When Chelsea released Moroccan star Rosella Ayani in 2016, after growing up at the London club, she feared there was nothing for her in football.
Seven years later, the 27-year-old striker has become a key player for Tottenham Hotspur in the Women’s Football League and is set to play a decisive role for Morocco at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this month.
After being released by Chelsea, Ayna missed the game for a year and subsequently moved to Cyprus with Apollon Limassol. At the time, it was hard to believe that she could reach the highest level again.
Ain, who was born in Reading, England, told ESPN: “I don’t think it was necessarily external pressure. [that caused problems at Chelsea]. I was young and I remember that, I had a lot to learn and I had to sit and reflect on myself and my character – everything I want in football – and that’s something I did.
“I think being released from Chelsea is one of the best things that happened because you had to take a hard look at yourself.”
After a spell back at Bristol City, where she previously played on loan, Ayane returned to London with Tottenham in 2019.
She said of dressing as one of her childhood rivals: “I think in women’s football a lot of people move around between clubs, rivalries and stuff – it’s more frowned upon now – but back in the day, I didn’t feel any strange feelings when wearing Tottenham shirt.
“I’ve been incredibly proud of the journey I’ve been on, playing for Tottenham and getting my career back on track.”
It would take another two years before Ain was ready to commit internationally to Morocco, her father’s country, having previously played for the England Under-17 and Under-19 sides. She was also eligible to play for Scotland through her mother, but finally chose the North African country in 2021.
At club level, it has largely become her role providing assists for Beth England, but her goal-scoring prowess is often invoked at international level and she has now netted nine times in 19 caps, justifying what was an initially difficult decision to commit to. though. affection for Morocco.
Ain said of the decision to play for Morocco: “I think when you make such a big leap you have to be ready in your career and you have to be ready in your life outside of football. I think a lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to be on international duty, Especially in a place where you don’t know anyone.
“For me, I had to feel fine mostly off the field, and also in my career. When I turned around [Morocco’s first approach] Down, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t feel like it was the right time for me. When she came back, I was mentally and physically ready and it clearly paid off.”
Ayani can see similarities between her attitudes towards club and country. None of the attempts succeed on the first try, but on both sides of the game, her persistence has paid off.
“I think everything comes full circle and I think if you deserve something, my favorite saying is: What does it mean to not pass you by,” Ain said.
“At the time, it seemed like the world’s release was the end of the world, but when you sit back and look at it, that’s actually one of the best things that happened, and it’s the same with Morocco. If you said ‘yes’ the first time, maybe it wasn’t necessarily as good as it was.” she is now “.
Morocco reached the final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations on home soil last year, losing 2-1 to South Africa. Despite that heartbreak, Ayane, who scored in the final, spoke with great pride of her team’s surprising run to the final hurdle.
She said of Morocco’s recent growth: “I think no one expects us to do as well as we did in the Africa Cup of Nations. I think it was the first time we’ve reached the final stages of a tournament and if I’m being completely honest I don’t. I don’t think so.” Anyone would expect anything from us at the World Cup.
But I don’t mind that, because you’re an underdog, you have everything to prove and there’s no pressure at all, so I’m excited to go and see what we can do as a Moroccan.”
Thembi Kgatlana, whose team Banyana Banyana defeated Morocco in the final, paid tribute to the hosts of the West African Football Confederation in an interview with ESPN. The Racing Louisville forward, who missed the final due to injury, noted that Morocco will be the next force for African women’s football due to their investment in infrastructure and game development at all levels.
“That’s nice of her [Kgatlana]. It kind of says what I feel and see in Morocco. “They’re putting money, infrastructure and development into the women’s game,” Ayne said upon hearing Cgatlana’s comments.
“Obviously, I can’t speak for other countries on the continent, but against the backdrop of WAFCON and the funding that they (the Royal Moroccan Football Federation) are putting into it – the respect that we’ve shown – I think it will only go one way, because with this investment, how do you expect For a nation to improve, especially the female side? So, I think Morocco is on the right track.”
In the World Cup, Morocco will be in Group H with Germany, Colombia and South Korea. Neither Colombia nor South Korea have come more than the last 16 before, while Germany is past its golden age, so newcomer Morocco has every chance of causing an upset.
Ain said: “On an individual level, I don’t think much [personal goals]. I want to get out of the group. I will not be another number. Of course, it’s a pleasure to be there, but I’m not there just to participate and I think the team feels that too.
“So one of our main goals will be to get out of the group and prove ourselves, but like I said, I don’t think there is any pressure on our shoulders.”
In the long term, she wants to be part of a generation that is changing perceptions about women’s football in her country: “I want Morocco to eventually become a country where women’s football is respected the way it is respected in England. I’ve said it. This is from the beginning.”
“I want to help push Moroccan women’s football to a place where you’re watching closely [and] I got a lot of investment and a lot of respect. I think England is one of the strong forces for that and I want to help Morocco to get to this stage.”
Morocco will start their campaign against Germany in Melbourne on July 24 before facing South Korea in Adelaide six days later and Colombia in Perth on August 3.