Egyptian role model Sarah Essam raises the bar for Arab female footballers

With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, Sarah is looking forward to return to the pitch. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 September 2020

Egyptian role model Sarah Essam raises the bar for Arab female footballers

  • The Stoke City Ladies forward is the only Arab female currently playing professionally in Europe
  • Sarah Essam says she isn’t interested in Middle East women’s football for her yet

DUBAI: For Sarah Essam, the only female Arab footballer playing professionally in a European league, the long wait to score her next goal is almost over.

The Egyptian forward has not taken part in a competitive match in the English FA Women’s Premier League (North) since the Covid-19 pandemic brought all sporting fixtures to a halt in March, and she is now itching to get back onto the pitch. On Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, she will be looking to pick up the form that has made her one of Stoke City Ladies’ top scorers when they take on Sheffield in match day 1.

And training remotely has been tough, she admits.

“We had twice-a-week meetings and we use to train together on Zoom,” the 21-year-old Essam said. “They gave us a lot of workouts and we would record our numbers and stats and send them back. It’s been a very long pre-season. We’ve been training since Covid happened in March and we then started the pre-season proper on Aug. 10.”

“When they decided that we were going to come back to training on the pitch there were a lot of letters that we had to sign and we had to take part in track and trace, every training session,” she added.

Essam moved to the UK in 2017 to study engineering at the University of Derby, and in her own words went “knocking on the doors” of clubs that would consider taking her on. There were several interested parties but it was Stoke that gave her her big break. And they did not regret it as she went on to become the team’s top scorer two years ago.

It’s a long way from the days she would stay up late to watch UEFA Champions League action and play street football with her brother and his friends.

“The most important thing for me was to work hard every day and keep improving, and learn from my mistakes,” Essam, who started her career at Wadi Degla club, said. “This is something that I always do and hopefully I can keep doing well with the club, giving more and learning more about English football. Who knows, maybe I can get another challenge in the future. I’ve got other offers and I’m still considering them. I always like to take a step up in my career, I don’t like to stay where I am. I always like to find new challenges and new ambitions.” 

As a 16-year-old, Essam suffered a major disappointment when she was dropped from the Egyptian national team ahead on the eve of 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations in Cameroon. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) member team has barely played since, but she remains hopeful of representing her country in the coming years.

“I’ve heard that it’s been brought back,” said Essam. “We haven’t participated in anything since 2016, so I’m very optimistic for the upcoming period regarding women’s football because as you can see CAF’s strategy is very good regarding women’s football in Africa. They’ve held meetings for member countries as well and I was one of the lucky players invited. So I’m happy and optimistic that I can be successful with the national team as well.”

Her outspoken views on sporting and cultural issues has made her a prominent female voice in her country and FIFA’s official website ran an interview with her in April in which she recalled the sacrifices she has taken to follow her dream of becoming a professional footballer.

Sarah has also featured as a commentator on the BBC. (Supplied)

Interest in women’s football has exploded over the last two decades. The last two World Cups, in Canada in 2015 and France last year, have been hugely successful and elevated the women’s game to new levels. Sadly, no Arab nation, including Essam’s Egypt, are expected to qualify for the 2023 edition taking place in Australia and New Zealand. 

“The World Cup has been growing massively, and that is great for women’s football,” she said. “Football associations should believe in the women’s game, because some countries have the talent, girls that are very passionate about football, who want to represent their countries and do something positive. We have to learn from other countries, we have to look up to Brazil and England, where they have new rules that girls must get paid as much as men for the national team, because both are representing their country. There is no difference. We should take the next step and it’s time to make us look better in women’s football, and all sports as well.”

For now, Essam is focused on Stoke City and the next steps of her career in Europe. There are no immediate plans to return to the Middle East yet as a player or in another capacity in the game.

“I haven’t really thought about playing or coaching in the Middle East, I have ambitions now that I am planning to achieve,” she said. “Who knows, maybe when I retire, I will decide to focus on my engineering job, all I’m focusing on right now is to take steps one, two, three of my plan. At the moment these points don’t include playing in the Middle East in the future because I want to step up and the Middle East doesn’t have professionalism like European countries.”

“I want to do what’s best for me,” Essam added. “I hope that we become more like European football and improve in the future, but I don’t think it’s going to be soon because we’re still starting out. It’s good that many Arab countries have started women’s leagues but there’s still a long way to go.”

Essam’s profile has spiked in recent years. She took part in commentary duties for the BBC during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the men’s AFC Africa Cup of Nations the same year.

In her native Egypt, she has been, alongside other superstars from the world of entertainment, one of the faces of a high-end campaign for a women’s brand, and she has lent her voice to CAF campaigns against domestic violence in Africa. Essam also has a growing following on Twitter (13.1K) and Instagram (16.5k) and appreciates the importance that social media plays today, especially in setting an example for aspiring young footballers.

“I’m the type of person who was very low key [on social media] before I played in the UK,” she said. “Even now I still don’t share everything. But sometimes I have to, and I feel good when I share things that may inspire some girls. I don’t give it 100 percent attention because not everything is for social media, but I do enjoy interacting with young girls because I remember how I was at their age and I wanted just any positive signs or any support from someone who plays abroad.”

Esaam may not have set out to be a role model, but she has become one. Indeed, many now call her the Egyptian Queen, a nod to her countryman Mohamed Salah, who has become one of the world’s finest players since joining reigning English Premier League champions Liverpool in 2017. 

On Saturday Saleh scored a hat trick as Liverpool beat Leeds United 4-3 in their opening fixture of the 2020-2021 season.

After the longest of waits, don’t bet against Essam doing the same this weekend.

Liverpool’s Mane sinks 10-man Chelsea, Son hits four in Spurs rout

Updated 20 September 2020

Liverpool’s Mane sinks 10-man Chelsea, Son hits four in Spurs rout

  • Sadio Mane scored twice as Liverpool exploited Chelsea’s frailties to win 2-0
  • Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen was sent off at the end of the first half for hauling down Mane

LONDON: Sadio Mane tormented Chelsea as the Liverpool forward struck twice after sparking Andreas Christensen’s dismissal in the champions’ 2-0 win, while Son Heung-min scored four as Tottenham crushed Southampton 5-2 on Sunday.
Mane was involved in the turning point at Stamford Bridge as the first clash between Premier League title contenders this season swung Liverpool’s way.
In first half stoppage-time, Jordan Henderson picked out Mane’s run behind Christensen and the Denmark defender responded by rugby-tackling the Senegal star to the ground.
Referee Paul Tierney initially booked Christensen, but VAR told him to consult the pitchside monitor and he changed his decision to a red card.
Mane grabbed his first goal of the season in the 50th minute as he met Roberto Firmino’s cross with a thumping header after eluding Reece James’ slack marking.
Mane was gifted his second goal as Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga made a hash of trying to play out from the back, allowing the Liverpool forward to intercept and slot into the empty net.
It was the latest costly blunder from Kepa, who was dropped twice by Chelsea manager Frank Lampard last season despite his status as the world’s most expensive keeper.
Lampard will be relieved that Chelsea are reportedly close to signing Rennes’ Senegal international Edouard Mendy as he looks to replace Kepa.
“It was a clear mistake and Kepa accepted that,” Lampard said.
Thiago Alcantara made his Liverpool debut at half-time after his move from Bayern Munich, but the Spain midfielder conceded a 74th minute penalty with a foul on Timo Werner.
Alisson Becker came to Thiago’s rescue as he saved Jorginho’s spot-kick.
After their chaotic 4-3 win over Leeds on the opening weekend, this was a return to the kind of dominant display Liverpool produced so often en route to their first English title for 30 years last season.
“Chelsea were the dominant side without goals but then a massive game-changer which was good for us,” Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said.
“After the red card, the second half is a different game. We kept the ball rolling, let them run, scored the goals. Everybody had a hand in the result.”
While Chelsea have spent £200 million ($258 million) on new signings in a bid to close the gap on the champions, Liverpool remain streets ahead of the Blues at present.
“The red card changes the face of the game. I think it could be given or not,” Lampard said.
At St. Mary’s, Jose Mourinho hailed Son and Harry Kane after the pair destroyed Southampton.
Just 24 hours after Tottenham signed Gareth Bale, Son delivered a virtuoso display that showed Mourinho’s side already have plenty of firepower.
Bale has returned to Tottenham on a season-long loan from Real Madrid seven years after he left the north London club.
Danny Ings put Southampton ahead in the first half, but Son equalized before the break and scored three more in the second half, with each of his goals coming from Kane assists.
Kane, who hit the back of the net twice in the first half only to have them ruled out for offside, capped a swaggering display with his second goal of the season.
“Son was on fire and for me Harry Kane was the man of the match, what he did for the team,” said Mourinho, whose side had lost their league opener against Everton.
“With him dropping back and connecting the game between the lines for Sonny to attack, the space they created was a problem they couldn’t resolve.”
Neal Maupay’s quick-fire double inspired Brighton’s 3-0 win against Newcastle as the Seagulls claimed their first Premier League victory of the season.
Graham Potter’s side raced into a two-goal lead after just seven minutes at St. James’ Park thanks to the brace from French striker Maupay.
Aaron Connolly grabbed the third for Brighton, who had Yves Bissouma sent off after his raised boot caught Jamal Lewis in the face.