Francisca Ordega is one of standard bearers of Nigerian women’s football
The talented striker has played club football on four different continents
Participation in U-17 and U-20 World Cups put her on the road to stardom
As a youngster, Francisca Ordega, or ‘Franny’ as she is known, was in no doubt about what she wanted to do in life – and it had nothing to do with football. “I wanted to be an actress,” she told FIFA.com with a laugh.
Back then the young Nigerian played football with her brothers and friends just for fun, and it remained that way until she was selected to be a ball-girl for an international involving the national U-19 women’s team. “As I watched them play and saw how the crowd cheered them on, I got very excited and thought, ‘I want to do that too – have the crowd watch me and then thrill them’. It was simply amazing.”
Ordega, in brief
Striker, 24 years old. Currently plays for Atletico Madrid, on loan from Washington Spirit
Born in Gboko, Nigeria, she is one of 12 siblings
Her two main assets are her power and speed
She has been a Nigeria international since U-17 level
After deciding to pursue a career in football, Franny knew only two things for certain: that the road ahead would be a long and difficult one; and that getting her mother’s approval would be no easy thing.
“In Africa, the footballing infrastructure is not like in Europe, where you have all these age categories. Back home, you need to have talent and really push yourself. When I decided to become a footballer, I said to myself: ‘If you want to make it, you need to work hard. You need to train, watch the pros play, study how they move, how they control the ball…’”
And if that challenge were not enough, there was also her mother’s opposition to overcome. “She didn’t want me playing football in case it interfered with my studies.” Nor was the environment she found herself in very conducive to her career choice.
“It is hard. Families didn’t support girls if they opted for this, nor did their friends and those around them… But things are different now. These days a lot of parents want their daughters to play. I think our generation has inspired a lot of people to follow suit, and, what with social media and all that, we’re everywhere. Girls tell you ‘I want to be like you when I grow up’, and I encourage them.”
Ordega in action for Atletico Madrid
To date, Ordega has featured in four FIFA World Cups: the U-17 edition in 2010, the U-20 version in 2012, as well as the senior World Cups of 2011 and 2015. All four tournaments have had a major impact on her career, especially the youth ones. Indeed, it was her call-up to the U-17 national team that convinced her mother that her future lay in football.
Trinidad & Tobago 2010: the first taste
It was my first time abroad and we had to face the hosts. Never before had I played in front of so many people. I spoke to my Dad before the game and he said to me: ‘there’s no need to be afraid. Just go out there and be yourself.’ I told my team-mates that if I scored, I’d do a dance in front of our fans – and that’s exactly what I did. While it wasn’t my first goal at that tournament, we were drawing 1-1 at the time, so it was a winning goal. I just went crazy.”
Japan 2012: efforts rewarded
“The memories of this one are not so good, but it was all worth it in the end. I sprained my ankle in the first fixture, and I played with it in subsequent games, which was tough. They gave me injections to play, but when I used to take off the ankle support I’d cry with the pain. Our physio wanted me to stop playing but I said, ‘if I’ve managed to get this far, my ankle isn’t going to stop me’. In the end I finished as our top-scorer, and when my agent later told me I’d been offered the chance to play in Russia, I thought to myself ‘mission accomplished’.”
This year France and Uruguay will respectively host the FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups, and Nigeria will be appearing at both. “It’s a great opportunity for these girls,” said Ordega, drawing on her own experience. “At the moment, when they play not many people notice or could tell you who the best player is, because the games aren’t broadcast. However, at the World Cup they’ll have lots of clubs and agents monitoring them. That’s when everyone will be watching their every move.”
Did you know…?
She’s a fan of English football: Ordega grew up watching the Premier League along with her older brother. Their earliest idols were Thierry Henry –“from the very first time I saw him” – and Fernando Torres –“I shed a tear when I finally met him after joining Atleti”.
Globetrotter: Since 2012, the striker has played in Russia, Sweden, USA, Australia and Spain. “Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself. I’ve learned so much from all the different coaches and players, and from the distinct cultures and countries. That has also helped me grow as a person.”