When a 12-year-old Nadia Nadim stepped off a cargo truck, looking upon an unrecognisable land, she would have no idea the country before her would not only offer her the one entity her family craved most: safety, but a career in a field that would have been deemed utterly unthinkable in her native Afghanistan: professional football.
Back home, her family – her mother and four sisters – lived in fear. Their lives were in danger. Six months prior, Nadia’s father Rabani – a general in the Afghan army – was murdered by the Taliban. Nadia and her family were unaware – all they knew is that he didn’t return home from his meeting.
After months of desperate search, the family learned the tragic truth and decided to flee their homeland in search of a new life – free of fear and restriction. With forged Pakistani passports, they departed for London – but unknowingly disembarked in Denmark. This would be their new home.
When they arrived in Scandinavia, Nadia and her sisters were already familiar with football, having played together with their father privately in their back garden. When the Taliban came into power, activities such as sports were forbidden. Girls could not attend school over the age of eight, women could not work; women were not allowed in public unaccompanied. Even the traditional enjoyment of kite-flying was prohibited. Life would have been very different for Nadia and her sisters, had they remained in Afghanistan.
“I’m happy that I got a second chance,” she declares. “Me and my family got the best out of it.”
Having settled in a refugee camp, the adventurous Nadim and her friends explored the land – a land very different to the one back home. Nearby, they would discover the training ground of local football team Gug Boldklub and would spend their free time practicing recreationally – a welcome distraction from their daunting situations.
“It became an obsession really fast,” she smiles. “From then to now, I feel the same way. I love the game and I love the feelings that you get, especially when you score a goal.
“I love that it’s so simple and so complex at the same time – and it doesn’t matter who you are. You can always just play.”
After some time, Nadia – with her sisters in tow – plucked up the courage to ask the team’s coach if they could join in the session. The answer was yes and so began the budding careers of ’the Nadim sisters’.
Nadia played her first game in defence – and scored a hat-trick. Her confidence spurred her to embark on darting runs and her talent as a natural goalscorer was discovered.
Soon, the coach suggested the sisters trial for B-52 – one of the best teams in the country. They did… and they aced it. However, when the girls broke the news to their mother, she sadly explained the cost of travel was unaffordable. Such was their faith in the girls’ ability however, the Club offered to sponsor the Nadim sisters by paying for train tickets.
“I’ve had some amazing people in my life that have helped me out,” Nadia recalls. “I’m paying it back!”
Encouraged by their mother – eager for her daughters to fulfil their ambitions as an advocate of women’s rights – their development continued to blossom.
Aged 18, Nadia signed her first professional contract with IK Skovbakken and the family moved to Aarhus – additionally attractive for its educational opportunities. During her school life, Nadim discovered a second dream – to become a reconstructive surgeon – and juggled her football and studies to great effect.
“People who have done little things for me have had such a huge impact on my life and the way I see the world,” she continues. “I want to do that for others.
“I do love playing football – I enjoy it and I feel it’s my hobby – but I want to do something more.
“I feel I have the skillset and as a doctor, I think I’m going to be able to touch a lot of people’s lives and help them.”
Grateful for the education she would have been denied back home, she also speaks nine languages fluently: Danish, English, German, Persian, Dari, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and French.
As she fired her Club teams to glory time after time, she was soon recognised by the Danish national team and often represented the country at youth level. When the time came for promotion to the senior squad, Denmark pleaded with FIFA to make an exception to their rule which stated a player had to have lived in a country for five years before they were eligible to play for its first-team. With her circumstances considered, their request was granted and Nadim became the first naturalised player of either gender to earn a cap.
Now, she boasts 74 with 22 international goals – two of those which arrived in this summer’s Euros in Holland on Denmark’s historic route to the final.
The tale of her talents continued to spread. An impressive three-year spell at Fortuna Hjorring caught the attention of Sky Blue FC and Nadim embarked on a new adventure, heading to America. She would later join Portland Thorns, helping the Club to the NWSL Shield by finishing the season as top goalscorer.
Her unique personality mirrors her unique experience. Nadim is very much an individual with her own style – from her character to her fashion sense. Her sheer love of the game shines through – whether she’s training or in game mode. She has a playful air of confidence, a strong determination to achieve the most from life and even a fiery side – all of which are evident in her performance.
During play, she sports colourful headbands which she fashions herself. She stands out – in every way possible.
Having grown up playing football in the streets, she knows the importance of and the enjoyment the beautiful game can bring. Along with friends, she set up a football school project for disadvantaged children – so they could share some of the opportunities she had.
An Afghani woman, playing sport at the highest level and pursuing a career in the medical field, having witnessed and endured atrocities no person should ever have to suffer, leaving behind the life she knew and beginning a new one in a new country with a new culture and language, Nadim is a global inspiration. She’s humble about her role model status but takes it very seriously.
“I hope that at the end of my career, I have shown some people that anything is possible,” she adds. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve been through. It just takes hard work and a belief in yourself and dreams do come true.”
She joins City in the latest chapter of what has been a truly incredible journey – and we cannot wait to discover what she will bring to Nick Cushing’s domestic treble-winners and the English game…
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