Farida Salem is a name that we all need to remember. She’s not Mohamed Abo Trieka or Mohamed Salah, but the 22 year-old Egyptian is doing something very important for the Egypt’s favourite national pastime, football – championing the women’s game.
As one of the most talented young female footballers in the country, Farida has big plans – plans that she revealed to Cairo Gossip’s Mahmoud Hussein in a fascinating interview that saw the two touch on the Ronaldo vs. Messi saga, the Cairo derby, her aspirations as a writer and more.
How long have you been pursuing football?
I’ve been playing for about ten years, but it was never easy. I could never find any girls to play with, so I just played with the boys till I reached 16 – it was a prime time for me to grow as an athlete. I became the best player I could, so I’d be able to compete with the boys. I tried other sports – squash, tennis, gymnastics, handball, basketball – but football is the game I fell in love with and I figured ist could be a potential career.
Speaking of the opposite sex – and please don’t hit me when I ask you this – isn’t football a “man’s sport?”
That’s what everybody has been telling me. I have two brothers that I always played with so I was never a stranger to the game. When I played with my friends at school, they were always mocking me and telling me “you’re a girl, you can’t play.” After I insisted, they would then try to teach ‘the girl’ how to play football. I always treated it as something fun to do during recess and even during my free time with my brothers, dad and uncles. I just did it.
What were/are some of the obstacles you faced?
Initially, the obstacles were mostly physical. When I competed with boys, they were a lot faster and stronger and I struggled with it when I was younger. I still struggle with it up to this day, but it made me strive to be a better player, so I have no regrets about that.
As soon as I started playing with girls I found less need to worry about my physical form so much. My training wasn’t as intense as before and I started focusing on my talent and the technical side of my game. Unfortunately, I’m still vulnerable to injuries, though!
Yeah, me too – I pulled a muscle sitting down earlier. Anyway, which footballers do you enjoy watching or try to learn from?
Honestly, if we’re talking about the men’s game, my role model is Cristiano Ronaldo…And yes, I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s a cliché answer – I think he’s amazing. I truly respect Messi, we even share the same birthday, but it’s still Ronaldo.
When it comes to the women’s game, I’m really inspired by all the female players from the USA national team in the last women’s World Cup and the players in the American league. They push me forward. Their jobs are to play football and it’s my dream to become a professional football player just like them – especially Alex Morgan; she’s another person that I look up to. They’re taken seriously as athletes and making a living out of it. I hope that one day people will take me seriously as well.
Speaking of the Women’s World Cup, what did you think of the level of quality?
I remember watching the world cup before it, the one in 2011, and making a comment about the quality of goalkeeping and defending – goals were very easily scored. If you compared it to the men’s game, it’s the other way around – defending is as important as scoring goals. But after watching the last world cup, it has definitely improved.
I saw everyone stepping up their game to a level that I’d never seen before. The most vivid memory that I have is the US team captain, Carli Lloyd, scoring a goal from the halfway line in the final match. The goalkeepers have improved, too – German goalkeeper, Nadine Angerer, won the player of the year. So, it’s definitely improving overall.
Do you see Egypt reaching a level where we can qualify for the women’s World Cup anytime soon?
I’m very optimistic about it – but then I always try to look on the positive side. We have a very good team in Egypt, but we need more diverse players. We need more resources and more media attention. If people are willing to give us the spotlight, we’ll rise as a team and as a nation.
Right now, Egypt is ranked 88th in FIFA women’s world rankings, so no one is expecting anything anytime soon. If we paid attention to the women’s game, I’m absolutely certain we can have a world class team within the next two decades or so. People didn’t even recognise the women’s game here up until recently. I even have people coming up to me asking if we even have a national team – a lot of people don’t know that we exist.
One of the big things we’re lacking is support from clubs like Al Ahly and Zamalek – we need more major clubs to support the game.
You’ve played into my hands perfectly for the next question – entee Ahlaweya wala Zamalkawaya?
Ahlaweya! It goes without saying because supporting Al Ahly runs in the family. Outside of Egypt I follow Manchester United and Real Madrid – but not just for Ronaldo, I promise! When it comes to the women’s game I’m a fan of Arsenal Ladies Football Club and I watch the National Women's Soccer League, which has players from all over the world.
I have a soft spot for Maadi Club and Wadi Degla, where I have played. I have a strong relationship with my coach, so wherever he’s coaching, I’m playing. I even coached the girl’s team at AC Milan for half a season.
I’ve done some super-secret, undercover research and found that you’re more than just a footballer – rumour has it that you’re also an 8-Ball pool shark, an avid gamer, a movie buff and even a writer. Please explain this madness.
When you say it like that it doesn’t seem to add up or make sense! I don’t know where I find the time, but like with football, I just do what I enjoy.
I’m writing a book because I feel like everyone should be aware of the struggles of young female athletes in Egypt and, more importantly, their struggle. Essentially, it’s an autobiography.
I just want to improve the women’s game as much as I can and contribute to the cause – that’s why I coach, too. I’m writing about the people I’ve met along the way and the people that have influenced me deeply. I occasionally like to blog because it releases much of the anger and frustration that I face while playing the game – and they can be a lot.
There are days when I don’t want to get up and feel down about how hard we have to work to get recognition. You just want to spend the whole day in bed. But there are little things that keep me going. I’m currently writing a blog about a message I received from a 17 year old girl that inspired me and gave me a kick in the butt. It’s just those little things in life that I like to share and talk about. When I’m close to giving up, it’s these messages that remind me why I’m doing what I do.
You’re currently playing for the AUC team; what are your plans after graduation?
I’ve been extending my education for some time now. I figured if you’re not doing what you love then what’s the point? You’re pretty much wasting your time. My short-term dream is to become a professional football player and I’m still working on it. But my long term dream is to create a football academy for girls in Egypt. Young girls who want to pursue football as a hobby or a career should be provided with a positive environment and atmosphere. I want to make it a fun experience for them. I want to create the opportunities that I never had growing up.
Last but not least, I need to ask you a very serious and deep question. Who would win a fight between a bear and a monkey with a knife?
What? Is that a trick question? I want to say...no wait, let me think first! I’m imagining myself as the monkey. Now I’m imagining myself as a bear. I think the monkey would win. The monkey is fast and smart – and he has a weapon.
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By Mahmoud Hussein