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Juventus' Sofie Junge Pedersen on her concussion ordeal and why everyone should join Common Goal
Denmark international wants others to join charity venture
Last Updated: 10/07/19 7:25am
Sofie Junge Pedersen's career was almost ended by a head injury but now she is winning trophies at Juventus. Adam Bate caught up with her to discuss the trauma of that concussion and the charity work with Common Goal that she hopes will inspire other players to join the cause...
It was during a training session playing for her old club in Sweden that the incident happened. Sofie Junge Pedersen hit her head on the pitch after a collision and it was not immediately obvious how serious the damage was.
It would cost her a year of her career.
Three years on and Pedersen is thriving at Juventus but memories of those dark days when she could not be sure of making a full recovery remain fresh.
"It took me two-and-a-half years before I properly felt OK again," she tells Sky Sports. "There was about a month when I was thinking that I would not come back. That was tough. It was three months after the accident had happened and it wasn't getting any better.
"At that point I was thinking it would be two years before I could even start training again and that would have been a long time before I could get back to my usual physique. But that feeling only lasted for a short period. Other than that it was just a matter of time."
Pedersen moved back in with her parents in Denmark and was reliant on their support because of her physical restrictions. Being left immobile seemed particularly cruel for an international footballer who was being denied the opportunity to do what she does best.
"It was hard mentally because I could do nothing for four months," she adds. "Lying down is not physically hard but it was mentally hard because I did not know how long it would take.
"It is not like a knee injury where you know it will take six to 12 months and you know you can do a lot of training exercises even if it's not football. With concussion, you can't do training and there's no certain way of coming back because it differs from person to person.
"It was really tough to think every day what the best way was to get back. Even today, I still don't know if the small head exercises I did were the best way but I did everything that I could.
"Around the time when I got the concussion there was a lot of attention on the problem. It's still quite new but most people now know that concussion is serious and there's a lot of focus on the science of how to treat it. But there's still a long way to go."
Given that Pedersen has since joined Common Goal, one of the first hundred players to commit to the initiative that sees one per cent of her salary going to charitable causes, it would be tempting to think that this time to reflect changed her outlook on life.
The truth, however, is that Pedersen's interest in social issues is longstanding. The link up with Common Goal is a continuation of that rather than some epiphany. This summer, with Denmark having failed to qualify for the World Cup, she spent time in Zambia, but there have been five visits of her own to Ghana before that too. It is a passion.
"I am really interested in how we develop a society," she explains. "It is really important to me. This is what I want to do when I finish my football career.
"It was really important for me to go to Zambia and see the work that is being done there. It touches me to see how hard people are working to bring about change in their community. It was also great to see that the young people there have huge dreams for their future even though they are facing these huge challenges. That always touches me too.
"If we talk about sustainable development goals, the biggest thing is climate change but the next biggest is inequality because a lot of people deserve more than what they are getting right now. Maybe some of us in the rich world deserve a bit less too.
"Paying one per cent of your salary is just like a tax and I think that this is actually the best tool that we can use to fight inequality. Just pay taxes.
"My hope is that Common Goal can be a big movement and every player can join. I want it to be something that people join as the norm and I always think more people could join. I don't know what the reason is not to join. One per cent is so little. But it is growing and I think we will see more and more people joining. I don't think the growth has stopped."
In Zambia, Pedersen sat in on classroom discussions about gender issues and took part in life-skill sessions. But mostly she was coaching football - "showing that girls can play football as well as boys" - and it was there that the power of the game hit home.
"I saw what a great tool for change that football can be," she says. "I have seen it in Ghana and Zambia. When you bring football to development, you can get attention very easily."
And it helps that Pedersen plays for Juventus. "In the past, when I have gone to Ghana I have been presented as a national team player with Denmark and that's the big thing," she adds. "But now I am presented as a Juventus player and the reaction is amazing. You can tell that it is a famous club. It grabs a lot of attention when Juventus is mentioned."
Pedersen, 27, only signed for the club in December and is relishing the challenge of life at "the most professional club" she has played for in her career. "Everything is top level at Juventus and you can feel that the club has big ambitions," she says. The resources are in place and there is a Champions League campaign to look forward to as well.
Most importantly, Pedersen's health is no longer a concern.
"The problem is almost completely gone," she says. "It is not something I worry about now. I do still play with a helmet and I think I will continue to do that because I think that will be more normal in the future even for those players who have not had a concussion."
In March, there was a particularly special moment. Pedersen scored the late winner over rivals Fiorentina in front of a capacity crowd of 39,000 in Turin - a record for the women's game in Italy. The victory helped Juventus to retain the Serie A title. And the goal? It was, of all things, a header.