Amadou Onana lives every single day like it’s his last. Why? Because he knows it truly could be. “Tomorrow, everything could end,” he tells me in the aftermath of our first cover shoot of the year.
“It doesn’t matter how far you’ve made it in football or life, or who you are or where you’ve come from. It’s the same for everyone. Tomorrow, anything could end. You have to live life to the fullest and go after all of your goals.”
The Everton midfielder, who has already played professionally in multiple leagues across Europe before his 23rd birthday, speaks with the maturity and humility of a seasoned pro, though not without the enthusiasm for life of a new kid on the block with the world at his feet.
For Onana, every accomplishment in his short career so far has only been possible due to the sacrifices of the two strongest people in his life: his mother and sister.
“They played a crucial role in my journey to making it as a professional,” he says. “My sister was battling cancer at the same time she helped me get a move to Hoffenheim. To this day, she is my agent. She takes care of everything in my life. Literally everything. From a personal trainer to a chef to a mental coach, whatever I need, she takes care of it. A big shoutout to my sis. She is one of the strongest human beings I know.”
“With my Mum, she did a lot,” Onana adds. “She’s my Queen. She gave up on her life and her dreams for me. She had her own business in Senegal as a physio and gave up on all of that to move to Belgium to make her child’s dream a reality. I could never say ‘thank you’ enough to my Mum.”
Born in Colobane of Dakar, Senegal, Onana’s early life – eleven years to be exact – was spent in West Africa under the roof of a 14-member household. Though originally from Cameroon, Onana’s father lived in Belgium, the place he would first meet Onana’s mother, and therefore Brussels provided the pathway to more opportunities to not only play football but to forge a professional career in the sport.
Despite Belgium’s contribution to his journey in football, Onana’s gratitude for his upbringing in Senegal has never wavered. “Growing up in both Senegal and Belgium gave me different views about life,” he says.
“They are two different countries with two very different cultures. Growing up in Senegal gave me the family values I have now. It humbled me. I’ve been around people who didn’t have much but they lived life with happiness and would help the next person, even when their situation wasn’t the best.”
“With Belgium, I moved there when I was eleven as a young kid. I went to school there, I started my football career there and I think I learned the discipline to make it to the top level during my youth there.”
Onana, by his own admission, is a larger-than-life character. If you’re in a room with him, you will know about it. Not because of his 6’4″ frame, footballer fame or distinctive style choices, but the fearlessness he holds in his self-expression. From dancing to afrobeats to belting out Giveon’s ‘Heartbreak Anniversary’ on set, Onana is never afraid to be himself in any environment, something many athletes are progressively becoming more open to than ever before.
The Belgian believes his travels across the globe have helped shape the person and player he is today. “Growing up around the world was great for me,” he says. “It opened my eyes and my vision for life. I picked up something from every single place I’ve been.”
“In Senegal, I learned family values, creativity and the art of being yourself and doing your own thing. In Belgium, I learned about football, how the industry works and the business side of the game. Going to Germany, the German discipline is just different. You really have to follow the advice you’re given and the steps as they are to succeed.”
Now, England is Onana’s new home. Almost two years on from his switch to Everton from Ligue 1 side Lille, he is one of the Premier League’s hottest prospects with the character to match. Last January, he reportedly turned down interest from Chelsea, refusing to leave the Toffees in the midst of a relegation battle, a decision that would later help keep Everton’s Premier League status intact.
Fast forward to January of this year and once again, Onana’s name is attracting suitors. Reports of interest from both Manchester United and Arsenal are rife and Everton’s troubles with the Premier League continue, including a points deduction for allegedly breaching financial regulations. Despite this, Onana remains at Goodison Park, giving his all in every game as each Evertonian – on the pitch and in the stands – continues to do since the ruling.
“I feel very happy living in England, I’ve been accepted as I am,” he says.
“I’m a loud character and I’m quite different from other people. I think that’s normalised here, which is a great thing for me. In England, I feel like people are very open-minded. You’re accepted no matter who you are, what you come from, what religion you follow and you can be yourself.”
The importance of being yourself is something that regularly features in conversation with Onana. Whether it be from his time in Senegal or forging a career as a young player in the social media era, being unique and standing out from the crowd is a vital part of his life.
“To me, it’s very important. I can’t be anything else but myself,” he reveals.
“That’s how I’ve been raised. Being proud of who I am, what I do and where I came from. In the most humble way, there is no other human being on this planet that is exactly like me. Everyone has different characters and different views on life, so just be yourself, express yourself the way you want to and do things that you actually want to do.”
Away from football, fashion and music act as an outlet for Onana in his hunt for self-expression. If you aren’t aware of the rise of football x fashion in recent years, firstly, where have you been? Secondly, things are only getting bigger so you may need to catch up whilst you still can. Long gone are the days of athletes being required to stick to football. The new generation of players are leading a wave in which they have become the new age fashion icons and with the backing of the youth, their influence over football fans and Gen-Z consumers knows no bounds.
“Everything has evolved,” says Onana. “Back in the day, football players were just seen as football players. Now, people understand we can do a lot more than that. Football doesn’t define us. Football is not who I am, but what I do and what I love. I do loads of other stuff, like singing, modelling and fashion,” Onana reveals. “It makes me happy that everyone is opening up and showing a different side to themselves. I think it’s a great thing for the game.”
“I feel like fashion is a way of expressing myself and that’s the magic thing about it,” Onana explains, more than happy to continue diving into his fashion exploits. “You get to decide what you rock today. I express myself through the way I dress and I dress the way I feel.”
“If I wake up happy, you will see it in the way I dress with loads of colour combinations. If I’m a bit moody, I’ll go dark. It really depends on my mood and that’s what is so special about it. If I feel comfortable in it, I don’t mind wearing anything. I’ve done crazy styles before and as long as I find it fire, I’mma rock it.”
One thing about top-level athletes is that they are competitive by nature, in any and every field they play. When it comes to football and fashion, things are no different. As the niche continues to grow (a rise which saw training fits and pre-game looks introduced across club socials in Europe last season), so do the levels being displayed by each elite-level baller with a love of self-expression. Naturally, debates between players now go further than just on-the-pitch performances with wardrobe wars replacing everyday football discussions and players battling it out to be the best-dressed athletes in sport. Barcelona’s Jules Koundé and Aston Villa’s Kenza Dali were most recently crowned Footballer Fits’ 2023 MVPs, a prize given to the flyest footballers of the year.
For both club and country, Onana has shared dressing rooms with some of the waviest names in the football x fashion world, aside from his own of course. One baller in particular stands out when I quiz him on the best-dressed players he’s played alongside.
“Number one, Mr Michy Batshuayi. That guy is fly! That guy is cold!” Onana says without a second of hesitation.
“I like the way he dresses because it’s different from anyone else. He does his own thing and you can really see that. The way he dresses matches his personality, which I love.”
“Timothy Weah is another. I played with him back in Lille. He brings that American style and he’s one of the coldest I know. I also like Dominic Calvert-Lewin a lot too. Again, he expresses himself differently to most people. Jérémy Doku is a fly baller and he’s my guy! I play with him at Belgium and every time we come to meet up, it’s a competition, I’m not going to lie! People are always trying to look the best and I like it. I could name even more, but I feel like these guys are the flyest I’ve played with.”
Whilst the endless supply of inspiration from other players may be of use to many, Onana’s inspiration comes from far greater means than the Instagram feeds of his peers. “I feel like I inspire myself from everything I see. I look at other athletes, artists, models or my experience travelling the world and coming from Senegal, where people dress in a very loud and colourful way,” he says.
“Then I can go across the globe to America and look at the NFL players for example. I feel like I can dress in any kind of way, I can dress young, I can dress classy and elegant, I can dress crazy and colourful and do it all, rock n’ roll. I don’t really focus on brands. For me, as I said, if it looks good, I don’t care about anything else. I really look at everyone around me for inspiration but then try to do my own thing.”
Fashion is no longer the only route of self-expression players are exploring outside of the game, though. The new-found trend of footballers launching music careers is becoming harder to ignore with each passing day. AC Milan’s Rafael Leão goes by the pseudonym ‘Way 45′ to release his music, Juventus’ Moise Kean recently released his debut track under the group ’19F’ and Memphis Depay has been dropping heat across all streaming platforms in recent years.
Onana’s musical ability is no secret either. From singing videos on his own channels – including his viral cover of Summer Walker’s ‘Session 32’ – to his ability to rap in multiple languages on the same track, the midfielder sees music as another form of expressiveness that football nor fashion can offer. “With music, I can put everything into words,” he says.
“I’m expressing myself with my voice and I can shout about how I feel. It’s different and expressing myself in a way that everyone can understand in comparison to football and fashion.”
Onana is not just jumping on a popular trend either, as his family will attest to. Since early, music has been a part of his life.
“My love for music started young, you know. I’ve always loved listening to music, singing in the house and in the shower so loud that my Mum would bang the door! I started writing my own tracks since I was young too,” he reveals.
“Ten, eleven-years-old, writing little rap songs and that. I never released them and never will because those songs were crap! Nah, I’m just joking, but those songs were very different to the ones I create now. I released the track with you guys and my guy #17 (Alex Iwobi), which was a great track too by the way and I’m planning on releasing more in the future. It’s something that’s really fun for me.”
The process of those tracks can start and end anywhere for Onana. Though many musical talents like to lock in during their time at the studio, Onana, like his fashion sense, sources inspiration from all over. “I feel like I could start writing anywhere,” he says, taking me through his creative process.
“I could be on the coach to an away game and a bar will come in my head. Sometimes I see something and I’m able to write about it there and then. There’s no special place or routine. I just need a beat, my creativity and inspiration and that’s it. I can write from anywhere at any time.”
As things stand, the footballer music scene is yet to have as many participants as the fashion wave, but it continues to grow. Draping yourself in designer clothes and the latest fashion trends across social media is a little easier than being born with musical ability, it must be said. Despite the vast improvement of criticism against players for their outside interests, making and releasing music still has some way to go before it’s fully accepted in the sport. Because of this, some players with genuine talent have kept it far from the eyes and ears of football folklore and traditional media, something Onana wants to change.
“There are some very talented ballers out there who are probably scared to release something because of those who say ‘focus on football’. Of course, football is the main part of my life but it’s what I do, it’s not what I am,” Onana says passionately.
“Football is the most important thing so I’m focused on it but I need other interests and to think about different things when I’m away from the pitch. I think that’s more healthy. The ballers out there with talent, go out there and do your thing. Believe in yourself and just drop it, man. If you enjoy it, do it. We have to thank the likes of Memphis Depay who started the wave, so a big shout out to him and the other players that created a pathway for us to express ourselves.”
Spending time with Onana, it is incredibly hard to believe he is still just 22-years-old. From his understanding of life to his humble nature with everything he says and does, you would be forgiven for thinking he had already been there and done it all. A born leader who is focused on using his voice and his platform to inspire those around him and help those who need it most, Onana strays far from the stereotypes given to footballers.
Whilst becoming the best player he can be is a huge ambition and one he will give everything to reach, he understands life does not revolve around eleven people kicking a ball every Saturday, even when we football supporters feel that it does. Instead, leaving a legacy beyond the walls of a football stadium is at the forefront of his mind.
“I want to break records, I want to win as many trophies as I can, I want to push the barriers and play as many games as I can. I want people to remember me as the football player I am.”
“But more importantly, I want people to remember the person I am. To remember the people I inspired and the charity work I’ve done. I want to help as many people as I can, donate as much as I can and do as much as I can for my people.”
“At the end of the day, that’s what really matters to me, man. Football is great, but there’s a life after it. I want to be remembered for way, way more than just football.”
Producer: Jordan Clarke
Executive Producer: Kieran Clarke
Photography: Shane Bain
Video: Cory Shillingford-Cox
BTS Video: Ellie Wickes
Styling/Creative Direction: Marcus Pancho
Make-up: Corrine Gibbons
Lighting: Aaron Price
Retouching: Adam Lupton
Cover Design: Scott Mcroy
Jewellery: Local Kettle Brothers
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