Egyptian 20-year-old female soccer star 'bends it like Beckham'

Sarah Essam, who plays in the Stoke City FC Women, is the first Arab woman playing professional soccer in Europe.

Egyptian soccer star playing for Liverpool, Mohamed Salah (photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)
Egyptian soccer star playing for Liverpool, Mohamed Salah
(photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)
At the beginning of the 2000s, when the English rom-com Bend it like Beckham brought women soccer and young female athletes’ dreams under the spotlight, Sarah Essam was a toddler.
Now, the 20-year-old Egyptian is breaking grounds as the first Arab woman playing professional soccer in Europe and presenting her own version of the fairy tale starring a 17-year-old Keira Knightley.
Essam, an avid soccer enthusiast since childhood, currently plays in the Stoke City FC Women. Last year she concluded the English Women’s National League season as the top scorer.
 
“It was so difficult at the beginning, maybe because some of the teams I played against didn’t have any Egyptians or Arabs. I’d explain that we don’t actually ride camels to work or walk like pharaohs,” Essam told the UAE paper The National. “But I started to show my character more, worked harder and fit into the team because success comes from communication and teamwork. We had to understand each other to work better together.”
Essam explained to The National that she would seize every opportunity to play growing up, but it was not easy.
“Honestly, this is known as only a man’s game by many people,” Essam said. “It was taboo and all I knew was that I needed to do this to inspire others and reach my goals.”
However, she overcame every obstacle, including being excluded by the national team, which would take part in the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations.
“Being dropped just one day before the start of the tournament – after I played two years for my country in the U17 World Cup qualifications, and then becoming one of the youngest players to be picked for the national team – was heartbreaking,” she said.
The turning point was the moment when she decided to move to the UK to pursue an engineering degree, and a career in soccer, literally approaching different clubs out of the blue until she found the right opportunity – and chemistry, she highlighted – with Stoke City.
“I’m always so proud to represent Egyptian women’s football in the UK and [to pave a path] for the next young female athletes in Egypt,” Essam said.
Nor surprisingly, her hero is the Egyptian champion and Liverpool soccer star Mohamed Salah.
Salah is so beloved in his home country that he came in second place in the Egyptian presidential elections last year and received over a million votes despite not being on the ballot.
At times, he has made headlines for refusing to shake hands with Israeli players at the end of games.