Friday Jun 12, 2020. 12:00
Sevilla FC’s Uchenna Kanu and Real Betis Feminas’ Michaela Abam reflect on their journey from the USA to Spain, life on either side of the Seville city divide, and the keys to making it to the top of their profession.
Uchenna Kanu and Michaela Abam may be on opposite sides of the Seville derby divide in the top division of women’s football in Spain, but their paths to the top have a lot in common.
Kanu, a 22-year-old Nigerian forward, and Abam, also 22 and a striker for Cameroon, both came through the collegiate system in the USA before making the move to Spain, where they both play in Seville: Kanu at Sevilla and Abam at Real Betis.
In an interview with Goal.com, the two players reflected on their experiences as African players moving to play in the Spanish top division, one of the best women’s football leagues in the world.
A ‘crazy rivalry’
They are yet to face each other in a Seville derby due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but both players completely understand the scale of the Sevilla-Betis rivalry just from living in the Andalusian capital.
“I learned very quickly that we don’t really like Sevilla!” Abam jokes. “Even when you take an Uber and say you play for Betis, some drivers will just go ‘ooooohhhh.’ The whole city, it’s crazy.”
When LaLiga Santander resumes this week on June 11th, the Seville derby – known as El Gran Derbi – will kick off proceedings. Both Kanu and Abam are excited. “It’s going to be big,” says Abam. “To be the opening matchup after everything that’s happened with the pandemic and everything, I’m curious to see how things are going to roll.”
Kanu agrees: “I see how crazy people can get when it comes to Betis vs Sevilla. People are going to be hyped up and ready to watch the game. They cannot wait to see this game. I think everybody’s waiting for that day and I can’t wait also.”
From ‘soccer’ to ‘fútbol’
Both Abam and Kanu had similar journeys to Spanish football. The former played at West Virginia University before eventually making her way to Real Betis in the summer of 2019, while Kanu represented Southeastern University in Florida and signed for Sevilla at the start of this current year.
The infrastructure and intricacies of college sports helped them make the transition to the professional environment of Spanish clubs a little smoother. “Has it been tough at times?” asks Abam. “Yes. But, there’s always the positive and the good to it.”
“You go from college where it’s an environment of the college family to a professional atmosphere, where it becomes a business family. It’s a lot different in the sense that this is now a job. It’s cool as you get close and gain a lot of relationships with your colleagues, teammates and staff. But the effort and level that you’re playing at becomes super high and the expectation as well becomes even higher. Then you have your exterior parts of adapting to the language, the culture and the environment.”
For Kanu, the step up to the top level of women’s football in Spain was a big one but her experience with the Nigerian national team when she still college set her up for such a leap: “When I got here I was like ‘oh wow’. It’s different from playing in college soccer, but playing with the national team helped me be strong enough to face the challenges, knowing that it’s business now.”
The 2019 World Cup
Both Kanu and Abam represented their countries at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, reaching the knockout stages where Kanu’s Super Falcons fell to Germany and Abam’s Indomitable Lionesses were eliminated by England.
They both have very fond memories of that summer spent in France. “It was really enlightening,” says Abam. “It something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m US-born, so being able to represent my root country and having this opportunity to bring light to the continent a little bit more was just really inspiring. We got to play against so many great teams and players. So, I’m just super grateful for the opportunity.”
Kanu remembers how her teammates helped her settle and deal with the pressure. “When I got called up, I was like ‘wow, that’s huge’. That’s like the biggest stage of my career,” she remembers. “I was just so proud of myself and how far I’ve come. I was just super excited, while at the same time I was nervous. I had my friends encouraging me and coaches were like ‘Uchenna, come on, you’ve got this’. But I actually got more nervous when people were saying that because I kept thinking ‘wow, there’s a lot of expectation’. But, when I got there, it was easier because some of my teammates I’d played before with and I felt more at home and a little more comfortable.”
“Keep faith in the process”
Both Kanu and Abam believe personal drive is key to making it in sports, especially as Africans.
“Whether or not you’re male or female, always believe in what you’re doing and always trust your potential and ability,” says Kanu. “Be the best you can be at whatever you find yourself doing. And, most importantly if you’re athlete, make sure you work harder than your teammates.”
Abam agreed: “Know that your life has purpose. Continue having faith in the process and trusting the process in where you’re heading in life.”
Content supplied by: LaLiga