It’s a fortnight from the moment Fridolina Rolfö and Ingrid Engen will find themselves lining up for the UEFA Women’s Champions League final and yet, had you not been aware of that beforehand, it would be hard to suspect such a career-defining event was ahead for the Barcelona Femení duo.
Not solely because of their willingness to take part in our photoshoot so close to the final, nor the endless energy they have brought with them on set after a long, hectic season of competing on all fronts. No, it would be the fact that neither Rolfö nor Engen had ever dreamt of becoming professional footballers that would surprise you most about the level they have since reached.
Thinking practically though, why would they? Growing up in Scandinavia – Sweden and Norway to be exact – women’s football was not only void of coverage, it was virtually invisible, just like it was for young girls in every part of the world.
Engen, who now plies her trade almost 2,000 miles from her birthplace of Melhus, believes change is coming and the days of girls being excluded from developing dreams of becoming elite-level footballers are finally and rightfully coming to an end.
“I think visibility is key,” the 25-year-old says, reflecting on her own lack of childhood influence. “Now, young girls can see us play here, they see us playing for the biggest clubs and they can dream about and work towards being at the same place in the years ahead.”
Both Rolfö and Engen arrived in Barcelona after joining from VfL Wolfsburg Women in a double deal for the Spanish club back in 2021. The pair are also both signed to major sportswear brand PUMA and like their taste in both football clubs and brands, Rolfö and Engen also agree on the importance of visibility for the women’s game.
“Visibility. I think that’s the most important thing to make the game grow,” says Rolfö. “The younger girls looking up to us need to see us. Not only on TV but in the newspaper, they need to read more about it. I think that’s the most important thing that we are challenging, that women’s football is more visible.”
Though the fight for visibility is far from its endgame, interest in women’s football is undoubtedly on a rise at levels the game has not witnessed before. Barcelona Femení’s Champions League final clash against VfL Wolfsburg Women in Eindhoven is evidence of that, with the full 36,500 capacity of the Philips Stadium witnessing Jonatan Giráldez’s side come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and lift the prestigious prize for the second time in the club’s history, with Rolfö making history by scoring the winner.
“It would be a special feeling to win the Champions League,” Rolfö says prior to the match-winning performance she would later drop against her former club. “Ingrid and I, we’ve been in two finals and lost both of them so we know how it is to lose those important games and especially a Champions League final. It’s something that I have dreamt about winning for many years.”
“It’s time now for Frido and me. Third time lucky,” Engen adds with a grin.
“Hopefully,” says Rolfö. “Now it’s our year.”
Indeed it was their year.
The sun is shining in Barcelona on the day of our shoot, with a cloud in the sky proving impossible to find. Despite attending training earlier in the day – in the same heat the rest of us on set continue to hide from – both Barça Femení ballers are in better spirits than anyone, most notably when discussing the gratitude they hold for living in the city.
“For me, it’s a dream playing here in Barcelona,” Engen says. “Just to be a part of such a big club, that cares so much for their female side, is incredible. We feel like we get a lot of support and the fans? They are amazing. I feel like we’ve been writing history together, us players and the fans. It’s a special bond between us and we’ve seen the games we’ve sold out the Camp Nou, which is pretty crazy.”
“The fans are amazing, as Ingrid said,” Rolfö says, continuing the show of love for their supporters.“We feel it every day. At training, they are outside the training ground supporting us and giving us energy.”
“When we play the big games, they are there and you can really feel the energy. It helps us a lot. I didn’t dream about becoming a footballer but I wish I had dreamt about playing here because it is such a cool experience to be a part of. Moving abroad, playing for one of the best clubs in the world, reaching (and winning) a Champions League final and being a part of this team here, it’s surreal.”
“I agree with Frido,” Engen adds. “I wish I knew that one day I would play for Barcelona. I know how much motivation that would have given me and it’s really cool that young girls now have this opportunity to dream big and find the facilities to get better and do what they love.”
Whilst their influence at club level on aspiring female ballers cannot be understated, both Engen and Rolfö’s biggest opportunity to inspire a generation arrives this summer in the shape of the Women’s World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand. Like any sport, success in a globally-watched tournament can create new heroes for supporters all over the world. The triumph of the Lionesses’ at the Women’s Euro 2022 finals is proof of that with young girls across England finding new role models to idolise having previously been turned away by the traditionalism and outdated mindset of the male game for years prior.
Rolfö, who holds 76 caps for Sweden, believes the upcoming World Cup will only be an improvement from previous tournaments due to the quality of the women’s game consistently increasing. “I think it’s so interesting to see how the women’s game is growing,” the Swede says with excitement in her eyes.
“We see it in the tournaments especially. We see one level at one tournament, then a new level at another and then another new level at the next, so it’s cool seeing how fast the game is growing. I think we will see the best tournament every year for the next couple of years.”
For Engen, the thought of featuring at the World Cup for Norway is another dream she never deemed possible as a young girl in Melhus. “It’s incredible what we are achieving and what we are doing. I don’t think I could have dreamed about this years ago.”
“With the new World Cup ahead and the really good tournaments in the last couple of years, the expectations for this summer are the same. The interest is there, people are going to show up and it’s going to be a great tournament. I’m really excited.”
Like most athletes, football doesn’t define either Rolfö or Engen. The growing interest in athlete self-expression is not exclusive to solely male players and as footballers continue to position themselves in the fashion scene, the demand from Gen-Z to see their favourite ballers away from the pitch only increases. This being something Engen enjoys.
“I think my love for fashion is about showing another side to myself,” the midfielder reveals. “We are football players, yes, but we have other interests too. I think it’s really cool to show on my platforms what I like, who I am and explore myself through fashion, which is a big interest of mine.”
That love of self-expression on and off the pitch was a key reason Rolfö and Engen joined the PUMA family, with the German-founded brand regularly focusing its efforts on championing their male and female athletes on the same level. Manchester United’s Maya le Tissier, Chelsea’s Jess Carter and Wolsburg’s Alexandra Popp and are all also on PUMA’s athlete roster, highlighting the brand’s mission to progress the game further.
“We really are PUMA girls,” Rolfö says whilst wearing the brand from head to toe. “We love to wear PUMA and I like the style the clothes and sneakers have. It’s a mix between fashion and sport and that’s what I like the most. I feel comfortable and I feel fashionable so for me, it’s a perfect match.”
As ever, Engen agrees with Rolfö: “For me, PUMA is special. The brand has things that I don’t feel other brands have at the same level and as a female athlete, you also get the special things such as the collaborations, which are great. So for me, I love wearing PUMA and showing the brand off.”
At this point in the conversation, it feels nigh-on impossible to get Engen and Rolfö to disagree with each other. The duo’s close-knit friendship is becoming more evident by the minute, with each response they give broken up by smiles and laughter as they bounce off one another. So, learning that their everyday style continues that trend comes as no surprise, even when they admit to arriving at places in the exact same items of clothing which, you can probably guess, is often PUMA-branded.
“It’s actually hard to explain your own style,” Rolfö responds when asked about her daily fashion choices. “I think it’s easier for someone looking at you to describe it than explaining it yourself but maybe like a mix of sporty, trendy, I don’t know…” she says before stopping to look at Engen for help.
“We have a very similar style, I would say,” Engen adds, coming to the aid of Rolfö. “We like the same things and we often show up in the same things.”
“It’s embarrassing!” Rolfö says in laughter. “Often, when we go to different dinners or when we go to lunch, we are wearing the same clothes!”
“The same jeans, the same shoes, a similar white top,” Engen describes. “I wouldn’t say we’re basic but we like the basic things. We also like to have some bold pieces. Colour on our purses, a lot of jewellery and some really cool sneakers. These kinds of things are where we go bold.”
“We have a lot of the same things,” Rolfö explains through the laughter. “A lot of PUMA pieces, for example, so it’s definitely not a coincidence that we are wearing the same clothes often.”
One occasion neither Engen nor Rolfö could afford to arrive in the same items was the Camp Nou tunnel. What first hit the scene through Barcelona’s male superstars, most notably Jules Koundé, the La Liga champions have allowed players to arrive to games in their own clothes – recreating the culture seen for so long in the NBA – driving football x fashion conversation to new heights.
In March, Barça Femení were given the same opportunity and boy did they deliver.
“It’s a really cool thing to do,” Rolfö says on pre-match fits. “All the fans and the people that follow us on social media see us on the pitch the whole time. Now, we get to show something else in the football stadium and inside Camp Nou. It was a fun way to express yourself, what you like to wear and how you are as a person. I really enjoyed walking on the…not catwalk…but the basement where we walked,” she laughs.
“The first time we were like ‘hmm, what do we do?’,” admits Engen, recreating the action of walking in with her bag. “Yeah, we’d just hear the clicking of the photographer,” Rolfö adds, who is also imitating what she describes, adding camera noises for extra effect. “It was fun!”
“We also heard after that it’s something we should do more often,” Engen says, something we’re all in agreement on.
The topic of tunnel fits brings the conversation to the style within the dressing room which, for Rolfö and Engen at least, causes some debate. “We [Barça players] all have different styles. I’d say that me and Ingrid have more Scandinavian styles, so for us, it’s different from the Spanish style and what they like.”
“The other players are always saying to us ‘Ah, Scandi’s’,” Engen reveals on the fashion talk within the dressing room.
“Yeah, they say that!” Rolfö jumps in. “We have some people that have a really unique style like Asisat Oshoala for example. She likes to express herself with a lot of colours and patterns which is really cool and it really fits her.”
“Who is the best-dressed then?” Engen asks Rolfö, taking over the role as interviewer on our behalf.
“I really like Alexia Putellas’ style,” Rolfö responds. “I think she has a cool style, she’s like classy but still sometimes cool. I’m trying to go through everyone in the locker room and see them walking in” she laughs. “Yeah, let’s say Alexia,” both say agreement.
Despite their fame and access to brands, Rolfö and Engen are just like everyone else when it comes to their fashion influences. In a world where technology has allowed creatives all over the world to build their own platform and community, social media has become a breeding ground for inspiration from all things fashion-related, something Engen utilises.
“I get a lot of inspiration from Instagram,” the Norwegian says. “Following brands, Scandinavian brands that I’m a big fan of. I think my fashion inspiration is pretty random. In my feed, people come up and you save it and get ideas, so that’s how getting inspiration for outfits works for me.”
“I think my inspiration is more from watching people in the street,” says Rolfö. “I really like to get inspired by people, not only with what they wear but also with how they express themselves. I really like Pinterest too, I find a lot of style inspiration on there.”
Away from football and fashion, another look into the personality of athletes is through their taste in music. From vibing around the house to the dressing room playlist before a big game, a lot can be learned by hearing the tracks each baller has on repeat right now. Unsurprisingly, a love for music is a common trait of both Engen and Rolfö’s personalities.
“It’s a big part of our lives,” says Engen. “Music and sport are two things that fit really well together. We use music not only for motivation when we’re getting ready, but also to calm down. It plays an important part in both our lives and the dressing room before and after games. Favourite artist? Khalid is a big favourite for me. His songs are more calm, but they put you in a good mood.”
“I have some favourite songs that I always like to listen to before a game,” Rolfö explains. “Sometimes I listen to a calm song because it can make me even more focused and gives me a good vibe. It doesn’t always have to be pumped up because I know I will get that in the locker room so in the car before a game, I listen to music that makes me feel good.”
“I also have a favourite artist that I like to listen to, she’s Swedish singing in English and her name is Seinabo Sey. She’s an amazing singer and one of my favourites.”
Despite their affection for music, neither Engen nor Rolfö are yet to reach the level of musical taste that would see them take responsibility of the speaker in the Barcelona dressing room. Instead, the role belongs to Spanish midfielder Patricia Guijarro, whose love of reggaeton has been hard to adjust to for two Scandinavians.
“Patricia Guijarro is our DJ. She’s taking good care of it,” Rolfö says.
“There’s a little bit too much Spanish for us,” Engen responds, grinning at the thought. “We try to say ‘Can we have an English song now?’ when we can.”
“Yeah, it’s reggaeton the whole time! It’s just the same rhythm so sometimes you feel like maybe we should get another rhythm in here now,” Rolfö says once again in laughter. “Like Ingrid said, we try to put the English songs in. If she’s asking, I’m like ‘You can add this one to the list’. She is listening to us but she could do even more. But now, we’re starting to like some of the Spanish songs. It’s like ‘Oh, it’s not actually that bad’ but sometimes it’s just too many in a row.”
The friendship between Rolfö and Engen is as evident as any friendship could be. Two girls from Scandinavia – who never had dreams of becoming professional footballers – find themselves playing together at one of the biggest clubs in the game years later with a major brand in PUMA standing alongside them on their journey.
Despite all odds and challenges they have faced within a sport that has been labelled as a ‘man’s game’ for most of its history, Rolfö and Engen have made it to the top and now find themselves as role models to a new generation who will have fewer barriers on their journey thanks to the struggle and effort of today’s female athletes. For that very reason, it feels fitting to end the interview with one last question: ‘What would your advice be to the young girls who are now able to seriously dream about becoming professional footballers?’
“Dream of it,” Engen begins. “Believe you can do it and have fun, that’s the most important thing. If you don’t think it’s fun, it’s not going to work.”
Rolfö agrees. “To have fun is the most important part but be confident, believe in yourself and believe that you can reach this level,” the 29-year-old says. “We are two ordinary girls from two small places. I was not a big talent that everyone could see was going to make it. I had to work hard and there are many in the team that did the same. We believed in ourselves and we ended up here, in Barcelona.”
Conversation: Ryhanna Parara
Words: Jordan Clarke
Photography: Shane Bain
Video: Oliver Hayes
Styling: Stephanie Wüstemann
THE FLYEST FASHION TRENDS FOR THE NEW FOOTBALL SEASON
Without a doubt, it was an eventful off-season for football. Our favorite ballers have gone from movie-level holiday scenes, all the way into the recent round of international friendlies stateside and beyond. A hectic way to introduce this weekend’s all-new league title race, to say the least, but we’re here for it.
From the Bundesliga to La Liga, the Premier League & Serie A, the top style prospects – some new like the youngbloods on Chelsea’s roster, some veterans – have used this downtime wisely & carried the fashion game on their backs, using any opportunity to showcase their individual styles and character through clothing.
We’ve seen an impressive variety of fits and dress codes, with players cooling off – and loading up – as far as hillside & courtside L.A. to NYC, beachside in Mexico, yacht settings in French Riviera spots, Mykonos & Ibiza, to kicking ball in Asia. There’s no telling how many beige private jet interiors and clearport content we’ve seen from this season…and we’re not mad at it.
Take AC Milan star forward Rafael Leão for example. Just like his on-pitch play – the smooth stepovers, risktaking strikes – he’s recently come into his own style-wise too, developing much more confidence in his creative flair and how he pulls his fits together. He’s already been coming different with the flat caps, jorts and penny loafers. Tuff.
In anticipation of the new pre-game looks this season, we peeped the braziest fits of the past few months to bring you a round-up of the current fashion trends that are here to stay. Fellow ballers, stylists, personal shoppers, boys and girls of the FF community – take notes (or screenshots).
LV To Kenzo: Luxury Brands Still Have Motion
Clearly, Louis Vuitton’s streetwear-luxury reign has been extended with Pharrell’s takeover. More than ever, the brand has a growing pull that keeps players loyal to their designs – even without sponsorship deals. The likes of Jude and Jobe Bellingham, Sancho & Marcus Thuram pulled up kitted out in LV to Skateboy P’s opening SS24 Paris Fashion Week show and did numbers on the ‘Gram and TikTok.
Just like Pharrell, O.G designer and BAPE founder Nigo has brought new eyes to legendary brand Kenzo. The vibrant blend of preppy Parisian vibes with real Japanese formalwear is slowly picking up momentum & motion and saw shots & footage of Leroy Sané and girlfriend Candice Brook in full Kenzo drip at June’s show went viral across socials. It’s no wonder why given the traditional Japanese wrap shirt and wide-leg pleated pants the Bayern Munich winger rocked brought a whole new level of drip to the table, It’s time to see more players taking a chance on Kenzo’s graphic tees, kimono wrap-style blazer jackets and their cold denim pieces going forward.
Now take this in… Jules Koundé’s appearance at both Kenzo & Louis Vuitton’s shows alone made him the third most influential athlete – behind Lebron James and Lewis Hamilton – stacking up almost $1 million in media value* for brands just from online engagement, per lefty.io. Footballers as a whole made up 14% of Fashion Week’s media value. Stats that prove ballers aren’t ditching pieces from the world’s biggest brands just yet.
This season, we’re hoping to see for ballers rock the new camo, “Minecraft style” Damier LV print pieces introduced by Pharrell. Don’t be surprised to see the new “buttery” leather monogram speedy bags and the latest selection of solid leather jackets either, which have already been seen on Inter Milan’s Marcus Thuram.
The LV x Kid Super Autumn / Winter ‘24 collection is one to watch too, most notably the easily identifiable patchwork-face outerwear, donned by Chelsea’s Diego Moreira and renowned baller fashion-head Jesse Lingard.
Classy And Elegant Flex
Over the summer, we’ve seen luxurious vacation views and even more luxurious drip from the game’s biggest players. There’s been a clear shift, where ballers are wearing much more formal, understated, and classic fits. Take the classic tailored pants, the linen shirts and even the suede Loro Piana summer walks rocked by Juventus’ Moise Kean for example.
They’ve all been keeping to the unspoken yet strict color scheme too: cool beiges and browns, calm blues and crisp whites. The unshakeable Ousmane Dembélé – now at PSG – and Atlético Madrid’s Memphis Depay are just two ballers doing just that.
This classy theme is heavily inspired by the sweet, city life of fashion hotspots like Milan, Monaco, London and Paris. A life that calls for quality and coolness in all areas. Don’t get it twisted though – there’s no age limit on this trend. Young players like Liverpool’s Stefan Bajčetić have stepped up and made this their own. Check his ‘Gram for proof. At only 18, he’s yet to miss with once in the fashion regard. Designer Martine Rose also had the USWNT looking dapper & chic in their custom pre-game suits at the Women’s World Cup.
The cooler months will call for high thread count cashmere sweaters, flawless blazers, bespoke shirts and trousers with premium leather kicks. Look no further than brands like Prada, Loewe, Ami and JW Anderson for inspiration via their latest collections. Loewe’s introduction of high-waisted, straight and ever-so-slightly flared pants are 10/10. Affordable options in Cos and Massimo Dutti could also do the trick too.
This is definitely the vibe we’re looking for this season. Plus, with players like Jude Bellingham getting the call-up at Real Madrid and Timothy Weah linking up with the impeccably dressed Juventus guys, it’s no time before they see the vision & catch the Mediterranean wave.
Right (And Left) Wrist Van Cleef
Drake was spot on when he sealed this trend into current culture with the above lyrics from “BackOutsideBoyz”. The luxury jewelry brand – Van Cleef & Arpels – famed for their neat and lightweight four-leaf clover style “Alhambra” bracelets – have got players like Jadon Sancho spinning the block back to the store and doubling up the amount they wear on one wrist.
The brand has really caught on due to its “lucky charm” look, which means each link gives off a personal feel to its owner. Now this may not be everyone’s vibe (nor everyone’s price bracket) and that’s cool. More than anything this season we’re looking out for similar jewelry that has a sentimental feel to it. Chains and bracelets that are delicate in weight, but valuable in their meaning fit this criteria. This new trend of jewelry with sentimental value also explains why stars like Drizzy recently grabbed Tupac’s ring (before Karim Benzema got a chance) and Pharrell’s chains at auction. Expensive or cheap – we’re ready for ballers to follow suit.
Heavy On The Denim
If you haven’t been under a rock these past few months, you’ll agree that the jorts – or jeans shorts – trend has been going crazy amongst players. From LV print carpenter shorts to knee length and baggier three-quarter styles, the variety made it an easy summer staple for the likes of Leão and style heavyweight Trevoh Chalobah.
Looking ahead to the 23/24 season, it’s time to turn the denim trend up a notch. After all, jorts can’t be the move in the upcoming colder weather. Brands like Givenchy, Gucci, Loewe, Diesel, Y-Project and JW Anderson are dropping so many denim options back to back that we’re now spoilt for choice. But these aren’t the overly ripped, super bleached or distressed types we’ve been used to.
These are jeans in their purest form, with a heavy-weight look to them: a sign of quality. Whether that be 90s-looking light blues, mildly stonewashed grays or darker-dyed options, good denim is a vibe right now. Jeans that look sturdy & hefty, straight fit and slightly wide (but not ridiculous). We’ve had promising glimpses of this already, but we’re definitely praying to see more across the league. Less of the overdone & typical flashy jeans, more of the traditional, tastefully finished stuff. Alright, the Denim Tears and Chrome Hearts jeans can stay too…
Tales From The Far East
South Asia has recently provided top-notch hospitality within football over the summer. Hosting the Barcelona boys in Tokyo and welcoming Manchester City in South Korea on their pre-season tours. But it’s Asia’s contribution to fashion that ballers and fashion fanatics should be most grateful for.
We know the Japanese don’t play when it comes to quality design and individualistic 1-of-1 drip that’s made to last a lifetime. Their creation & use of materials is globally respected, as their dyeing & “boro boro” reuse/upcycling process is one that’s been perfected for generations. For those looking to bring different vibes and have a fashion advantage, we recommend locking in & seeking out the rising fashion brands & trends coming out of Asia this season. You’re bound to find unseen archive pieces, crazy silhouettes (again, like Kenzo) and second-to-none textiles & detailing. This is the boundless creativity and freedom football has been needing; Asian fashion and excellent craftsmanship overseas will play a big part.
Brands like Thug Club out of South Korea – already supported by the likes of ASAP Rocky, SZA and Central Cee – are bringing new interpretations of streetwear with fire designs. Their double denim sets are embroidered with their futuristic-looking star & moon “TC” logo are too hard to pass up. And the caps, tees and hoodies? A must-cop!
Standout designers like Seoul-based Andersson Bell & LVMH prize nominee Juntae Kim are ones we hope to see featured amongst Barca’s tunnel fits & rocked well at the Netherlands’ national team camp. Bell knows ball, since recently the brand hosted Trevoh Chalobah front row at their Milan SS24 show. The new collection features crazy style linkups like doubled-up hoodies & leather pants patched with cargo pockets. The latter brand Juntae goes equally as hard with cropped bomber jackets and immaculately creased denim that give a two-tone effect. Phenomenal.
Of course, long-standing luxury Asian brands like WooyoungMi & Japanese brand Sacai – most known over here for the Nike Vaporwaffle – could do with some more love in the league. Sacai’s on a different level since their recent collaborations with Carhartt, which is all about upgraded workwear and fits inspired by the great outdoors. Their multi-functional dungarees and pocketed puffers, bombers, long length parka jackets with asymmetric openings would be a perfect fit for a style maverick like Michy Batshuayi.
This one ain’t just a trend, it’s a movement. Get tapping into the endless brands coming out of Asia!
The bigger the buckle, the better! Musicians like Travis Scott & Kendrick Lamar have been rocking custom belts the size of WWE titles and we’re feeling it. Seeing the strong connection between sport and music, it won’t be long before we see ballers tighten up and catch onto the bucklemania effect. You won’t have trouble finding your own, since Gucci has brought back the legendary double G buckle and Loewe have released belts big enough for Wild West cowboys.
Let us know which trends you’re looking out for ahead of another wavey year in the football x fashion space.
ROSELLA AYANE IS READY TO BLOOM WITH MOROCCO
“I didn’t see the dream of being a professional when I was growing up so I think we, as female players, have a responsibility to show young girls that this can be a career and playing football is something they’re allowed to do,” Rosella Ayane says on behalf of the countless female athletes with similar stories.
From her serene, humble yet confident and present state – almost matching this warmly sun-lit London apartment we’ve met her in – you’d forget that the 27-year-old will soon face the highest peak of any footballers career: representing her nation on the world stage.
Though Reading-born to a Scottish mother, Rosella’s bold decision in 2021 to reconnect with her heritage and represent her father’s home country Morocco has been respected and backed within the game. The African nation is only separated from Europe by the strait of Gibraltar between the Mediterranean Sea & Atlantic Ocean, but a weighty decision like that isn’t made overnight. However, such a decision is more than paying off for Ayane whose AFCON semi-final spot-kick against reigning champions Nigeria sent Morocco through to not just the tournament final but to this summer’s World Cup, making them the first Arab nation in women’s football to qualify.
“It was a crazy moment. I should probably read a dictionary because I need to find new words for it. The atmosphere out at AFCON was incredible. I was in Marrakesh a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t been there since that moment and the reception I got was surreal,” Ayane says, eyes beaming whilst reliving the experience.
“It just shows the stamp that we’ve put on women’s football. Obviously, the men did so well at the World Cup too and I think that shows that Morocco as a footballing nation respects both the men’s and women’s teams. That’s very evident and is still evident now from the hype we’ve got going into the World Cup this summer.”
“It took me a while to digest and realise what we’ve done,” Ayane says on the World Cup qualification that was seemingly against all odds. “I didn’t actually realise how much history we’d made until my family listed all the achievements to me. To be the first Arab country to qualify and to do it for the first time in Morocco’s history, it definitely took a while to sink in. I don’t know how much will feel real when we walk out against Germany in the first game.”
Whilst the success of this Atlas Lions team and the name of each player being firmly placed in the history books could be enough for Ayane, she remains far from the end goal of inspiring a generation of young girls across not just Morocco, but the world.
“There shouldn’t be judgment on young girls playing football and I think we as players of the women’s national team need to pave the way for girls to be footballers or whatever they want to be in life.”
“Then, with more investment, the support from brands like size? and the more the game is in the public eye, you’re only going to see it expand and young people will see us on the TV and in magazines like I never got to see. They’ll be able to grow up and say ‘I want to be like her’.”
Of course, it’d be wrong to talk about this summer’s World Cup without asking a star involved in her tournament predictions, something Ayane is more than happy to get stuck into. “Well, Morocco are going to be in the final of course, so that’s a silly question!” she says with a smirk that quickly turns into laughter.
“If, and it’s a big if, for some bizarre reason we aren’t in the final, you can’t take the United States lightly. The other team is really hard to choose. It really depends on who turns up during the tournament. You’ve got Germany, you’ve got France who will be a force and then Australia of course, who will do well since it’s a home tournament.”
“I’m going to say an unpredictable one and pick Australia. They’ve got a whole country behind them. People don’t realise it but that is like having two extra players, not just twelve players but thirteen! Having a home crowd and that buzz, full stadiums and everyone behind them will pay off. So my final prediction is Australia vs. the United States with the US coming out on top, but this is obviously only if Morocco gets knocked out for some bizarre reason,” Ayane smirks once more.
With the interest in women’s football growing with each passing day, players such as Ayane are now gaining social media audiences bigger than their male counterparts, with Ayane’s 217,000 Instagram followers surpassing many male Premier League stars. With that comes not just fame, but influence and responsibility, something the Moroccan doesn’t take lightly.
“Speak to any female footballer and they realise the depth and magnitude of being an inspiration,” Ayane says. “It’s something we’re very proud of. We want to help inspire the next generation and every player will sit here and say that. The bigger the game gets, the bigger we become as role models and that’s something I found out after AFCON last year. It’s something I’m very prideful of and I’m very happy to try to be the best role model I can be.”
That level of responsibility both online and offline is something previous generations of players have not been accustomed to given the lack of coverage in the game failed to allow major growth for athletes’ personal brands. For Ayane, the lack of coverage in her childhood prevented her from seeing football as a viable career option.
“If I’m honest, the coverage was non-existent when I was growing up,” Ayane admits. “I didn’t see the women’s game on TV, I didn’t see it as a profession and I didn’t see it as something I could make a living from. It was just something I fell into because I loved it and year by year, I slowly found myself becoming a professional footballer. It was just step-by-step.”
“One of my teammates, Becky Spencer, actually put a clip up of her playing in the FA Cup final for Birmingham donkeys years ago,” Ayane recalls.
“I remember saying to her, ‘I watched that game mate’ and I was only about 12. That’s probably the only women’s game I ever remember watching on TV. That needs to change and it is slowly changing thanks to platforms such as size? being serious about pushing our game.”
With more interest comes more investment which has no doubt increased the quality of the Women’s Super League, most notable by last season’s incredible to-the-end title race between Manchester United and Chelsea, with the Blues snatching another title late on. Ayane, who also found herself coming out on top of a battle towards the bottom of the table, believes such a level of competition is vital for the growth of the game.
“One of the reasons the Premier League in men’s football is so highly respected and watched globally is because you never know who is going to win week in, week out,” she says. “I think it’s starting to get to that point in women’s football. As you just said, with the title race, you didn’t know who was going to win until toward the end. I think it was the same with the bottom of the table too.”
“You didn’t know who was going to get relegated until the last game of the season. That in itself speaks volumes for where women’s football is going and it’s a credit to everyone who is involved. With that level of competition, the quality and viewership will only get higher.”
Whilst football is Ayane’s one true love, fashion is also a close contender. The rise of the football and fashion crossover no longer requires any explanation. At this point, being unaware of it would raise serious questions over where one has been for the past two years. Players from all around the game, from England to Italy and male players to female, are actively showing their fits off the pitch these days and Ayane is no different.
“I just think, with fashion, it’s my way to express myself away from football,” she begins. “From your clothes to the way you dress and style yourself, it can say a lot about how you’re feeling and your personality. I think when footballers get put in this box of just being footballers, fashion, music and all things culture-related are outlets to express yourself and prove that label wrong. Self-expression is one thing a lot of players, including myself, love doing through their clothes.”
“My outfits depend on where I’m going. One thing I will say about my fashion is it’s versatile. I haven’t just got one look or one thing I like to base my fits on. I love to glam up but I also love to glam down. When I open my wardrobe, it depends on the event and I like to fit in with the atmosphere or the vibe but describing my style isn’t black and white.”
At Tottenham, Ayane is not alone in her passion for fashion…
“Fashion is big in the dressing room, definitely. A lot of the girls come in wearing outfits if they’re going somewhere after training, so we’ve got some fashionistas at the club. I have to say Shelina Zadorsky is very well- dressed. She’s always coming correct and she’s always got the latest pair of trainers or she’s wearing a fit everyone rates.”
“Who could do with some help? Bless her… probably Kerys Harrop. She probably doesn’t care and fair enough, not everyone cares about fashion like that but some of the clobber she has on? I probably wouldn’t leave the locker room in. She probably wouldn’t wear what I wear and would say I look stupid in this,” Ayane laughs, pointing to her own fit. “Fashion fits everyone differently.”
No matter how fly Ayane looks today or on any previous day, nobody is immune to a fashion malfunction from time to time and unfortunately for her, the latest was only a few weeks back. “I was at an event and I was sat at the dinner table and it was like awards, so black-tie and glam-glam, and I could feel something itching my back,” she says, painting the scene of the calamity.
“I kept reaching towards it and thinking ‘What is on my back’. I said to my mate, ‘Have I got something on my back, like something crawling?’ and nobody had told me or realised that I’d left a massive tag in. So I’m walking around with what looks like a GPS vest on my back because the tag is still in my dress. That, for me, is my biggest malfunction and it was on a red carpet. I went straight to the toilet and asked my friend to rip it out of my dress,” Ayane says sending the room into laughter.
Footballers are competitive in anything they do. Ayane herself admits when she steps onto the pitch, her whole demeanor can change in order to get a vital win. So it’s no surprise that when it comes to fashion, players want to be the best. With athletes becoming more and more interested in fashion, a debate around who sits on top in the fashion stakes is to be expected and online, it’s already arrived.
For Ayane, naming a top-five list isn’t an easy task but as always, she’s happy to dive in.
“First, I’ve got to go with my girl Leah Williamson,” she says on the Arsenal and England star, who is also a close friend. “She comes correct at every event, you have to give it to her. Even if I go chill at her house, she’s wearing something decent and she’s just sat in her house so I’ll go with Leah as number one.”
“Do you know whose outfits I always rate but couldn’t personally wear? Lauren James and Shanice van de Sanden. Those two are always very well-dressed. Trinity Rodman has popped up on my explore page a couple of times and it’s always an outfit that you think ‘Okay, that’s lit’. Kenza Dali is clean and she’s a big sneaker girl, so I’ll go with her to make up my five.”
Leah Williamson. Lauren James. Shanice van de Sanden. Trinity Rodman. Kenza Dali. Some list.
Like fashion, music is another hugely popular way for athletes to express themselves without a ball at their feet. From players now making their own tracks to having their name referenced in bars, the music x football crossover is also undeniable. For Ayane, there’s no doubt in her mind when it comes to her music opinions, which she happily admits will be sure to annoy some people.
“I’m probably going to get a lot of heat for this but I don’t particularly care… I can’t listen to Taylor Swift. I can’t listen to her music and I don’t understand how her tickets are so expensive. Harry Styles is another one I can’t listen to. Sorry, I know I’m going to get hate for this. Harry Styles, if I had to, I could listen to him, but Taylor Swift? No. If she came on the radio, I’d turn it off immediately and listen to classical,” Ayane laughs.
“My favourite track and one I’ll always put on the aux is Last Last by Burna Boy. It’s just a banger. It gets the room going and whatever the vibe, you can rely on that song and for me personally, it has a lot of good memories. I played it every game day at AFCON so it always brings back the good vibes.”
“Most underrated artist? Good question! I’d personally go with Tems. I think she has bangers! I’ve had her latest album on repeat recently and I’m quite bad if I like an album, I will drown it out until people are like ‘please stop’. I’ll have it on repeat with no care in the world.”
Ahead of the biggest summer of her life, Ayane is a pleasure to talk to. As relaxed as someone without an ounce of pressure on their shoulders, each response she offers is full of charisma, taking the time to provide depth to each response whether it be through humour or an inspirational tone as she discusses helping the next generation of Moroccans to see the dream she could never see. “You have to enjoy what you’re doing,” she says on her advice to young girls aspiring to be in her position.
“Whatever job you’re in, you have to enjoy it. That’s how the best version of yourself is going to come out. I think that’s major in football. Happy players off the pitch usually play well on the pitch so I think enjoying yourself is my main bit of advice. Even if you don’t want a career in football, make sure that whatever you do in life, you do it with enjoyment.”
Shop all of Rosella Ayane’s looks and the full size? Homegrown collection here.
In Partnership With: size?
Photography: Shane Bain
Conversation: Ryhanna Parara
Words: Jason Owusu-Frimpong