Spain turning major destination for Nigerian women footballers – 30th July, 2020

On July 23, 2014, the New York Times reported how more than 1,000 African migrants rushed towards the high fences topped with razor wire.

They were met by the Moroccan police, who, with the support of the Spanish military police and a Spanish helicopter thwarted their plan to scale the fences and enter Europe through this tiny Spanish enclave that clings to Northern Morocco.

It was the second mass crossing to fail that week and one of the largest during that period when hundreds of migrants launched themselves at the fences on three separate occasions.

But for Nili Onana, a basketball player from Cameroon, who made it over in a wave on May 28 and was interviewed in a short-stay centre for immigrants in Melilla, getting to Spain was a matter of life and death.

He was one of about 2,500 migrants who made it over the fence in the first five months of that year.

Some Nigerian female footballers, however, did not need to jump the fence to seek greener pastures in Spain, rather, they chose the talent route. Talents, they say, gets you what willpower can’t.

Moving abroad is many players’ dream, especially if you are from Africa. In a continent where women football is far less publicised like that of men, it takes guts and lots of hard work to get out of the woods. The game itself has been pushed to the backseat, compared to its European and American counterparts.

Having conquered Africa on several occasions, the next destination is Europe for Nigerian female footballers. Many of the Nigerian women have since secured contracts in Spanish clubs.

Since Francisca Ordega paved the way with a loan move in 2017 to Atletico Madrid, Spain has become a big gain for Nigerian female football stars, who seem to have found new homes and equally eased their pains with mouth-watering moves to Spain.

Here are some worthy Nigerian ambassadors that have made their mark in Spain and others who are still lighting up the Spanish Primera Iberdrola and inadvertently, paving the way for others

Asisat Oshoala (FC Barcelona)

This lanky striker is arguably Nigeria’s best export to Spanish Primera Iberdrola. Until her arrival in Spain in January 2019, virtually none of her new teammates were conscious of her success story for both club and country. However, at Barca, Oshoala has clearly shown she is one of the best female centre forwards in the world today.

Ideally, one of the secrets of success is to study those who succeed in their craft and imitate them. Oshoala knows this too well. A source close to her revealed that the former Rivers Angel goal machine had to watch videos of Barca matches to ascertain if she can fit into their style before putting pen to paper. Sadly enough, only a few African footballers put such factors into consideration.

Few weeks into her arrival in Barcelona, she took time out to study how Luis Suarez fit into the Catalonia side because she was bent on replicating what the Uruguayan is doing with the male team.

She has not looked back since then. Her versatility and hard work eventually paid off after Barca offered Oshoala full transfer and extension till 2022.

Ordinarily, any female player will nod with envy when Barca goal machine, Jennifer Hermos, tears through watertight defences and decimates defenders with ease, but Oshoala was not intimidated, rather she pushed herself beyond limit; scoring 20 goals last season.

The four-time Africa Women Footballer of The Year Award winner also won the Golden Ball at both 2014 U–20 World Cup and Women’s AFCON.

Rita Chikwelu (Madrid CFF)

This midfield generalissimo joined the ever-increasing numbers of Nigerian and African players in the Primera Iberdrola, after signing six months loan deal with Madrid CFF.

Having spent a decade in Sweden with UMEA IK and Kristianstad where she banged in 60 goals, she admitted that her decision to move to Spain stems from her hunger to be more competitive at 31.

“This is a different and competitive league, as a footballer you want to test yourself around the best players,” she told BBC Sport.

“The Spanish league is an interesting place for African players and I believe this will continue to help develop our players’ game and their profile.”

The two times Africa Women Cup of Nation champions hit the ground running barely two weeks after her arrival by scoring a goal on debut for Madrid Femenino in their 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao. She scored a total of four goals from seven appearances.

Toni Payne ( Sevilla FC)

As Sevilla FC players celebrated their survival from the drop, one of the happy Sevilla Femini players could be excused for celebrating far into the night.

With the club struggling to make up the numbers in the league, Sevilla had their American-Nigerian import to thank for helping them to Liga Iberdrola safety.

Payne was later rewarded for her effort with a year deal extension. The former Concacaf Women’s U-17 winner with the USA joined Sevilla after ending her two-year sojourn with Netherlands Eredivisie women’s champions Ajax in July 2018.

Payne is adored by club fans and officials alike following an impressive debut season where she scored 10 goals and provided three assists in 30 appearances.

Many are waiting patiently to see if Nigeria football officials will step up efforts to win her over as invitation from USA beckons.

Running with the ball at pace, providing a good service and cutting in to carry a goal threat, her wealth of expertise and experience will be valuable if she eventually achieves her dream of playing for Nigeria.

Chidinma Okeke (Madrid CFF)

This 19-year old defender has been tipped to be the next big thing in Nigeria female football, given her exploits in Spanish Women League with Madrid CFF.

The former FC Robo captain moved to Spain last summer after her no-nonsense defending ensured Falconets reach the U20 Women’s World Cup quarter-finals in France.

Her ability to convert defence into attack stood her out in France last year when her tailored pass set Asisat Oshoala up for Nigeria’s opening goal in the 2-0 win over Korea.

A product of principal cup, Chidinma featured seven times for Madrid CFF with no goal account yet before Covid-19 lockdown, but she is back and better from a knee injury she suffered last November.

Peace Efih (Sporting de Huelva)

The 19 years old former Rivers Angel midfielder became the second African to join the Huelva-based outfit on a year deal after the club signed on a Ghanaian striker, Princella Adebea, in July 2019.

A product of Nigeria U-20 side in France, Efih inspired Sporting Club de Huelva to a 3-1 win over San Roque Cadete on her unofficial debut.

In June this year, she announced her departure from Spanish Liga Iberdrola side Sporting de Huelva after just a season with the club but contract renewal is possible following the suspension of several female leagues in Europe.

The midfielder who made just 18 appearances in just concluded season with the club is one of Nigeria’s promising midfielders that will take the baton from Rita Chikwelu.

Apart from the fantastic five randomly highlighted, some other players have come and gone from Spain while negotiations are even ongoing to bring in more Nigerian players to Spain.

The latest is goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi and midfielder Evelyn Nwabuoku who are close to officially completing moves to Reto Iberdrola side CD Pozoalbense.

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