Asisat Oshoala: Queen of African football
Unless you're a classic movie buff, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn sailing down an east African river in a dilapidated boat during World War I probably doesn't register. The boat was named the African Queen. It's poor condition allowed it to sneak up on an unsuspecting German gunboat. Football's version of the African Queen, Asisat Oshoala is much more polished but no less dangerous.
It’s a given fact women football remains far less publicized than the men's game. In the latter, African football takes a back seat to both Europe and South America. That pushes the women's game even further from the average fan's consciousness. They'd be well-advised to let Oshoala sneak up on them, however.
At the 2014 Women’s U20 World Cup in Canada, the Nigerian shone brighter than anyone. The green jersey with the number four on the back caught everyone's eye. Oshoala plundered seven goals and two assists to scoop both the Golden Ball for best player and Golden Boot for top scorer.
The Super Falcons fell at the last hurdle, though, when Oshoala and her teammates couldn't sink Germany. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old had distinguished herself; the world had finally taken notice.
Prior to her astonishing achievements at the Youth World Cup, Oshoala had been a wunderkind for Rivers Angels in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Her mesmerising displays were seen only by the few fans who cared to watch the Women's Premier League. While she was a Nigerian Champion before jetting off to Canada, her profile remained low.
Her jaw-dropping performance in the Great White North gave the entire world a glimpse. Liverpool showed the most interest. Before long, the youngster was a Red.
Oshoala's time at Liverpool was topsy-turvy. A knee injury ruled her out for a large chunk of the season. Popularly known as ‘Superzee’, the skilful forward only registered three goals in 12 League appearances for the Reds. Undeterred by the fact the Nigerian striker had not set the Women’s Super League alight on Merseyside, Arsenal was sufficiently impressed to trigger her release clause.
Superzee's first title in English football came with the Gunners. She was a first-team regular for the most successful club in English Women’s football. Lower standards of living and fewer opportunities in Africa mean its footballers, gender notwithstanding, tend to be more mercenary. Thus, a second title wouldn't be forthcoming. A winners medal represented a stepping stone to Chinese money for Oshoala.
Myopic English fans and pundits didn't take the decision well. Financial security leaves room for loyalty that doesn't exist elsewhere. Even so, very few footballers of any nationality would down the chance to increase their pay seven-fold while still doing the job they loved. Would you?
Hard feelings left behind, the 23-year-old has gone on to become a winner in the Far East. The recently concluded Chinese Women’s Super League featured Oshoala as its top scorer with 12 goals. Those goals helped Dalian Quanjian win the domestic double in her first season.
African football continues to grow but the women's game needs all the help it can get. While moving abroad, Oshoala has continued to shine light on her homeland. In 2014 and 2016 she led the Super Falcons to their ninth and tenth African Cups of Nations, achieving a continental La Decima if you will. She has also been crowned African Footballer of the Year three times. That leaves her one shy of compatriot, Perpetua Nkwocha, who won the award four times.
Some amazing players have emerged from the sun-baked continent over the years. Asisat Oshoala is the latest African queen.