At 36 years old, Faiza Haider becomes the first woman to coach a male soccer’s national team in her country. An achievement for the one who paved the way for an entire generation of young women dreaming of playing football in Egypt.
Faiza Heider grew up in Upper Egypt, an agricultural region in the South of Egypt quite underdeveloped. But she moved to Cairo with her family in a neighborhood called Helwan at a very young age, a place where she started to play football in the streets with the young boys of her community. She has come a long way since then, turning her childhood dream into a professional career. Firstly by joining a male ‘s team, then being part of the first women national team, till today becoming the first woman to train a male soccer’s national team with the Ideal Gold club of Gizeh.
How did you start playing football? And how was it received by your surroundings?
I started to play soccer in my neighborhood, at the time I was the only girl to play in the streets amidst a lot of boys and people were thinking it was not the right thing to do for a young girl. I got exposed to a lot of bullying because the perspective of a woman playing football was not very common back then. But one day, while I took my brother to his football training, I met a coach who was convinced by my skills and asked me to join the male team. Together, we won a lot of games, then I started to play with other women in the Halwan center, and I finally joined the women’s first professional league in 1997.
What took your career to the more professional level?
The turning point was when I moved from Helwan club to Al Tayaran club. It was the first deal of this kind for a women professional player and it was a financial turning point for me because my club was supporting everything, from nutrition to training, which had a huge impact on my career and performances. In order to become a professional player, you need to follow a specific nutritional plan to improve your abilities and I couldn’t have afforded it otherwise.
What were the barriers you had to overcome to pursue your dream?
My mom was the biggest obstacle because I was very young when I had to make important decisions for my life, and I couldn’t have done so without her approval. When I started to play in my neighborhood, we were living in a very conservative community and she was afraid of how the people would react to a girl who plays with boys in the streets. When the coach from my community asked me to join his team, he had to go to our home to convince her to let me continue. My dad was dead at that time and he said he is gonna be like a father for me and protect me which made her accept. When I had to join the national team, my mother didn’t agree because it required me to travel a lot and sometimes sleep over with the team. Fortunately, the mother of one of my teammates promised her that she will come every two days to check on me and let her talk with me on her mobile phone (at that time we didn’t even have a landline). So we finally managed to overcome all those human and material obstacles.
Last month, you became the first women to train a male national football team. What is the most difficult?
My biggest challenge is to convince male players to trust a female coach. One of them even told me that he was convinced I would not be able to be accepted by the team even if I had the skills. But after several training sessions, he changed his opinion and started to see how I helped them into improving their skills. I also try to break the ice by becoming a part of their life and community, not only inside the pitch but also outside, I try to engage with them at lunch, during social gatherings like weddings…
What lessons did you learn from your past experiences and career?
I learned that impossible is nothing for me and that new challenges are what keeps me going. I faced a lot of obstacles in my life, but I managed to overcome them all: People didn’t want me to play in the streets and I did, they didn’t think I would play in a club and I did, they didn’t think I would be a professional player and I joined a female national team. I think my generation paved the road for many women in the football field and that now parents are convinced that their daughters can have a career with soccer, while at my time it was not something common.
What are your best achievements today ?
I’m part of the Premium skills program, an initiative from the British council that empowers coaches to support football-based educational and social cohesion projects. After joining them, I have co- created with another educator, a unified football players team including special needs players. I’m very proud that I have been able to create this team and to show football as a tool of inclusion and community development.