By Grahame Anderson
Bradford born and bred midfield dynamo Aqsa Mushtaq has begun a special Italian job as one of the new stars at Serie A powerhouse Napoli.
Her début marked the beginning of a real dream come true for the popular 22-year-old who scored 13 goals for Lenoir-Rhyne University in the states last season. The Naples club, one of the biggest in the world, may have lost by a single goal away to Bari in the season’s opening round of fixtures, but the signing of Aqsa will certainly prove to be of benefit long term.
The youngster, who began her career at Bradford City Women told us: “An agent called and said Napoli liked the video they’d seen of me, and they needed a winger who was a good dribbler. Then the club got in touch to sign me.”
She added: “It was good to get the chance to play for Bradford City, but I had only just turned 16 and to be honest, I didn’t get as much game time as I’d have wanted.
“It was a good experience though, and it showed me how hard I’d have to work and how much work I’d have to do to get to where I wanted to be.
“At 16, I felt like I was playing with these amazing players and I’d struggle to ever get to their level.
“But I’ve just turned 22 and I feel like I am impressing people now.”
In fact, Asqa had been playing in America for three years also winning the South Atlantic Conference Player award. In her 70 matches across the pond she found the net 24 times also providing 12 assists.
Her move to Italy represents a major milestone in the game as few players from a Pakistani background have made it to the top. Asqa, who has been playing since the age of six, joins former Fulham stalwart and Pakistan’s former captain, Ghiyas Zahid who plays for APOEL and Otis Rehman a former Sheffield United player on the role of honour.
Football in Pakistan has struggled because of Politics, just like many other sports. The football federation in the country has suffered at the hands of corruption and irrational decisions in the past. In recent times however, there have been some positive signs things are getting better.
Asqa said: “It’s not easy, because it’s not really part of our culture and a lot of people don’t see football as being for girls.
“But I’ve always had the support of my family and if you have that, it doesn’t matter what others think.
“There will always be some who don’t think what I do is right, but you don’t have to listen to them.”
Asqa has great admiration for Liverpool football club with Steve Gerrard, now Rangers manager her favourite role model.
The women’s Serie A is the highest-level league competition for women’s football clubs in Italian football, established back in 1968. The standard is high and Asqa can expect to compete against some of the best players in the world donning the number 12 shirt. Her move however, is seen as a fantastic boost for those players from a South Asian background. It seems certain more will follow in the near future.
West Yorkshire Pride
For now, Bradford can feel rightly proud of their outstanding export and for Aqsa – she’s quickly becoming for one of the most sought after talents in the women’s game.