"It feels like it's Christmas again" - Asisat Oshoala on returning to football and the upcoming UEFA Women's Champions League
Oshoala playing for FC Barcelona | Photo by Noelia Déniz via VAVEL Images

It will be a very different feeling to any previous UEFA Women's Champions League when the quarter-finals of this year's edition take place in a condensed format starting on the 21st August.

COVID-19 has effected sports around the globe, but the disparity between the responses in men's and women's football has been clear. The only teams competing in the UWCL who were able to complete their 2019/20 campaigns are VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern Munich, with the women's game around the world faced by a long list of season curtailments.

Life in lockdown

Speaking on a Zoom call from her home in Barcelona, Nigerian FC Barcelona striker Asisat Oshoala spoke to VAVEL UK about her experience of lockdown as a footballer:

"It was interesting to be honest, I'm not going to lie, It was not fun. It was really a tough period for me as a player because I wasn't able to go out to train and I couldn't work out in any way. I had to train at home and I had to stay here.

"I don't live with my family as well, which actually made it more difficult for me, I live alone. So for almost four months, I suppose, I was indoors

"It was difficult but, at the end of the day, health is more important, so in the midst of the whole Coronavirus, the best thing to do for yourself is just to keep safe."

With the UWCL kicking off in just a few days and with only a short time until domestic competition resumes, the majority of female footballers have now been able to return to training. Back under strict COVID-19 guidelines, Oshoala speaks of her excitement to be back with her teammates:

"It feels like it's Christmas again, I am really happy to be with my teammates again and to be able to work with them. It's not like normal, we have to do tests every week and we have to run the tests again. However, at the end of the day, we're together again and it's really good to be with the girls."

Domestic victory

The curtailment of the 2019/20 campaign led to the Primera Iberdrola title being handed to Barcelona, their second piece of silverware after already being victorious in the Spanish Supercup:

"[Winning the Supercup] was a good feeling for me. I was really happy. Our team won a trophy, the first trophy of the season, the Supercup, and it was through hard work. We had to do a lot to get to that point, which made it even more interesting to win the trophy."

It was an incredible season for the Catalans who finished the year unbeaten, with nineteen wins out of their 21 matches played. FCB Femení are one of the top sides in European football, and all players are treated with a high level of professionalism by the club:

"[We have a] really professional environment. We have everything: we have a very good gym, a very good pitch and good facilities all round as well as a very professional coaching team. Obviously, It's just a professional setup, which is really good, you know, so I'm happy here"

From Ikorudu to Catalonia

It has been a long road to the top for Oshoala, starting her footballing career with clubs in her native Nigeria. In a recent interview with UEFA #WePlayStrong for their 'StrongIs' series,  she also spoke about the struggles she faced as a girl playing football growing up. After spells in England and China, she now finds herself playing at the top level with FC Barcelona and believes that others can follow in her footsteps: 

"[In the StrongIs documentary,] I mentioned about how rough it was for me growing up and also how difficult it was playing in an environment where they don't like women's football, where you don't even get many opportunities and all of that.

"However, now I'm playing at the best level in the Champions League and I am also playing in the World Cup. It was a tough journey, you know, it was really tough but at the end of the day, it is what it is. I'm really happy that if I can go through all of these I feel like a lot of kids around the world can actually be inspired not to give up on their dreams as well."

Named the best player female footballer in Africa on four occasions, Oshoala has had to overcome many hurdles to get to the level which she is now at. When asked what advice she would give to any young girls with the aspiration of becoming a professional footballer, her response is simple; forget about personal accolades and keep working hard:

"I’d say that they should keep working hard and just forget about personal accolades. I won four times, but the four times I won, I never thought about winning them.

"In fact, I never even believed I could win the best player in Africa one day - I used to tell my friends ‘oh, that's too big’. At the end of the day, I focused on my work. I worked hard, I trained hard, I try to give my best all the time. That’s all I'm just going to say: keep working and make sure you give your best all the time and opportunities will come."

Representing Nigeria

25-year-old Oshoala has become a focal point in the Nigerian national side. Last year, the Super Falcons featured at the Women's World Cup and reached the knockout stage for the first time since 1999:

"[It's] always good to reach the Women's World Cup. That's the biggest stage of women's football right now. It was interesting to be with my teammates and to have the opportunity of playing again at the Women's World Cup for me, my second one.

"I was really happy to be part of the team. Also, It was the first time we passed through the group stage to the next round in a long time. The 2019 World Cup was a memorable one for me, and I was really happy."

UWCL incoming

Barcelona are one of the eight remaining sides in the UWCL, and will face fellow Spanish side Atletico Madrid this weekend in the quarter-finals, with the aim to progress to the final as they did last year.

The two have already faced twice in the 2019/20 season, with the Catalonians 6-1 victors in the first match before playing out a scoreless draw away from home later in the season.

Despite their good record against the side from the Spanish capital, Oshoala believes that it will be a difficult tie for Barca:

"Atletico Madrid are a very good team and a top side as well. The fact that we beat them doesn't mean that it's going to happen again. They're a very good side.

"We just have to keep working on ourselves to get better than before, to make sure we try to get something out of the game, so it's going to be a tough one. I think we're just going to give our best. 

"I'm not going to say anything more because you have to learn to respect the opponent you know and if not, it's going to cost you the game."