If Jennifer Hermoso hasn’t stopped scoring at Barça Femení, the other centre-forward in Asisat Oshoala has been in red hot form too and is battling with her own teammate for the Primera Iberdrola Pichichi title.
Asisat Oshoala is a name that, for many culés, was only learned in early 2019. Not many know that Oshoala boasts a record four African Women’s Footballer of the year titles. Few are conscious that she became a Member of the Order of Niger at just 19 years old after her outstanding display at the 2014 U–20 Women’s World Cup. Many aren’t aware of her numerous team and individual achievements and successes for all levels of club and country across three continents. Now, on top of the world with Barcelona and Nigeria, Asisat Oshoala is known everywhere to football fans as one of the best centre-forwards on the planet. Since arriving in January 2019, Oshoala has fit into the blaugrana style well, and has since been consistent and clinical in scoring goals whenever needed.
Full name: Asisat Lamina Oshoala
Date of birth: 9 October 1994
Place of birth: Ikorodu, Nigeria
Height: 1.73 m / 5 ft 8 in
Playing position: Attacker / forward
When Super Falcons striker Asisat Oshoala was a young girl growing up in Nigeria, her mother wouldn’t give her money for food if she had been playing football on the streets with the boys. Despite the adversity she faced as a female footballer, her talents gave her a ridiculously high chance to become a professional footballer. There was no real precedent for Oshoala to follow and no homegrown hero in the women’s game, perhaps with the exception of Nigerian women’s national team top scorer and legend Perpetua Nkwocha. Oshoala set her sights on football and left her home to become a professional footballer at an early age.
Oshoala, during the 2019 World Cup with Nigeria | Photo by Fredrik Varfjell via Imago
She said the following in an interview to ESPN: “I actually stopped going to school because at some point I had a lot of problems with my parents. They wanted me to go to school but I had the unique opportunity to play in another city for a professional team in Nigeria. I had to leave my city for another city which meant, automatically, I had to leave my school and stop. So I had to make that sacrifice at that time. I told my parents: ‘OK, I can always come back but this is an opportunity that I can’t turn down. Maybe it was a 50 percent chance to progress in football. So, I moved on my own. For me, it was about taking the opportunity at the right time and I did not regret it”.
Oshoala around the world
Oshoala first played for FC Robo and Rivers Angels, two clubs in her home country. She earned the Best Player award at both the U20 Women’s World Cup and AFCON in 2014, and these accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed by big clubs abroad. In January 2015, she joined a Liverpool Ladies side fresh off the 2014 WSL title. Then-manager Matt Beard toted her as “one of the best young players in the world”. She had some brief setbacks when she missed two months of her first season with a knee injury as the Liverpool side plagued with injuries dropped to seventh place out of eight teams.
Due to her talents, age, and the fact that she was ready to move on from seventh place, Arsenal activated the release clause in Oshoala’s contract and she joined the London club for the 2016/17 season. She won the Women’s FA Cup with Arsenal during her time there. Her spell in London was short-lived as Chinese club Dalian Quanjian F.C. officially signed Oshoala in February 2017, taking her to Chinese Women’s Super League after a year and a half in England. She played in China for two more years winning the Chinese league title in 2017.
A culé since 2019
On 31 January 2019, Barcelona signed Oshoala on a loan deal until the end of the season. She scored her first league goal against Rayo and a month later scored in the attendance record-breaking match against Atleti at the Wanda Metropolitano. Not soon after in May she yet again made history for both club and country by becoming both the first-ever Barcelona Femení player and African player to ever score in a UEFA Women’s Champions League Final, apart from being the first Nigerian to score in any UEFA Champions League final, men’s or women’s.
Oshoala scored Barcelona’s solitary goal in the loss in 2019’s UEFA Women’s Champions League’s final
She spends a lot of her free time in her apartment from Barça’s out-of-city training ground watching whatever football match is on television. Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, and Luis Suárez rank among her favorite players. She admires Suárez a lot because she has the task of mirroring his role in Barça Femení’s side. She’s meticulous when it comes to details and doesn’t take any decision lightly. In fact, before agreeing to move to Catalonia, she watched over 20 videos of old Barcelona games to see if she would fit into the side. is a testament to her footballing wisdom.
Due to her technical qualities and her hard work, Barcelona announced Oshoala’s full transfer to the club and extension until 2022.
On the international side, it’s almost no debate that Oshoala is the best African women’s player in the world. She’s striker has been chosen as African Player of the Year on no less than four occasions (2019, 2014, 2016 and 2017). The year 2014 was a stellar one for the Nigerian as she also claimed the Golden Ball at both that year’s U–20 World Cup and that year’s Women’s AFCON. Oshoala has extensive experience in all facets of football despite her relative youth.
Season so far with Barcelona
Oshoala is a contender for the Golden Boot award this season, as she has amassed a staggering 20 goals so far in the league, a title challenged only by teammate Jenni Hermoso. The stand out match from her season is the 4 goals she scored against soon-to-be Real Madrid Women, Tacón. She has already won the Copa Catalunya and Spanish Supercopa Feminino with Barça with her goal against Atlético in the semi-final proving to be the match-winner. Her partnership with attacking wingers Lieke Martens and Caroline Graham Hansen didn’t go unnoticed as they keep plunging goal after goal.
The Nigerian is the simplest and most deadly player in the box. She rarely gets involved the creative build-up of the goals, but is constantly roaming around the box, right next to the defenders, waiting for a chance to finish moves. She can also run at defenders, closing them down to get the ball or chase long passes or through balls from the midfield or defence. Known for her finishing ability and movement off the ball, she is good at dribbling and her first touch is an added advantage for her.
When playing as an advanced forward, she still remains the focal point of the team’s attacking moves. Furthermore, she can chase down balls from the midfield or deep but is equally adept at laying off or crossing to her teammates. She has a good movement without the ball as well as dribbling along with decent passing and vision.
The target woman for Barcelona
She uses her physical presence – height and strength – to challenge the opposition defenders for the ball, especially in aerial duels, to hold up the ball and then to lay it off for her strike partner Jennifer Hermoso or the attacking midfielders, like Martens. At times, though, she lacks a bit of technical finesse, mostly with her first touches, and has a tendency to foul and/or be caught offside.
❛ Asisat has physical qualities that are very rare to find in a player. Her speed may resemble that of a boy, but she is an exception ❜
Asisat Oshoala Foundation
Oshoala is a role model in paving the way for future generations. She set up the Asisat Oshoala Foundation in 2019 to help young girls in Africa to pursue their footballing dreams and give them opportunities she never had.
She paid the school fees and other necessities for the young girls in her country. In 2019, Barcelona and Asisat Oshoala signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the official licensee of Barça’s Academy in Lagos, Nigeria. She also hosted the Football4girls tournament in Lagos in December with the intention of improving game time and exposure for young players.
Oshoala, on why she started her foundation: “It’s all based on a very personal experience, I know how difficult it is to pursue an interest in playing in football teams and getting into sports in general when your parents say no. It’s so easy to give up. There are a lot of girls who did stop, and who had so much potential to become professionals. I just wanted to share my story with parents, so that maybe they might change their minds or their reasoning. It’s important for young athletes to have the support of their parents and their close network. I want everyone to be able to imagine education and football together – complementing one another”.
We hope through her own status that she can continue to inspire female players in Africa to follow in her footsteps and pursue careers in football. Nike advertised about her foundation here.
If Oshoala can fine-tune her technical skills, stay fit for the coming seasons, and continue her record-breaking performances for both club and country, she is guaranteed to be a contender for the Ballon d’Or award. In this rich vein of form, there is not a defender in the world to stop her from scoring goals. If Oshoala and her teammates can stay fit and produce the same kind of displays week in and week out, they are going to continually breaking new barriers seen never before in Spanish football and become one of the greatest teams on the planet.
Caroline Graham Hansen growing into the leadership role among Barça’s attackers
As shown in the Champions League semi-final loss against VfL Wolfsburg, Barça Femení may be short of leadership qualities upfront, but 25-year-old Caroline Graham Hansen is starting to provide just that.
After the loss against VFL Wolfsburg, FC Barcelona Femení learned that they needed to improve upon a lot of things if they wanted to be the best team in Europe. Many of Barcelona’s unresolved issues were exposed that night, such as poor match management, questionable team selection, and lack of clinical attacking.
However, the most standout thing that went wrong for Barcelona was their season-long issues with finishing, which came to a head at the worst possible time. Upon reflection, it was clear that Barcelona lacked both a positive mentality and a commanding leadership personality up top. That role is still desperately needed if Barcelona wants to be champions of Europe, and of all their current forwards, Caroline Graham Hansen may be the player best suited to pick up that role.
Ahead of the Barcelona v Wolfsburg, it was difficult to predict who the winner was going to be. Both teams were very similar in that they were renowned for the same matter: their outstanding attacking strength. For Wolfsburg, it was Pernille Harder, Fridolina Rolfo, Ewa Pajor, Alexandra Popp and Svenja Huth. For Barcelona, it was Lieke Martens, Mariona Caldentey, Jenni Hermoso, Asisat Oshoala and Caroline Graham Hansen.
Understandably, one of the most popular predictions about the game was that it was going to be a goal-fest. It didn’t quite work out that way though, as both teams’ forwards struggled to find the back of the net.
Barcelona in particular had a shocking night in terms of finishing. 14 shots with only one on target gave them a 9% shot accuracy. Something was clearly off about them, especially considering that everyone knows what these players are capable of. At that point, their front four was arguably Europe’s strongest overall attacking threat. It is for this reason that this loss and their lack of clinical finishing was 100% mental.
Barcelona’s captains and other leadership personalities are all midfielders, defenders or keepers. Consider Vicky Losada, Alexia Putellas, Marta Torrejón, Sandra Paños, Patri Guijarro and some of the younger players like Laia Codina and Aitana Bonmatí. These footballers in particular have captaincy qualities in multiple aspects. They command the play on the pitch, they aren’t afraid to give orders to anyone regardless of talent or superiority, they perform at a high level for 90+ minutes, they aren’t afraid to step up publicly and take responsibility with the media, and they are deeply dedicated to the club. What else do they all have in common? None of them are forwards.
This isn’t to say Barcelona’s attackers aren’t mentally strong. You have to be to play at this level. But at this moment, there is no outstanding player in attack who shows the traits of a captain. Which of the starting forwards can be the answer to this problem?
The two players that can already be eliminated from the conversation are Asisat Oshoala and Lieke Martens. These are two of the most accomplished players for their respective countries and have been at the top of the world for a while, but they don’t display many leadership qualities. Neither of them is very vocal or commanding, they aren’t too keen on giving directions, and, most importantly, their mentality in a game typically depends on those around them. There is nothing wrong with either of them not being leaders, but these two just won’t be the ones to do it.
Caroline Graham Hansen, wearing the captain armband with Norway’s national team | Photo by Jorge Guerrero / AFP via Getty Images
Jennifer Hermoso is unlike Asisat and Martens in this regard. She’s a record-breaking veteran for both club and country and she even holds captaincy for Spain. Her presence and reputation as one of Spain’s greatest ever footballers command respect on its own.
However, she is a player who prefers to lead by example and move in silence. This is a perfectly valid leadership style in itself, but it doesn’t suit the needs of Barcelona. Jenni was one of Barcelona’s best performers against Wolfsburg, but her top-notch performance clearly wasn’t enough. The team needed more, and despite her leadership qualities and veteran status, she couldn’t provide it.
Additionally, culés understandably don’t want to think about it, but Jenni isn’t getting any younger. She isn’t the team’s future, and it wouldn’t make much sense for the forward line to structure themselves around her leadership.
This only leaves one other established player amongst the four starting forwards: enter Caroline Graham Hansen.
Graham Hansen is still just 25 years old but has gone through a lot in her career. She has had two heartbreaks in two Women’s Champions League finals and was injured during both of them. Her international career has been similar: she missed the 2015 Women’s World Cup due to injury and suffered three straight losses in the group stages of the 2017 Euros as Norway’s FA was dealing with deep dysfunction. Like Rory Smith put it, her career has long been a “question mark” in the eyes of many. The way she has overcome her own doubts since then is unlike most players in this sport.
Hansen has become a different animal as she has gotten older. No Wolfsburg fan can forget how she kneeled down and pumped her fists after scoring the decisive penalty kick against Bayern Munich in the 2018 DFB Pokal Final. No Norwegian – or Australian – can forget how in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, she kept a stone-cold face, looked Lydia Williams dead in the eyes, and slotted Norway’s first penalty of the shootout straight past her, raising her arms in celebration and commanding Norway to the quarter-finals.
When she is needed to step up, when she is needed to be a commanding force, when she is needed to be a leader, she has done it in some of the biggest matches of her recent career. Norway’s captain Maren Mjelde echoed this exact thought in an interview to FIFA.com from September 2019.
“In the last two years she has grown an awful lot, in two ways that complement each other: she is a great leader and a great team player at the same time. All her energies go into helping the team to play better and win. She was crucial for us at the World Cup and I still don’t think we have seen the best of her. She has got the quality to change games, and when it comes to one-on-one situations, she’s the best in the world…She has become a natural leader”Maren Mjelde, Norway’s captain
This display of mentality didn’t stop when she got to Spain either. In her first season with Barcelona, she was a pivotal part of the attack and had no fear approaching any defender. With 24 direct goal involvements in all competitions, it’s clear she is already comfortable with her role in the team.
Graham Hansen also has a clear love for Barcelona and has since she was a child. Despite only being present in Catalonia for a season, Caroline Graham Hansen is one of the most vocally committed players in this current group at FC Barcelona. Her words after the Wolfsburg semi-final loss reflect this in two different ways.
“I would say today we were better which proves that what Barça have been doing in recent years has been good, we are here to be reckoned with next year. We will go home and keep on training and improving because we want to avenge this defeat next year”Caroline Graham Hansen, via UEFA TV after losing against Wolfsburg
But on her Instagram, she chose a softer tone, expressing her love and dedication to the club, calling it “her home” and using the hashtag #soyculé (I am a culé): “I’m so proud to be a part of this team. This club. This family. Football isn’t always fair. That’s the sport. I accept that. We will come back. I know. We know. This is my home now. Thanks for having my back #soyculé”.
Caroline Graham Hansen admittedly has had some growing pains in this very new environment, but with this loss, she has only shown a drive to improve. She has everything at her disposal to be a leader in the attacking third. It’s her dedication, hunger, and ever-improving mentality that makes her the most likely player to become a leader for Barcelona’s forwards.