<i>Photography by Salma Adel / Makeup by Sara Ghoneim / Dressed in Deana Shaaban/ Shot on location at Ignite Egypt</i> <i>Photography by Salma Adel / Makeup by Sara Ghoneim / Dressed in Deana Shaaban/ Shot on location at Ignite Egypt</i>

Limitless Talents: Sarah Essam

Sun, Oct. 27, 2019
Strongly passionate about football, she decided to play against all odds, proving that Egypt’s most popular sport is by no means a mens-only territory. Chosen at 16 years old to join the Egyptian national team, Sarah Essam was soon breaking one barrier after the other; making international headlines in 2017 as the first Egyptian girl to compete in the English Premier League. Soon after, the 20-year-old talented striker was granted the famed Arab Woman of The Year: Achievement in Sport award by the London Arab Foundation; she then landed a Golden Boot as top goal scorer of her club—all while pursuing a degree in civil engineering at Derby University.

The Stoke City striker recently teamed up with fitness guru and fashion designer Deana Shaaban on a shoot to showcase Shaaban’s newest womenswear collection, which she describes as “a visual representation of the strength inside every woman and the true power that lies within, if one can allow themselves to delve deeply and access that strength.”

Egypt Today caught up with Essam to chat about her career path, her personal life and the situation for female athletes in Egypt.

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Photography by Salma Adel / Makeup by Sara Ghoneim / Dressed in Deana Shaaban/ Shot on location at Ignite Egypt


When and how did your passion for football start?
Since I was a little child, I’ve always loved any sport that includes a ball. I found myself very talented in all of them: basketball, volleyball, handball, and football of course. Football has a special place in my heart; I used to watch my brother [playing] as a goalkeeper for Al-Moqawloon Club and also with his friends outside the club. I’d get really excited every time he and his friends let me play with them. I’ve always grabbed the attention of anyboy who saw me touching the ball, and that made me even [more] confident and hungry to improve myself in the game, to prove that there isn’t a difference between sexes [when it comes to playing football].

I knew there wasn’t enough attention from the [Egyptian] Football Association for women’s football and there would never be the same appreciation they get in Europe; or maybe in a long time, who knows? There are so many things I wish to see in my country and in the Middle East for women’s football.

Women’s football is not that popular in Egypt, how did your parents first respond to your passion for the sport?
There wasn’t any reaction until they realized that I’m taking it very seriously, not only as a hobby. I honestly prioritized it over my social life to train every single day and prove to all girls that nothing is impossible. You should only listen to the inner voice that supports you and tells you you’re capable of going beyond your expectations.

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Tell us more about how your professional career started, and your debut on the international football scene.
It has always been an honor for me to play for the national team; I enjoyed every second of it. I loved being in the camp with my mates, training hard every day to represent my country; the national anthem and team spirit, it was irreplaceable. I always loved helping my mates in the national team and made sure everyone was happy and mentally ready for the upcoming game. I wish I can play in the World Cup when the FA decides to bring back the women’s football national team after two years without participating in any tournament.

You have made history, becoming the first Egyptian female footballer in the English Premier League. What kind of challenges have you had to face to reach this pioneering success?
Thank God for that, and I’ll always be looking forward to improving and breaking gender barriers. Challenges are not challenges when you have faith and discipline.

What do you consider to be the milestone moments in your career so far?
Winning best player in the El Gouna tournament with my school; being picked from the academy to [join] the juniors team; being picked from the juniors team to the first team at a very young age and scoring a hat-trick in my debut with them; qualifying for Africa’s Cup of Nations for the second time ever in our history (2016), the first time was before I was even born in 1998; signing for Stoke City Women and being able to give hope and change parents’ opinion about a girl who plays football; winning the Arab woman of the year award 2018 by London Arabia organization; and winning the Golden Boot. Working with the BBC was an amazing experience, and being able to be the first Egyptian and Middle Eastern female footballer to do a commentary on AFCON matches with the BBC; and most importantly, of course, being able to study civil engineering alongside being a footballer.

You have made such amazing achievements in recent years, which drove many to compare you to the famous Mohamed Salah. Some social media users have also criticized the fact that you, a female athlete, did not get the same recognition as Salah did. How do you feel about that?
First, thank God for the achievements, and I hope I keep representing Egypt in a positive way internationally. Mohamed Salah is a unique case and he’s done a lot. I cannot be compared to him, the only thing we have in common is the persistence and being the first to do a lot of things; more importantly as well is good manners and self-development.

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How would you evaluate the situation for female athletes in our society today, and especially women’s football?
In our generation, age is just a number. We are more open to being determined and we always aspire to achieve what our mums struggled [to achieve] in their generation. Therefore, I’m so proud of female athletes and of women’s football in Egypt. I would suggest our motto be “Limitless talents.”

Do you see yourself as a role model for Arab females who dream of excelling in largely male sports like you have? What kind of influence do you think you can have in this regard?
Well, thank God again for rewarding me for all of my hard work and sacrifices. I’m grateful to hear someone say I’m their role model, and for winning the Arab Woman of the Year Award 2018 in sports. I was the only Egyptian there so this was a delightful responsibility. I hope I keep inspiring all young Arab female athletes and show non-Arab youth our determination and success.

When I was younger, I struggled to find a female role model to look up to and to make me feel that anything is possible; but unfortunately, I didn’t find enough support in the beginning. The only advantage of that was it made me stronger and more stubborn . . .

Tell us more about your personal life, asides from your football career.
I enjoy simple things in life, and I’ve been a pistachio

Photography by Salma Adel / Makeup by Sara Ghoneim / Dressed in Deana Shaaban/ Shot on location at Ignite Egypt

Fitness guru and fashion designer Deana Shaaban’s newest collection is an expression of the different sides to every woman. From the bright orange colors that represent the outgoing and full of life angles to the more subtle shades of blue and white reflecting the calm and sensual facets of the feminine, the fabrics used are soft and light on the skin, giving a light-as-a-cloud feeling to balance out through the hot summer/fall days. The shoot is a visual representation of the strength inside every woman and the true power that lies within, if one can allow themselves to delve deeply and access that strength.


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