At a time when few fathers would allow their daughters to indulge in the manly game of football, Super Falcons rugged striker, Francesca Ordega, had the total support of her father who bought her first soccer boot.
She said: As a child growing up, I got fascinated seeing 22 boys chasing a round object about in an effort to outscore each other. I then started playing with boys since girls were very few who played soccer. My dad encouraged me when he noticed I could play well with the boys. He bought me my first soccer boot and I am forever grateful for that.
From that moment and coupled with that fatherly support, Ordega has not looked back and moved on to become one of Nigerias biggest female soccer stars.
Ordega earned herself cult status following her exploits at the Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) and in the United States of America (USA), where she plied her trade with Washington Spirit. The 26-year-old is good on the wing and wowed fans with her pacy runs as Nigeria cruised to the 2018 title.
Ordega also made the final shortlist for the CAF Womens Player of the Year in 2018 alongside Asisat Oshoala and South Africas Chrestinah Thembi Kgatlana.
Ordega has, however, described her latest move to the Chinese football league as good and tough at the same time. Speaking exclusively with Sport & Style from her base in China, the 26-year-old rugged journeyman has played in the United States, Australia and Spain before her latest move to China this year.
Narrating both positive and negative qualities of living and working in China, the Shanghai Shenhua star said: Life is good in China and I have successfully settled down and playing the Chinese women football league. The league is tough but definitely not the best in the world.
The league in China is not in the class of that of U.S or what we have in Europe in terms of quality and organisation but it certainly is improving rapidly. The Chinese league is fast and you have to do a lot of running to cope. The attraction there is that they pay well and renowned players from all over the world are coming over to play in the league.
Though she has played in two World Cup tournaments, she is still not happy that she has not been at an Olympic games. Failing to qualify for three consecutive Olympic Games is perhaps her only regret in her career as a football player for country and club sides. Her sight is, however, focused on the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The down-to-earth Nigeria international is also blunt and when asked to assess Nigerias progress in the women football blurted out: I dont even think Super Falcons can win the World Cup in the near future, because you cant measure the standard of other countries to ours. So much is needed to be done before we can begin to dream of winning the World Cup. We are still very far from conquering the world. Check out the structures and plans of other countries and you discover that we are not near.
Though the Super Falcons have played at all eight FIFA Womens World Cup since 1991, one of seven teams to do so, Nigeria has retrogressed from the quarter final achieved in 1999 to 21st position in 2019.
She added: While the advanced countries have programme for U-10, U-12, U-14, and U-16 to the senior level, what do we have? They have good leagues and well organised but we dont have anything. We can only imagine but winning the World Cup is not happening anytime soon, not even in the nearest future with the way things are now.
Ordega opened up on other matters, including growing up, choosing football as a career, fame and riches and regrets: Excerpts.
FAME AND RICHIES
I chose to take soccer as a career because growing up I have always wanted to appear on television as a celebrity, either as movie star or a football star. Football gave me the break and today I will say I have achieved my childhood dream. I can hardly walk free in Makurdi, Lagos, Abuja and some parts of the world where I have played. Football has brought me fame and money but not very much wealth. I thank God for his mercies.
EQUAL WAGES FOR MEN AND WOMEN
I am 100% in support of equal pay for male and female footballers. The gap in the remunerations is just too wide and if women players cannot get equal treatment, they should consider paying the ladies about 70 to 80% of the mens pay packet. The boys earn so much at their respective clubs abroad and compare to what the girls are paid in the clubs, you discover it is peanuts. I am an advocate of equal pay for male and female players.
Lionel Messi is my role model. He is the best footballer in the world and I like his game and attitude on and off the pitch. I tried to play like him but I wasnt blessed with the special gift that Messi has.
There have been many ups and downs in my career but I guess my biggest regret must be the pain of failing to qualify for three consecutive Olympic Games with the Super Falcons. I was in the team that missed the 2012, 2016 and now 2020 Olympic Games.
I played with pains against Cote d Ivoire with the hope of helping my team qualify but we were unlucky to draw that game and crashed out. It is a regret I doubt if I will be able to make up for before retirement. I will be 31 years of age by the time the next Olympic comes around in 2024 and I dont think my husband will allow me to continue playing instead of making babies. Anyway, I will try to remain fit to achieve my Olympic Games dream.
CRISIS IN SUPER FALCONS
There is no crisis in Super Falcons. We are united and it is not true that infighting and disharmony in camp caused us our Olympic Games ticket. Our interim coach, Chris Danjuma, tried his best to get us the needed win but it was not to be and we crashed out. He is a good and very hard working coach but on that day we failed to deliver. The change in captaincy did not divide the team as being speculated. It was just one of those days when nothing works for you
THE ROLE OF RUTH DAVID
Head of women football development, Ruth David, is a mother to us and I am very close to her. I dont care what they say about her but I know she ran our camps like a mother.
She is strict but jovial with the players and officials. She is detailed and a passionate woman who wants the best for our country. She borrowed money from friends and relatives to pay us our outstanding allowances to avoid a planned protest during the pre-World Cup camp in Austria. This was the second time she had saved the country from such national disgrace from players. She doesnt short pay or collect gratification from any player or officials. I will miss her now that she has been removed and I pray that her removal will not be counterproductive.
I will marry one day but I cant tell when it will be. I wont tell you whether I am in a relationship because I dont discuss that in the public. Its a private thing and I dont like going public with my affairs.
My husband will decide whether I will continue to play after marriage. I will like to continue until my legs could carry me no more. It will be my husbands decision. But an Olympic Games participation in 2024 may fast track my retirement.
ARE YOU A ROMANTIC WOMAN?
Oh my God, its a difficult one to answer but I think I am very romantic. Why wont I be? I am beautiful and I cannot afford not to be a loving and romantic.
The most memorable moment of my football was in 2015 when I scored my first senior Womens World Cup goal in Canada.
The lowest moment was 2016 in America when my club side Washington Spirit played in the NWSL championship finals. We were leading 2-1 and our opponent equalised two seconds to the end of the game and we lost the title by penalty shootout. I wept that day because we were warming up to receive the trophy. It was very painful and I have yet to erase it from my memory.