SINGAPORE – In pursuit of her dream to play football professionally, Siti Rosnani Azman toiled for long hours in the scorching Australian sun, herding cows and picking fruit to extend her work and holiday visa during her stint with semi-pro club South West Queensland Thunder.
Now the national women’s footballer has even more hoops to jump through after achieving her goal in September by signing a professional one-year contract with Japanese club International Athletic Club (INAC) Kobe Leonessa, making her only Singapore’s second professional female player.
Life in Japan, while exciting, has also been overwhelming for the 24-year-old, who found her first week there especially hard as she barely speaks the language.
She told The Straits Times: “It was a little difficult in the first week when everyone was speaking in Japanese. I’m just trying to function slowly because when you’re in a foreign country where everyone is speaking in a different language, you would really want to know what’s going on but you just can’t.
“I was a little bit drained by the language but I’m slowly trying to keep up with it.”
Rosnani’s move to Japan this month was part of a scheme that sees the Japan Football Association provide monetary incentives to clubs for South-east Asian signings.
It was facilitated by the Football Association of Singapore and Albirex Singapore’s chief executive Shu Namba and team manager Suzanna Foo.
Aside from the language, she is getting used to the standards of football in Japan, which she notes are very different from what she had experienced during her stint in Australia. The pace and precision of play has also left her both in awe and overwhelmed.
The training regimen is also vastly different as she now trains almost daily as compared to three times a week in Australia.
As she missed most of the pre-season before the inaugural Women Empowerment (WE) League kicked off a fortnight ago, Rosnani has not been able to participate in a full training session yet.
She joins the team for the warm-up and passing drills, but trains individually with the club’s sports trainer after that, working on agility, ball work, passing and running, before wrapping up with running intervals or sprints.
Getting to meet and train alongside Japan internationals Ayaka Yamashita, Emi Nakajima, Hina Sugita, Yuka Momiki and Mina Tanaka, who were part of the squad at the Tokyo Olympics, has been an eye-opening experience.
She said: “I was watching the Olympics and watching them playing against Britain and now you’re looking at them in front of you, talking to you, making friends and it’s just amazing.
“They work to play, they are full-time football players so there’s definitely a difference. Just looking at them training is amazing.
“They’re very precise and very fit; looking at a professional players is just different. I’m still trying to absorb everything right now.”
The strong emphasis on respect for seniors is another aspect that Rosnani took some time to get used to.
For example, when greeting younger teammates good morning, she can use a more casual ‘Ohayo’, but when speaking to someone older, she has to use the more formal ‘Ohayo Gozaimasu’.
She is learning Japanese and several of her teammates are also attempting to pick up English so that they can communicate with her.
Her coach, who speaks English, briefs her on what the team will be doing during the training session before conducting it in Japanese.
As she finds her footing in Japan, Rosnani is even more determined to continue on her path to pursue professional football.
The defender had set her sights on playing in Japan after the team won the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and a training trip to Tokyo while she was a student at Republic Polytechnic about six years ago cemented her desire to play there after she saw how good the players were.
Her goal for the season is to break into the 18-player squad for a league game – there are currently 26 in the team.
Watching INAC Kobe trounce Omiya Ardija Ventus 5-0 in the league’s opening game a fortnight ago at the Noevir Stadium Kobe – which has a capacity of 30,132 – has only fuelled her desire to fight for a spot in the team.
Rosnani said: “When you look at them playing, you would want to be one of them out there and the atmosphere and vibe is like the National Stadium in Singapore. To be able to play in that kind of atmosphere is amazing.
“While I was sitting in the stands watching them play, it got me so badly like I just want to play but I know I have a lot of work to do to keep up with everything. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m just going to do my best no matter what.”
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