Asisat Oshoala: The Determined Dreamer
“I am just a girl who wants to get whatever she wants to get, on her own, I want to do things on my own, without waiting for anyone.”
For one involved in a team sport, such words easily raise an alarm and could easily project an image of a ruthless, individualistic goal-getter, who damns the world and consequences.
However, Asisat Oshoala is anything but. She’s jocular, affable and loves good ‘ol banter. Her social media page is joyful, reposting jokes, inviting random followers to join her on Instagram split-screen live stream and making open calls for a new boyfriend.
To understand Oshoala’s words is to follow the fine thread that has stitched her career from FC Robo to FC Barcelona. Her words reveal a tenacity that defines her and fuels her success. An independence that was present in Canada when as a fresh-faced teenager she stunned everyone at the U20 World Cup in 2014 winning the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards as Nigeria finished second.
It brought her to the bright lights of the 2019 Champions League finals and the dais at the 2017 CAF award ceremony, where she stood confidently with the Premier League’s current joint top scorers, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
Those traits took her to China in 2017 after spells with Liverpool and Arsenal ladies. The brow-raising move was widely criticised; she was told she couldn’t make anything of it. Oshoala proved doubters wrong, winning league and cup titles as well as the top scorer and best player awards. She capped it with her third African Women’s Player of the Year award.
“I just took responsibility of myself. I said to myself, I want to go through that, I just want to be myself. I just want to go ahead for whatever I wanted. This is why I became so independent. Whatever I have today, I took it by myself.”
Asisat learned from a young age that getting things done had to be on her terms, even if it meant defiance. Once Oshoala set her heart on something, she was going to get it, achieve it, whatever it took.
As a child, she hit a brick wall when she told her Physical Education teacher that she wanted to organise a female team in her school. She couldn’t just transfer to the neighbouring school, where she saw pure joy in the faces of girls having a kickabout. The wide-eyed Oshoala would go to the street every time she heard noise from the other school. “I went out to the street to watch them playing,” Oshoala says.
“We didn’t really have girls that had too much interest in football. So it was very difficult to actually form a team. It was not easy to find girls who wanted to kick the ball.”
She played with boys during lunch breaks and after school hours. “I don’t go for lunch and just go for short football sessions where all the boys played together, because my school didn’t really have a place to play football.” But she was considered a mere filler to make up the numbers.
“I was in this six-a-side team. The boys always used to say to me: ‘Don’t go to the front, just stay at the back. Just kick the balls out. You can’t score goals. You can’t dribble past defenders,’” Oshoala told FIFA.com
“And then the day came where we made it to a final. I dribbled two or three players and scored a goal. 1-0. End of the game. I remember saying to them, ‘Look at that. You don’t believe in me but look at what I can do.’”
There wasn’t much belief from her parents too, when she took to football. In fact, they disapproved of it. She tried to hide her passion for the game from them because they wanted only formal education for her. And nothing else that could distract her from her studies.
“Of course, I tried to hide it. Every Sunday morning we used to meet and play a bit, and I really didn’t want to miss it. So sometimes I disappeared for a while to go there. I didn’t mind annoying my mum, even if it meant risking to be punished.”
Then African parents were not supportive of their female children engaging in sports. There were stereotypes, finely-defined career paths and choices for the girl child that didn’t include rough tumble and kicking on dirt pitches. Go to school, maybe get to the university, find a job and settle down. It was the ‘normal’ life path Oshoala’s parents preferred for their child. It was the reason football on the street especially with boys was worrying for Asisat’s mum.
“I decided to pursue my dream but also to make sure to do my best at school. It was very difficult, it wasn’t that easy. I tried to make sure that I liked what they like. Because I believed if I could get good grades at school they would have no choice, they had to support me in my passion.”
It wasn’t that straightforward. Asisat’s parents rejected her dream especially when she dropped out of school to pursue football professionally. To them, she was leaving a secure path for a life of uncertainty.
Had Oshoala been a ‘normal’ girl, she would have given up on her dreams but she had chosen football or maybe it was the other way round. She was the girl that held on to the dream she had when she was very young, playing football with boys in crowded out spaces.
It is why she leads the Super Falcons in the Women’s World Cup as its key player after becoming the first African to play and score in the final of the UEFA Champions League.
It is the reason that the 24-year-old is in the conversation for one of the greatest footballers in Nigeria behind Perpetua Nkwocha and Mercy Akide.
Her parents have come round. If their visas come through, they will be cheering in the stands in France when Asisat takes to the field. She hopes to get more parents to be more supportive of their children’s sporting dreams with her foundation that aims to support young girls through education and sports.
“I passed through this stage and I know how difficult it is to pursue the interest in playing in football teams and going into sports in general when the parents say no,” Oshoala says
“They just give up along life. There are a lot of girls who stopped, they are not professional footballers, just because the parents stopped them from doing sports, which I don’t think is actually good because it’s not a wish. They don’t have to stop the kids from playing football just because they want them to go to school.”
She says seeing the dreams of many girls snuffed out, made her establish her foundation where she can make both parents and children aware that there is a way of merging education and football together.
“I feel if I share my story with these kids, if I share my story with the parents, they can have a change of mind, a change of reasoning in the way they think. They can actually support their kids in their big interest in sports in general, not just football. A lot of kids who look up to me have to make sure that their parents support them. It’s only the way of imagining education and football together.”
Most of those kids, both male and female, will watch Nigeria take on Norway, South Korea and France in a tough group. Nigeria’s group opponents are all ranked in the top 15 while the Super Falcons are ranked 38th in the FIFA rankings.
Asisat alongside her teammates will have to put up impressive performances to get Nigeria into the knockout stages for the first time since 1999.
“I’m not under any pressure. I’m not a player looking for a club or whatever. I’m just here to have fun and give my best as always,” Oshoala told Goal. It is textbook Oshoala, joy, fun and excellence while fulfilling her dream.
“It’s a big thing for me to play at the World Cup because I am just a young girl who had a dream to play football, not even professionally [at first],” she told ESPN.
“But along the line, I started to play professionally because I found out I had the opportunity of playing for my country. Then more and more opportunities came through. It’s been an interesting journey so far.”
She has already fulfilled her dream of playing football at the biggest stage. Asisat has a new dream now.
“My biggest dream in France is to help the team win the [Women’s World Cup] trophy.”
It will also be the dream of millions of young girls in Africa and abroad she inspires. She knows she has to give her all for her country and for those she inspires.
“Every time I get the opportunity to play football I always make sure I give 100 percent because you don’t know who is watching you. You don’t know which of these kids love you so much.
“They tell their parents they want to be like this player you know. So imagine you know not giving 100 percent on the pitch. You know what it means for them. You know you’re not teaching them the right way. So you’ve got to like go in 100 percent and also make sure you do your best every time.”