Pernille Harder: Scandinavia’s answer to The Beautiful Game

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LEIGH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Pernille Harder of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their team's second goal during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Manchester United Women and Chelsea Women at Leigh Sports Village on September 26, 2021 in Leigh, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

There are few things more thrilling than a player taking the ball down the field, embarking on a mazy dribble past two, three, four players and finishing with impudence and ease. It’s the absolute epitome of ‘O Jogo Bonito’ — the concept of ‘The Beautiful Game’ created by Pele that’s encapsulated by moments of true majesty on the football pitch.

For some players, goals like this are cornerstone moments in their career. Incredibly rare and endlessly recalled. For Pernille Harder, it’s an everyday occurrence.

The Rapid Dane, as so christened by the adoring Chelsea fans that currently get the privilege of watching her week-in-week-out, may as well host her own Goal of the Season competition. It seems absurd that she is yet to hold the crown of Best Player in the World, although that highlights the incredibly tough competition at the peak of the game.

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The rare breed tormenting defenders

Aoife Mannion was the latest victim. The defender is unquestionably one of United’s success stories this season. Plucked as a gamble from local rivals Manchester City, a precocious young defender stunted by injuries. In recent weeks, she had been showing form, suggesting that City had made a major mistake in letting her go. Against Harder, however, she was utterly powerless.

A long pass through from Guro Reiten gave Harder the inch and she stretched it for the mile. Chelsea’s No. 23 is one of a rare breed that seems faster with the ball than without it. The dribble was immaculate. Twisting, turning, shuffling, shimmying. As poor Mannion tried to read it, she slipped and stumbled. Sophie Baggaley left her life to try and close the angle. In comical fashion, she was only able to collide with Mannion as Harder stroked a simple finish home. The broad grin showed she enjoyed it.

Maria Thorisdottir came over to her central defensive partner and consoled her. She knows what it feels like. She too has been in the eye of the Harder hurricane. As the Dane accelerated through the gears past Jackie Groenen, the Norwegian — another former Blue — tried to keep up. She was shrugged aside with consummate ease. Harder was goal-side and there was no stopping her. The dinked finish over Earps looked so simple. It was not.

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They both join a catalogue of players who have been left bewildered, bothered and bemused by the lightning-quick feet and deadly finishing in Harder’s boots. Even her own partner, Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson, has struggled to keep up with her when VfL Wolfsburg systematically tore Chelsea to pieces time and time again in the Champions League.

The goalscorer out of the spotlight

Moments like this shouldn’t be a surprise anymore. Harder’s career record speaks for itself. A total of 91 goals in 112 appearances for Linköpings, lighting up the Damallsvenskan. A huge 106 in 114 for the She-Wolves. A sparkling European competition goalscoring record. The all-time top-scorer for Denmark, with a goal every two caps. She is a true footballing superstar.

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Harder announced herself in grand style to the WSL with a cheeky backheel flick for her first goal against Bristol City. In the first season, when Kerr and Kirby stole the spotlight, she quietly pulled strings in the background.

A truly absurd strike against Everton, minimal backlift that floated in the top corner. A clinical hat-trick against West Ham in the 2021 Continental Cup Semi-Final at Kingsmeadow. An impudent golf-esque dink over Lydia Williams to send Chelsea well on the way to a crucial derby win over Arsenal.

Important UWCL goals against her former employers and old enemies Bayern Munich, as Emma Hayes’ side almost ascended to the pinnacle of the European game.

Despite this, it was not viewed as enough to justify the world record outlay that brought her to Kingsmeadow.

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Pernille striving for perfection

Although Chelsea have stuttered and stumbled at times this season, Harder has not. She is one of a small minority that comes out with credit after the underwhelming UWCL campaign. She’s scored critical goals to secure points this season and generally looks a better fit in Chelsea’s side.

Kerr’s absence for the Asia Cup has allowed Harder to play in her more natural striking role recently. She rewarded her manager’s faith with a hat-trick, a goal and all-around impressive play. Since coming to England, she’s already won every single domestic honour on the table.

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Yet, none of this will be enough for Harder. Endlessly, she chases absolute footballing perfection. It is for that exact reason that she will inevitably one day sit on the throne of Best Women’s Player worldwide. Will it be at Chelsea? Impossible to answer.

For now, however, Blues fans can simply enjoy being Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.