Chasing her football dream - From herding cows to being the first Singaporean to play in Japan, Siti Rosnani Azman’s footballing journey has been nothing short of inspiring.
Siti in action against the Maldives at the Singapore Sports Hub in 2018. Photo: Football Association of Singapore (FAS)
Siti Rosnani Azman has found herself having to learn Japanese and even herd cows in Australia - all because of love.
When it comes to chasing her dream of being a professional footballer, there is little she is not willing to do to raise her game.
Although she may only be 24, the defender has already played professional football in Australia and became the first Singaporean to feature in Japan’s Women Empowerment (WE) League, the country’s first professional women’s league.
From the void decks of Woodlands to the tranquil countryside of Kobe, she has taken the path less trodden and is determined to play professionally for as long as she can.
“It takes courage to get out of your comfort zone in Singapore as there’s only so much you can do there,” said Siti.
“I chose to leave everything behind because for me, it’s purely about football. I just want to pursue that and be the best I can be in football.”
After a season with WE League leaders International Athletic Club (INAC) Kobe Leonessa, in which she found it tough to get playing opportunities in a star-studded team, Siti has decided to take a step down and transfer to Kibi International University Charme Okayama Takahashi.
While Kibi plays in the Nadeshiko League Division 2, a semi-professional league, where they finished second last in the league table, a move down could grant her more playing time and opportunities to develop as a player when the league resumes in March.
“It was really tough at INAC given that everyone is really good,” said Siti. “I just came back from injury too. Kibi will be a good place to play and work my way up. It's more about getting the exposure and experience playing in Japan.”
At Kobe, training sessions were very intense. Siti conceded that it was a struggle to get into the matchday squad of 18 - which features the likes of Japanese nationals Ayaka Yamashita, Emi Nakajima, Hina Sugita, Yuka Momiki and Mina Tanaka.
Siti appearing on INAC Kobe’s social media when she signed for the WE League leaders. Photo: INAC Kobe
She said: “The Japanese are very fast and quick to make decisions. Physically, we might be about the same as them, but technique-wise, they are very precise. I was a bit overwhelmed when I first joined them. It’s a different level.”
But playing in a foreign league is not only tough on the pitch. Off it, learning Japanese, getting used to the food and culture can also be very mentally and physically demanding.
“We train every day here and usually have a day off during the week,” said Siti.
“Training sessions are all conducted in Japanese. It was a culture shock for me initially. Respecting your seniors is very important, and you have to show them the right kind of respect.
“I’ve since learnt basic Japanese, which helps in my daily life here.”
But one thing that Siti prides herself on is her resilience and the faith she puts in herself to overcome life’s hurdles.
While playing sem-professional football in Australia, she found herself having to take up a two-month stint mustering cattle in Queensland after the Covid-19 pandemic shut the 2020 National Premier Leagues Women's (NPLW) in March 2020.
“Staying positive in a foreign land is key if you want to make it,” said Siti. “I believe we can match up to the Japanese in terms of fitness but need to brush up on our technique. If you are confident, just do it.”
Siti believes that staying positive and brushing up on football techniques are key to excelling as a footballer overseas. Photo: Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
To excel as a footballer in a demanding professional league like Japan, where annual contracts are worth anywhere between US$50,000 (S$67,644) to US$150,000, Siti knows she needs to be brave and constantly search for her best self each time she steps onto the football pitch. The pressure she puts on herself can, however, be too much sometimes.
Said Siti: “I was too hard on myself. Because the standards are so different, I was working hard on my fitness every day, trying to close that gap. I overworked myself and suffered a partial muscle tear in my left leg. Fortunately, it’s healing and I’m doing rehabilitation now.”
Football was introduced to Siti when she was in Primary three at Qihua Primary School. She remembers vividly being among the boys, making her dribbles and attempting shots at make-shift goal posts under the void deck.
Said Siti: “Everyone thought I was one of the boys because I had short hair back then too. I was in the Under-13 squad and was called up for trials before I got drafted all the way up to the national team.”
Today, Siti is all grown up, but one thing has remained constant.
She said: “Football has been my life and I’m going to invest all my time in it.”
By Calvin Koh
January 28, 2022