Coming from a disadvantaged home in Kano State, Nigeria, Christy Ucheibe (19) never once dreamt that she will get the opportunity to play in Portugal, especially for one of the most recognised footbal teams in the world.
Ucheibe plays for SL Benfica as a defensive midfielder, a dream that seemed farfetched when growing up, because the situation was dire at home leading her parents wanting her to pursue a career in medicine or finance.
“I was that child who didn’t have all the good things her mates used to have, because my family was poor. They never supported me, they saw football as a career for men, they wanted me to focus on education, probably be a medical doctor or work in the bank,” she said.
The Nigerian born player started believing in her dreams of playing abroad when one of her academy’s senior player, Uche Agbo started playing in Europe.
“There is a saying in Nigeria that if your neighbour is celebrating you will soon have a reason to celebrate too. When Uche Agbo made it to Europe, I knew I can also play in Europe. I choose to talk about Uche Agbo because we played for the same Academy (Ibrahim Ba’a academy) in kano state,” she added.
Ucheibe played a crucial role when Nigeria reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup. The midfield meastro believes that their team spirit kept her motivated and also propelled the whole team to giving their best.
“Football is not an individual sport, its a team sport. Our spirit was united, we love each other, I mean my team mates and I, and above all we were ready to serve Nigeria”.
The 19-year-old says playing in the World Cup set her up for a move to Sweden.
“I believe playing on the big stage will always give a player the good visibility she desires and attract offers from clubs abroad. It was a really huge exposure for me and I greatly cherish the opportunity to represent my country,” she added.
Ucheibe also says that in as much as Nigeria is a powerhouse in Africa, the coaching philosophy in Sweden is quite better than in Nigeria, because they have had the time to invest in development and women’s football as a whole.
“Well, the level of organization and quality of training, coaching philosophy in Sweden are quite better than what we have in Nigeria. I feel this is because Sweden has been one of the long-standing powerhouses in the world and made huge investments and laid the right structure for the development of the women’s game in the country. Well, Nigeria is also a powerhouse, especially in Africa but we still have a lot to do to get to the level where Sweden is right now”
The Nigerian player has since made a switch from playing in Sweden to plying her trade in Portugal where she says she received a warm welcome.
“It has been a wonderful reception and great joy moving in Portugal with SL Benfica. At the moment, I have not been able to play a match yet before the coronavirus pandemic. However, I am looking forward to seeing the health crisis ending soon in order to start afresh with the team after the current league season has been canceled,”
As a regular in Nigeria’s National team, the young footballer says she is also utterly thankful to be representing her country at a global stage.
“I feel good. All thanks to God who made it possible, l also thank the NFF, CAF, my coaches and my team mates, I won’t be here without their support,” she said.
Ucheibe says she is lucky to have a mentor who keeps her motivated.
“My mentor is Godfrey John Okoh. Former El’Nisoor of Sudan midfielder, He is just 20-years of age born. He has so much to offer to the society if only a chance can be given to him. I see him taking over the midfield in the Super Eagle of Nigeria in year’s to come. He is my coach, my best friend, my adviser and my teacher. Soon the world will hear of him,” she said.
She believes that the state of women’s football in the continent is growing, even though there is still more to be done.
“I think there is progress in the women’s football in Africa, although we are far from where we desired the game to be. I am glad to see that Caf is setting up a good administrative structure and supporting regional bodies to organize competitions for the countries, more. A lot is needed to be done to grow the women’s game in terms of investment, training and visibility but we cannot lose hope yet on our darling continent. Every long journey begins with a step. We are on the right track and hope a lot more will be achieved in the coming years.”
Her advice to young girls is to believe in their abilities and work hard.
“Just believe in yourselves and work hard, there is no limit to what anyone can achieve. If Christy Ucheibe can do it, you all can too,” she concluded.