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My mother encouraged me to play football – Uwak

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Playing football as a female could be challenging to many others but not to her. Former African Footballer of the Year and Aland United of Finland forward, Cynthia Uwak, tells Idris Adesina about her career and challenges facing women’s football in Africa

Not much has been heard about you since you last played for the Super Falcons. How are you faring in your club, Aland United in Finland?

Well let’s just say I’ve not been actively heard in Nigeria but a lot is being heard about me in Europe and I’m still making waves. Aland United is doing well and great so far and we are still at the top of the league and we are working hard to make sure it stays that way till the end.

You were top scorer in the Finish League last season as Aland United emerged winners. With 10 goals so far this season, do you think you can meet and surpass that target this season?

Oh I’m not ruling it out. With a few games to go, everything and anything is still possible so yeah I’m not ruling it out.

You started your club career in Finland with KMF then had a brief stint in France with Lyon in 2008 and Germany with Saarbrucken between 2009 and 2011 before coming back to Finland. How would you rate the three leagues you have played in?

Tough one! Every country has its calibre of players and their system of play so I really can’t compare but the German League I will say is still one of the best.

At 28 years, you are still strong and still scoring goals but you have been excluded from the Falcons. What is the problem?

In order to be at the top you must be willing to do the extra. Age is just a thing of the mind and with it comes experience. But the national team question is the same question the majority of the Cynthia Uwak fans keep asking but I wish I have an answer to it. I better say I’m as clueless as you are in that regard.

Are you hoping to return to the national team once more?

Why not? Yes, if I’m given the opportunity I sure would honour it and serve my motherland.

The Falcons, once unbeatable in Africa, are now struggling with the likes of Equatorial Guinea staking a claim as queens of Africa. What do you think is responsible for this decline?

That goes to show that women’s football in Africa is improving and no longer one sided. There is always that moment you slip but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of it, the Super Falcons are no doubt still the best but it just will take a little more hard work, determination and dedication, to claim it again.

You played for Nigeria at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup some years back and scored five goals. Asisat Oshoala had seven in the just concluded edition in Canada, making her the highest goal scorer ever at that level. How do you see the girl in a few years?

The young shall grow. She has set a new record I have to give it to her because she deserves it. She is a very promising young talent. I believe humility and hard work would take her to places without doubt.

The Falconets were beaten by Germany in the final of the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Which of the players do you think can make an impact with the Falcons?

They all did play very well. I’m not singling out any one of them because I believe they are the future Super Falcons generation.

Nigeria has an impressive record in the age-grade World Cups but has yet to translate it to the senior level. How do you view this trend?

Another tough one! I think sometimes it’s not all about physical power, individual skills and all. Sometimes it’s about the game plan; the game model, a pattern you build towards the game and then execute. There is just a lot more. But I think it’s time for Nigeria to step it up.

Not much attention has been paid to the women’s game in Nigeria. Do you think that the women’s teams have done enough to warrant better consideration from the federation and sponsors?

Yes, the women football teams have done more than enough. They deserve a fair treatment, they need to pay attention to them and treat them well. A little more attention wouldn’t be a bad idea; I think it’s just about time things changed.

How and when did you start playing football? Was it easy initially?

I can’t remember but I was pretty young playing with boys on the street; you know how it is back at home. No adequate facilities but we make do with every little space we had back then and yeah, it was fun and one of the good old days that are memorable.

What were the challenges you faced in the beginning?

Well I really didn’t face challenges or maybe none that I can remember.

Were you punished by your parents/guardians for playing football?

Not at all, I was encouraged by my mum and I was able to combine it with my secondary education.

As a striker, who is the toughest defender you played against?

I really can’t say. I have played against a couple of good defenders and in different leagues, so I really can’t come up with one.

What are your best and worst moments?

My worse moment was when Aland United crashed out of the UEFA Women’s Champions League play offs. My best moments were when I played in the FIFA women world all stars and also when I won my third consecutive league title in a row. There are many other best memories.

Have you ever been discriminated against as a female player?

Maybe in my absence. I have no clue and I have not had any I can remember.

How has football imparted your life?

I really can’t put it into words but it has imparted my life in so many ways.

If you were not a footballer, what would you have been?

If I had not been playing football, I would have been multi-tasking; doing business here and there.

Having won the African Footballer of the Year and the African Women’s Championship title twice, how would you rate women’s football in Africa?

Women’s football in Africa has improved a lot. It has grown from what it used to be; we are blessed with good and great talents and I believe it’s about time to conquer the world and yes we can.

Due to the nature of the job and your passion for it, how easy has it been for you to attract the opposite sex?

I don’t know how to attract people. It isn’t my job, I believe in simplicity. Just live your life and be you.

Then when you aren’t playing or training, how do you pass time?

I do a lot of things when I’m off season. I travel, spend time with my family and a lot more.

How does Cynthia cope with the weather of Finland being a Scandinavian country where it gets cold most time of the year?

I have been playing in Europe since 2005; you should know what that means. You can’t get used to it but you just have to adapt.

Do you think the issue of lesbianism affected the performances of the women’s teams in Nigeria?

I can’t say much on that. Besides I haven’t been in the national team camp since they started this rumour of lesbianism thing and for me, I don’t believe in rumours. So, I don’t know whether it affects the team or not.

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