Anita Asante interview: 90s Neetz with a little something for you – England midfielder takes it back for a moment
The prospect of a sixth major international tournament looms for England’s Anita Asante this summer and the Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC midfielder may have a noteworthy yet guilty curveball to throw into the mix for the team playlist!
At 28, the former Arsenal Ladies player has a magnificent list of team honours to her name and has built on the reputation she established back home with successful stays in the US and her current port of call, Sweden. She also has nine years of experience with the England team as part of the 2005 and 2009 European Championships, the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, and the 2012 London Olympics with Team GB. Her place in the national team picture has been further strengthened by featuring strongly in the highly reputable Damallsvenskan for Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC and she has won 62 caps for her country so far.
Besides a commendable interest and level of application for her academic studies, Anita also has a love for music. Players from nations across the world have taken their careers to the US and to Sweden while Anita has been there and she explains how the melodies and rhythms her colleagues have shared have impacted upon her.
“I think over the years I have definitely been exposed to a range of music preferences in the dressing room, from r&b and hip-hop to garage, electronica, disco, indie, rock, Swedish schlager, the list is endless! (With the) national team, Alex Scott is our main DJ, sometimes Karen Bardsley shares that responsibility.
“When I played at Sky Blue FC in the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) I really enjoyed the atmosphere created by our Brazilian player Rosana and her authentic music. Currently, (Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC ) the younger players have hijacked the speakers so we have no choice!
“In fairness, they do their best to cater to all the musical tastes appropriated largely by age in the team!’’
In the first few years of her career, Anita won it all with the club she grew up with – Arsenal Ladies. The team has been the leading light in the English women’s game for over two decades and before joining Chelsea in 2008, Anita won 12 trophies with the Gunners. This included the historical quadruple in 2006/07 – the UEFA Women’s Cup, the FA Women’s Premier League, the FA Women’s Cup and the FA Women’s Premier League Cup.
The UEFA Women’s Cup (since rebranded as the Champions League) success made Arsenal the first from England to lift the trophy and right-back Alex Scott scored the only goal in the two-legged final, away to Swedish side Umeå IK in April 2007. Anita played in both games and she has shared a changing room with England defender and team DJ Scott on many occasions. Although she is generally the one to choose the dressing room songs she may be tempted to throw one of Anita’s old favourites onto the next playlist. The first record she ever owned was a track from one of the very few English male r&b boybands in the 90s!
“Oh my gosh, I think it was MN8 on cassette tape, I’m embarrassed to say! I was about ten.’’
It is fair to say that Anita has adapted her choice of artists since that early foray into music purchasing and it is perhaps just as well considering the challenge that came up with Göteborg earlier this year!
“I really enjoy music and I have to say my favourite artists currently are Beyonce, Rihanna, Angel Haze, Vince Kidd and Miguel. This pre-season in LA, my team decided that it was time for an official team initiation.
“One of the tasks was to put headphones on, listen to music, and sing the song back to the other newcomers and for them to guess the artist and the song. If I had known earlier that I would have been nominated for the job I would have warmed up my voice!’’
Captain for England at Under-17 and Under-19 level, Anita had the chance to get Team GB’s Olympic tournament underway last summer when she and Kelly Smith were in the centre circle for the opening game against New Zealand. The Great Britain team was coached by Hope Powell who is of course in charge of the England squad and overall set-up. The first of Anita’s 62 caps for Powell’s England was in May 2004 against Iceland and her solitary goal thus far came as the winner in the 1-0 victory over Norway at Barnsley’s Oakwell in the build-up to Euro 2005. During Anita’s time in the England team, Chelsea forward Eniola Aluko, an interviewee on here very recently, has invariably been there too and she was the first name to spring to mind on the subject of teammates’ vocal ability.
“Eniola Aluko loves to belt out a song or two, not that she needs any encouragement. Jill Scott also sings along to her iPod on the way to training or just at random times, but I’ll leave it to everyone else to judge her singing capabilities!
“Jess Clarke has a good voice but you’ll have to coax her into singing for an audience.’’
Euro 2013 is approaching and the tournament begins on July 10th in Sweden, with England taking on Spain in their opener two days later in Linköping. The previous competition culminated in the Lionesses being denied at the last as Germany triumphed 6-2 in the final in Helsinki, pulling away towards the end of the game after a keenly contested match-up. Anita played the full game that day in September 2009, at the heart of defence with captain Faye White who had broken her cheekbone just two games earlier.
The recent form for England has been terrific and they are undefeated in ten games, having also won the Cyprus Cup in March after beating Olympic Bronze medallists Canada. The talk from the players has been extremely positive, with enviable squad depth, and emerging talents ably supplemented by those with tournament experience and extensive know-how in the upper echelons of the female game. Anita believes the togetherness and the endeavour to go one better than four years ago is primed to work in their favour.
“I know that it is both the positives and negatives from past experiences that give us great potential to succeed at Euro 2013. Team spirit and unity is greater than ever and we have had some really positive results and performances against many of the top teams in the world – USA, Japan and Canada for example.
“However, what stands out for me is the fact that we were so close in 2009 by reaching a final. Losing was the negative, but the motivation to want to win and win convincingly if we reach that stage again is what will drive us.
“We played an excellent side in Germany that day, so of course we have learnt many lessons. I am excited to hopefully play at another huge competition with the aim of displaying what we have been putting into practice for months and winning over some new fan followers of our team.’’
After departing English football, Anita played in Women’s Professional Soccer with Sky Blue FC in two spells, Saint Louis Athletica, Chicago Red Stars and Washington Freedom. While in the States, she showed belief and determination to overcome the considerable setback of a cruciate injury, with support from friends and the likes of US midfield star and ex-Sky Blue teammate Heather O’Reilly’s parents for example. After the news that the WPS would be folding in 2012, Anita set about a new challenge, with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, one of the world’s best women’s leagues.
In 2012, Göteborg finished 4th and won the Svenska Cupen, and Anita scored in the game and in the shootout as they beat champions Tyresö FF in the Supercupen earlier this year. Six games into the 2013 Damallsvenskan, Göteborg are 5th with a win and five draws so far. Anita is accompanied at the club by another English player in on-loan Birmingham City striker Jodie Taylor who scored an impressive hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Sunnanå SK. There are also the likes of American duo Yael Averbuch and Camille Levin to make matters even more enjoyable for Anita and she also scored a superb header in the recent 2-2 draw with Tyresö. When Anita discusses her life and career in Sweden, there is a definite sense of contentment, allied with the feeling of freedom to enjoy the quest for further future achievements.
“I am really enjoying my time in Sweden so far, Gothenburg is a really easy place to live. People are very nice, chilled-out, similar in many ways to myself I think, so it makes it easy for me to just go with the flow.
“Honestly, I am currently having the best time in my career because I feel like I am in an everyday environment that allows me to be free as a player and individual. When my confidence and happiness is up it’s likely that impacts on positive and consistent performances.
“I think it is fair to say that on paper nobody really expects us to challenge Tyresö for the title. But I love that perception because then the pressure is off me and my team and we can focus on the small successes we have individually and as a team throughout the season.’’
The progress of the women’s game in each nation and in a wider sense is of constant relevance to a huge number of people who are involved in or love the sport. Having played in major international tournaments and in some of the most prestigious leagues and competitions, Anita has a first-hand perspective to offer on how she sees the game shaping up, and she also details how she has benefited from her experience.
“I feel lucky as a player to have experienced many different playing environments and cultures having plied my trade in England and then moving onto the US, followed by Sweden. I think I know myself thoroughly enough now to know what training methods, coaching styles and ways of communication I consider useful to me as an individual and make me better, and the other things I can just throw away.
“I think we are slowly moving in a direction we would like to see the women’s game reach. The way that will happen is if we continue to shape and educate a level of respect and continue to spur gender equalities on every platform the game is accessible through.
“What I would really like to see is the women’s game continue to develop professionalism in the structural sense, and within that envelopes responsibility and accountability.’’
With a BA in Politics and English and an MPhil in Sports Politics, Anita, who studied at Brunel University, is one of numerous female footballers to know what it is like to juggle a playing career and academia. She also has a venture involving a globally-recognised human rights organisation and time away from football is providing much to take enjoyment from for the affable midfielder.
“I think for a long time I had managed to balance my education and football. I am proud of my achievements in both areas.
“Currently, I am having discussions with organisations like Amnesty International about supporting and being actively involved in some of the projects that they are working at promoting. Aside from that, I am just enjoying continuing to learn about myself and my identity outside of football.
“This is a promising year and one I hope to really indulge in learning the Swedish language.’’
At the beginning of this month, Anita’s former Göteborg teammate and current Tyresö and US international striker Christen Press offered an insight into her life, love of music and career on here. When answering the final question of who she would choose in a 5-a-side team (including herself) of the best she has ever played alongside, Anita chose an almost identical line-up to the one selected by her American ex-colleague. The only difference in Anita’s team was the inclusion of Christen Press herself, whereas she had chosen the Brazilian superstar Marta, who may have had a chance at getting in Anita’s line-up had they ever been teammates!
“Goalkeeper: Kristin Hammarström – she is a Godsend. I have never seen a goalie so incredibly consistent in a one-v-one situation, whether it be in practice or a competitive game.
“Defender: Becky Sauerbrunn – assured defender who is always calm and collected on and off the ball. She is definitely an unsung hero.
“Midfielder: Verónica Boquete- because she beat me last year for Midfielder of the Year…just kidding! For real, she has lightning-quick feet, great all-round technical ability, can score goals, and is an exciting player to watch.
“Striker: Christen Press – this girl can score goals! Good striking ability on both feet, lightning quick, like blink and you might miss her!
“Ultimately, her attitude to her role in a team as a forward is immense.’’