Little Ziza


Asisat Oshoala
Asisat Oshoala at Ullevi Stadium ahead of the UEFA Women's Champions League Final on May 15, 2021 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by David Lidstrom/Getty Images)

How time flies! It seems like yesterday, but it's already another year. Today, I'm 28 years old, and it feels like a lifetime since that young girl with a funny name played five-a-sides with boys on the dusty fields of Ikorodu. She had a dream, and the plan was to play professional football at a period when it was unpopular for girls to do so: nothing more, nothing less. So she persisted, and today, here I am.


Everything else that I've since accomplished has been God's divine providence - the awards, the championships, the notoriety. Don't get me wrong; I've put in my blood, sweat and tears to get where I am.


But the reality is, no one then could have fathomed how much I'd go on to achieve - not even me. But God did!


How could I have envisioned being a five-time recipient of the African Women's Footballer of the Year award? Or winning multiple championships across three continents? Or being a leading scorer on one of the greatest women's teams ever assembled? Not to talk of being mentioned in the same breath as great players like Mercy Akide and Perpetua Nwokocha - two women football legends I adored growing up.


That's why moments like today, I generally take a pause to reflect and be grateful for the gift of another year. In doing so, I remind myself of what's important, what got me here and what that little girl always wished for decades ago.


She wanted to be heard.

She wanted to inspire others.

She wanted to live a meaningful life.

To go where there's no path and leave a trail for others to follow.

To be remembered as someone who never gave up on her dreams despite the obstacles and challenges.

To become a symbol of strength, humility and optimism for women and men.


Looking back, I'm proud of the woman I've become, but there's still a lot of work to be done. There's still a lot of unfinished business and not a lot of time. There are still more championships to be won, hundreds of stories to be told, and hundreds of thousands more young girls to inspire.


As an athlete, I've learnt to look outside my comfort zone to do things differently. Some dreams require that you transcend your abilities on the pitch or the court and become more. As Lebron James - one of my favourite athletes - rightly puts it, "to be more than an athlete", we must be willing to find ways beyond just kicking a football or dribbling a basketball to contribute and change society for the better.


Asisat Oshoala with Player of the Match trophy
Asisat Oshoala poses with her VISA Player of the Match Award following the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group A match between Nigeria and Korea Republic at Stade des Alpes. (Photo by Johannes Simon - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Everything else that I've since accomplished has been God's divine providence - the awards, the championships, the notoriety. Don't get me wrong; I've put in my blood, sweat and tears to get where I am. But the reality is, no one then could have fathomed all that I'll go on to achieve - not even me. But God did!

In 2015, I began with my foundation, The Asisat Oshoala Foundation, to address just that. On the surface, the foundation focused on using football to create opportunities for young women in Nigeria. I recall hanging out with my old friends and former teammates whenever I went back home, wondering what could have been if they had the proper support to go pro.


Unfortunately for women in Nigeria, much of the attention around sports development still revolves around men's sports. So, in a sense, it was up to me to create the reality that I wanted to see. I made it a goal not just to support the skills development of the young women we worked with but to use the foundation to empower them with values and ideals that helped me become a successful professional footballer. Over the last seven years, thousands of young women have participated in our events and programs. Today, I'm proud to say that some of them are now my teammates playing alongside me in the Nigerian national team.

Asisat Oshoala and participant of Asisat Oshoala Academy
Asisat Oshoala. Photo taken for the 2022 edition of SHE Plays powered by Asisat Oshoala Academy at Vetland Grammar School Ifako-ijaiye, Lagos.

At the beginning of this year, I began to get restless about doing more to reach the hearts and minds of young girls at their most formative stage. I felt I could do more.


I believe it was sometime in March this year, while recouping from an injury, that my team began playing around with the idea of me creating a children's book. I loved the sound of it instantly. It was a lot different than anything I had done in the past.


To be honest, I went through a wide range of emotions. At first, I went from being excited to being anxious about how we'll pull it off to fearful about its reception by the fans to being excited again because it felt entirely new.


For one, I thought this project presented a unique opportunity to take my story and experiences and bring them all together in this make-believe universe I could create. And that sounded like fun. But as you can imagine, I had questions.


What would we call the project? What will the title be? I knew I wanted to create something for really young girls so they could start quite early to build self-confidence doing things they're passionate about - something I had but never really got the support of my family until I was much older. So I had all these questions that I needed answers to and thus began our journey.


Today, I'm happy to reveal that I will be publishing my first Children's picture book, which is set to launch next year, 2023, with the support of my friends at ATHLST Inc. The book is titled Little Ziza and the Golden Timepiece, and it follows the story of a young girl whose love for football encourages her grandma to gift her a golden timepiece that changes her life forever. It's a story written for 6-8 year-olds, and it teaches courage and wit and taps into the history of some of Africa's most extraordinary women leaders.

Cover Image of Asisat Oshoala's picture book "Little Ziza and the Golden Timepiece"

As a kid, I remember being inspired by the comic book series, Supa Strikas. My classmates and I would line up for the latest editions when they came out, and I recall saving my lunch money for weeks to be able to afford it. I loved the artwork and plots but always felt disappointed the stories didn't have strong female lead characters.


The comic book made it cool - the idea of boys playing football. Not taking anything away from that, but as a girl, I knew a lot of girls around me whose games were equally incredible. In fact, on the community pitches where we played, a good number of the girls were good enough to play with or against the boys, and I wanted a world that reflected that ideal in comic books or on TV. So now that I can do something about that, I'm really proud of the opportunity.


The story of Little Ziza represents my life in a lot of ways. Apart from her name being a play on my nickname, "Zee", you'll discover that she, too, is unassuming, strong-willed, loving, and graceful.


She wants to be heard.

She wants to inspire others.

She wants to live a meaningful life.

To go where there's no path and leave a trail for others to follow.

To be remembered as someone who never gave up on her dreams despite the obstacles and challenges.

To become a symbol of strength, humility and optimism.


I hope this project encourages more girls to play sports, find their voices and discover the amazing talent hidden on the inside. Like Ziza's story, I hope it reminds them that no one has permission to tell them that they cannot do what they've set out to achieve.


 

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