By Kunle Adewale
The Super Falcons of Nigeria won the Africa Women Championship for an unprecedented eighth time last year in Cameroon. One of the team’s driving forces was Asisat Oshoala. Her effort did not go unnoticed as she was recently voted the African Women Player of the Year.
Asisat Oshoala has never compromised her passion for the round leather game as she abandoned her education for football against the wishes of her parents.
“My passion for football made me drop out of school. This is one sport I won’t compromise. Growing up, people see me as a tomboy as I always play alongside male footballers and still do at Arsenal and anytime I’m in Nigeria. Those that that chose to go to school do so because they want to make it life likewise those of us that opted to play football. Though, my opting to play football was against my parents’ wish because they were not happy with my decision then but now I have brought them joy. I’m still not ruling out returning to school,” Oshoala said.
Oshoala capped an exciting year by winning the 2016 Women’s Player of the Year Award, beating Elizabeth Addo of Black Queens of Ghana, and Gabrielle Onguene of Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon, to the award. She had earlier won the top scorer award at the Women’s AFCON in Cameroon, where she scored six goals in helping Nigeria win the African title for unprecedented eighth times.
Oshoala is, however, no stranger to the big stage. In 2015, at just 20, she was named the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, making her the first player to win the new award from the BBC World Service, voted for by football fans around the world, beating Spain’s Veronica Boquete, German Nadine Kessler, Scot Kim Little and Brazilian Marta to the honour.
Oshoala, who was the youngest player to be shortlisted, was the leading scorer at the Under-20s World Cup in Canada in 2014 and was voted the tournament’s best player.
Her performances led Nigeria to the final, where they were narrowly beaten by Germany, and she was also a major influence in the senior Nigeria team who won the African Women’s Championship the same year.
The effort also earned her a national award, Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) from President Goodluck Jonathan.
“It’s my second time having a handshake with the President and I am really happy about it because there are many Nigerians out there wishing to just see him, not to talk of shaking hands with him. Having this second opportunity to shake hands with him, I am really happy about it and I know it is the grace of God at work in my life. For me, it’s a dream come true,” she said.
Oshoala signed for Liverpool Ladies in July 2015, becoming the first African to feature in the Women’s Super League, with manager Matt Beard calling her “one of the world’s top young footballers”.
Mary Hockaday, controller of BBC World Service English in her tribute to Oshoala, said, “At still only 20, she’s proved herself a formidable talent on the pitch. I’m proud BBC World Service is supporting the women’s game and thrilled with the interest in the award,” she said.
To date, no individual has been so honoured in a competition than Oshoala, who was not only voted the Best Player in the 2014 Women’s U20 World Cup in Canada, but also carted away the Golden Boot for her goal-scoring prowess. Her seven goals helped Nigeria get to the final of the biennial competition for the second time; only to lose to the same opponent it lost to in the finals of the 2012 edition.
Oshoala made the headlines when she signed for Liverpool in July 2015, becoming the first African player to play for any English women’s side.
“When I got the deal from them, I was very excited. I supported Liverpool when I was younger, especially when Luis Suarez was still here. He’s a player I have really admired,” Oshoala said.
In addition to Suarez, the Falcons star also idolises former Real and AC Milan midfielder, Clarence Seedorf.
“I like him so much. I like players who work hard and give everything on the pitch. When you see a player like that, he is an inspiration. I love the way Seedorf played; I love everything about him. For the same reason, I admire Luis Suarez. He is ready to give everything and do everything for his club. I love players like that,” she said.
However, less than a year later, Oshoala shifted her loyalty to Arsenal Ladies after a season with Liverpool, scoring three goals in 12 league appearances for the Reds.
Arsenal Ladies Manager, Pedro Losa said: “Asisat is a fantastic talent and will be a great addition to our squad. She is quick, with excellent feet and has proven she can score goals so it’s very positive she has decided to join us.”
The former Rivers Angels player is indeed not comfortable with her comparison with Mercy Akide.
“I have heard people compare me with Mercy but the truth is I really do not like comparisons. I love Mercy, I really do. She’s a legend and has achieved a lot in the game and to be compared to her at this age is a privilege. It’s a challenge but with hard work, I will get better.”
Looking back, she would always be grateful to FC Robo, where she cut her professional teeth.
“I will always say a big thank to my first coach at FC Robo, Emmanuel Osahon. He discovered me and gave me my first break, before I joined Port Harcourt club, Rivers Angels sports club,” she recalled.
In a chat with THISDAY, former Falcons goalkeeper, Ann Chiejina is optimistic that the way Oshoala is going, she would one day climb the podium for the FIFA Award.
“I just hope and pray she keeps working hard. With the way she’s going she is not too far from being selected for the FIFA Women’s Footballer Award,” Chiejina said.
Meanwhile, Oshoala has called for the continent to make conditions better for women, saying: “We deserve more. The federations in every country have to do more for female football.”
Nicknamed Superzee by her appreciative teammates, the Nigerian striker owes her accolade to her speed and nose for goal.
Meanwhile, there are strong indication that Oshoala may be going to China following John Obi Mikel’s move to the Chinese Super League with Tianjin Teda and Odion Ighalo looking likely to also move to the Asian country, it has emerged that she might be the latest Nigerian footballer set for a big-money move to China.
Recent reports have suggested several unnamed Chinese clubs have contacted Arsenal Ladies about doing a deal for the Super Falcons striker.
Oshoala, whose contract with the Arsenal Ladies runs out at the end of the 2017 season, is believed to be considering a move, while the English club is also reported to be willing to cash in on the reigning African women’s player of the year.
The 22-year old joined the Arsenal Ladies nine months ago from the Liverpool Ladies, but is yet to have a wholly impressive season.
Kunle Adewale (ThisDay).