Exclusive Story Of Super Falcons striker, Asisat Oshoala
TANA AIYEJINA traces the beginnings of Super Falcons striker, Asisat Oshoala
The bell signifying the end of break time at Aunty Ayo International School, Ikoyi, Lagos, had just been rung, but a few of the pupils were still hanging around in groups outside, chatting excitedly.
Suddenly, they scampered in different directions as they found their ways into their classrooms. “The principal is coming,” they shouted, warning other pupils to rush into their classrooms.
Truly, the principal, Mr. Femi Agbede, a dark and hefty man, walked briskly into the compound. He walked straight into a classroom, where some of the pupils were having their exams.
This is a typical scenario at the school, the alma mater of Super Falcons striker, 2014 African Women’s Footballer of The Year, Young African Footballer of The Year and theBBCWomen’s Footballer of The Year 2015, Asisat Oshoala.
The Liverpool Ladies striker finished from Aunty Ayo International School in 2009, but in her time at the school, Oshoala’s break time was spent honing her skills as a footballer despite being the best in athletics.
“At break time, Asisat was always with boys, playing football with them. While she was here, she participated in a lot of sports and she was very good in most of them, especially in the sprints. During inter-house sports events of the school, she always won the overall best athlete prize. At invitational relays, my team was incomplete without her. I told her if she could combine sprinting with football, it would help her get past defenders easily,” Julius Adebowale, sports teacher, Aunty Ayo International School, said.
He added, “I joined the school in 2007 and immediately noticed her skills as a footballer. So, we built a football team in the school because of her. I made her the sports prefect and we played friendly games with neigbouring schools to help her develop her football skills.”
On leaving school in 2009, Oshoala signed for FC Robo, a club side based in Mushin, Lagos, but famed for breeding talented and young female footballers. She spent four seasons with Robo, before sealing a big move to foremost Nigerian club side, Rivers Angels, in 2013.
She won the league and Cup double with the Port Harcourt side in 2014, but Angels were resigned to losing her after she won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada, and also being crowned as the best player and second highest goal scorer at the 2014 African Women’s Championship in Namibia.
She joined Liverpool Ladies on January 23 with manager, Matt Beard, describing her as “one of the best young players in the world.”
In May, when she was announced as the first winner of theBBC Women’s Footballer of The Year, beating Brazilian Marta, Spain’s Veronica Boquete, Nadine Kessler (Germany) and Kim Little (Scotland), to the honour, there was rapturous jubilations at Aunty Ayo International School by teachers and pupils.
“The news was first broken to me by outsiders, those who associated her with the school. They sent SMS to inform me that she had won the BBC award. We were highly elated and everybody in the school was in jubilant mood,” the school’s principal, Femi Agbede, said.
“I spoke about it in the assembly and I told the pupils that everyone is talented in one way or the other. All they need is just to discover their talent and develop it. I mentioned that while Asisat was here, she used to play with boys.”
But Agbede and his teachers faced an initial challenge from Oshoala’s mother, who didn’t want her daughter to play the game.
The principal said Oshoala didn’t do badly academically but her mother was worried that her involvement in football would affect her educationally.
And so, she visited the school on several occasions to ensure that her daughter stopped playing football. Sometimes, her visits ended in rows between her and the teachers.
Agbede said, “I will describe Asisat as an average pupil. Academically she is average but her first love is sports. Even after school hours, you could see her running around playing football and her mother didn’t like it.
“I remember on one or two occasions, her mother came here to complain that she didn’t send her daughter here to play football. She said she wanted her to learn. In fact, she quarrelled with a lot of teachers.
“In education, we have three aspects of learning: the cognitive, which is the academic aspect; the affective, which is the behavioural; and the psychomotor, which involves the use of energy to do certain things like sports.
“But many parents don’t believe in the psychomotor aspect of education. Nowadays, sports, acting and comedy can take you to higher grounds even higher than academics.
“We used to appeal to her to encourage Asisat because we never knew where sports would take her to. And we made sure she excelled. But today, we are all happy to be associated with her.”
The player, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, confirmed her former principal’s story.
She said, “I had a very difficult beginning as a footballer but I was able to handle it and I knew what my parents wanted. They wanted the best for me. I called them and explained to them, that ‘This is what I want for now.’ They said it was okay.
“Sometimes my parents would say, ‘If you go out of this house to play football, make sure you don’t come back.’ My dad would threaten, ‘If you keep on doing sports, I won’t pay your school fees again.’ I faced so many instances like that but I was able to scale through.”
Though Oshoala hails from Ikorodu, she was born in Lagos Island on October 9, 1994. According to her father, Alhaji Lukmon Oshoala, a trader who sells jewellery in Idumota Market, “Asisat is very lively, straightforward and very respectful.”
But he was stunned, when his daughter disobeyed him because of her love for the game. She began playing football with boys on Oke Arin Street, Idumota, Lagos, against her parents’ advice. But like any typical erring child, she devised means to hide her involvement in football from her father.
Alhaji Oshoala stated, “I first stopped her from playing but a friend advised me to let her play because she had the talent, which he said I shouldn’t allow to waste.
“She listens to advice from elders but when I didn’t want her to play football, she violated my rules. For example, if I am out of the house, she will go and play football with the boys. But when she hears that I am coming, she will run away because she doesn’t want me to know that she has been playing football.
“Sometimes, she would pretend to be doing ablution, as if she is coming from the mosque, so that I won’t know she went to play football. Later, I called her and asked her, ‘Do you want to play football?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ And I gave her my blessings, but I told her, ‘Don’t play on the streets, find a field where you can play.’ So, she started going to the National Stadium, Lagos, for training. From there she joined FC Robo.”
At the National Stadium, FC Robo coach, Emmanuel Osahon’s prying eyes caught Oshoala’s raw skills, after she dazzled in a friendly game against his club. Osahon immediately approached the player, and he turned her into the finished product, who would later become a global queen of the game.
Osahon said, “We had a tournament and Asisat was playing for another team. She is very athletic. I saw the qualities of Rashidi Yekini in her. I knew she was going to be a great striker in the future.
“I called her and asked her, “Do you have a coach and team?” She said, ‘No, I just came to play for them.’ And I asked her if she would like to join my team. She agreed but said I should see her parents. I went to Lagos Island to see her dad and mum and that was how it started.
“I started working on her. Most of the trainings was on her speed, because she had the potential already.”
But the coach also encountered some challenges from the footballer’s mother, who this time, wanted her daughter to learn her trade.
“Only her dad supported her from the onset. The mum would complain; she sells shoes and bags on the Island. So, as a lady, she wanted Asisat to stay in her shop after school but the girl was adamant because she wanted to play football,” Osahon added.
After her parents’ consent, Oshoala began on the often rough journeys of the country’s footballers. She joined Robo squad at their sandy and bumpy training ground inside Archbishop Aggey Memorial Secondary School, Mushin.
But the poor conditions didn’t deter Oshoala, popularly known as Superzee. Rather, it served as a challenge for the then emerging star. Even after gaining global acclaim, she came back to train with her ex-teammates in Mushin.
“She was always the first and last in training; Asisat loves training and she trained twice every day. She even trained on Sundays and Christmas days. Before she went to Liverpool Ladies, she was here in December and trained with us,” Osahon said.
She never wanted to be on the losing side, according to ex-teammate at Robo, Maria Oke. The midfielder said she had to play the role of a big sister and tried to cheer up the player, whenever she had a bad game.
Oke said, “I discovered that anytime she lost a scoring chance, she would cry and say she doesn’t want to play football again. I would call her and tell her, ‘You just started; you have to be focused and be creative.’ I will pet her and our teammates started calling us mother and daughter.
“Once the coaches complain about her game, she would make sure she works on the lapses before our next game. So, I wasn’t surprise at her rise. She was already winning awards here, so we knew something great was going to happen to her.”
FC Robo was and is still enmeshed in all sorts of financial crisis. Playing away from home in the league is hellish for the entire squad.
Officials now have to hire commercial buses for away games, as the club’s bus is rickety and can no longer make trips out of Lagos. The slow-moving bus used to spend long hours on the road, with players getting tired when they got to match venues.
Osahon added, “It’s not easy managing 38 women but our major challenge is finance. The way we feed at times is pathetic; the way we travel for matches is also worrisome. It’s always been like that with us.
“You need to see our team bus. Who will believe that Asisat, the BBC Women’s Footballer of The Year was driven in this bus for matches? It doesn’t move fast and sometimes it would break down on our way to matches.
“But the girls want to play and FC Robo is the chance they have to play. Most coaches in other clubs don’t entertain young girls. But our team is open to everybody.”
It’s rare to find coaches wear jerseys of rival clubs. Our correspondent saw Osahon wearing a Rivers Angels jersey, during a visit to the team’s camp in Mushin.
“I wore it because it is Asisat’s. Irrespective of where she plays, she is my daughter. She is still part of the FC Robo family, so we are all happy to see her progress to bigger clubs,” he said.
Truly, Oshoala’s name and the number four, was written on the jersey.
Indeed it’s a testament of the love that exists in the team despite their challenges.
That is why Oshoala’s meteoric rise serves as a source of inspiration to the up-and-coming stars at the club.
“It’s shown us that if she could get to where she is today, nothing stops any other player here from getting there as well. If you struggle, you will make it in life,” Robo captain, Rasheedat Ajibade, a member of the Flamingoes at the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup, said.
A former House of Representatives member, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who hails from Ikorodu as Oshoala, says the Liverpool Ladies forward’s grass to grace story symbolises the typical Ikorodu woman.
Modupe Osikoya, the star athlete at the 1973 All-Africa Games in Lagos, is also from Ikorodu.
“The Ikorodu woman never gives up. She wants to be the best in whatever she does. Asisat has made every Nigerian woman proud. We are not surprised because she is a true Ikorodu woman. She can only get better,” Dabiri-Erewa said.
Oshoala once had her eyes focused on a career in law but that dream has to wait. She is not done with football.
“I used to dream about being a lawyer because I interrogate people a lot. I like to know more about things and I like being truthful. I am concentrating on playing football right now,” she said.
Oshoala was given the BBC award on the eve of the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. That feat raised the hope of an entire nation. There were expectations back home and Oshoala, despite being one of the youngest, carried the responsibility of the nation.
Since she became a core member of the Falcons, she’s been colossal. If she played well, the team played well and vice versa. So football-lovers were praying fervently that she peaked at the World Cup.
Unfortunately, she and the entire team failed to sparkle as the Falcons crashed out in the group stage after managing just one point from a tough group that had Sweden, Australia and eventual champions USA.
Oshoala scored a goal in the opening 3-3 draw against Sweden. Osahon believes inexperience at that level counted against the Liverpool woman and her teammates.
He said, “Most of the girls were new. They were probably jittery. The standard of our league is incomparable to what you have outside Africa and our opponents are football nations. We had only few overseas-based professionals in the squad. Apart from Asisat, how many of them play in Grade A leagues? So, how can a tree make a forest?
“If I were coach of the team, I will use Asisat as top striker because of her speed. Desire Oparanozie is stronger, so I will use her as a support striker.”
Asked where he expects Oshoala to be when she clocks 25, Osahon insisted her former player had nothing to prove again in women football.
“She is in her peak now. She’s played at the U-20 World Cup, AWC, World Cup, plays for one of the best women’s clubs in the world and won many local and international individual awards. We need to pray that she doesn’t cop an injury that would affect her and that she is able to control the euphoria of her success,” Osahon added.
Oshoala admits the women’s game is a victim of the harsh economic conditions in the country. But she wants the young ones to take a cue from her success story.
Oshoala said, “I think the way they pay the players is not encouraging. The government should also try and fix the girls up, this will encourage them. When you earn well, you will be very happy and ready to do even better.
“They (players) should just keep their heads up and keep training hard like I do. I trained so hard and today, I am reaping the fruits.”