Chelsea player will sadly not be part of this World Cup due to injury, but Tuva has a plan in mind for her here, and…’it’s electrifying!’

“I really wanna record with Maria Thorisdottir, but I know it’s going to be so bad! But still, it’s just for the fun.

“Maybe a Grease song?”

Norway’s World Cup qualification was automatic (systematic…Hydramatic…), with a near-flawless record of nine wins and a draw. Their 47 goals came with just two conceded, though they know that their truest tests are to come.

Part of the squads at EURO 2017 and 2022, this is Tuva’s first tango on the global stage, starting with the competition’s curtain-raiser against co-hosts New Zealand at the impressive Eden Park in Auckland.

“I feel like we’re very lucky to have the opening game. I think it’s going to be a really exciting game, so we’re looking forward to it, but it is a really long trip, so my family and friends are probably going to stay at home and cheer from there.

“But it’s going to be an amazing experience. I feel like the last World Cup, when we did okay in that (eliminating Australia to reach the quarter-final), I feel like it was a change in Norway.

“It’s really fun that it means more to people, and people are more excited about it. We feel more support from home now, definitely.”

A first full season as a Bayern player follows the tournament. With new teammates including world-class names in Denmark forward Pernille Harder and Sweden defender Magdalena Eriksson, these are exciting times for a team with very real ambitions of becoming a leading European challenger.

Just a few months into her three-and-a-half-year contract, Germany has been good to Tuva so far. A player who puts her heart into where she is, she takes the bonds made with those around her seriously, memorably shedding tears in an interview immediately after the title-sealing Sandviken victory that relegated the team she had previously captained, Klepp.

Alongside taking care of Vilja, life outside football is satisfyingly uncomplicated for the most part.

“To be honest, I use a lot of time on her, but having friends and family over, my boyfriend, of course. A lot of walks, maybe eating out, in cafés and stuff.

“Just making the day go by, and I also actually like to clean! So, it’s a lot of cleaning in my house.”

The World Cup calls, but for the moment, it is ‘call waiting’…because Tuva has a more important match-up to take on! Thankfully for the Norway coaching staff, she will emerge from this one in pristine condition (due it not being real…).

The site’s regular final question over the years, the interviewee is asked to picture themselves in a 5-a-side game, alongside a set of current or former teammates of their choice. As always, the selection criteria centres simply upon those who would guarantee enjoyment.

“Fun players, then it needs to be Lisa Naalsund. Caroline Graham Hansen, of course; she’s really good but she’s always fun to play with.

“Four players…we have those two. We can take…Marit Bratberg Lund; I love playing with her.

“And the last one…Guro Bergsvand.”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow: @chris_brookes

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