Having signed with Mizuno before scoring her first senior international goal for Morocco in the first minute of her first appearance for the side, Rosella Ayane is making moves both on and off the pitch. We caught up with the Tottenham Hotspur forward to talk about life on and off the pitch, her journey, and the crossover of football and fashion.

Football isn’t linear. It’s unpredictable, emotional, an adventure to say the least. It’s also an opportunity to learn, develop and explore a wealth of experiences. Embracing that mindset and running with it is Rosella Ayane. A player with real depth, real understanding and real energy to elevate the game for the greater good.

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You seem like a player who thinks differently to a lot of people out there. How would you describe yourself? 

I think my qualities off the pitch always shine when I'm on it as well. I'm quite a bubbly character. I like to express my opinions when necessary. I think in some cases some people can see me as a vocal player on and off the pitch. You can always hear me when I'm coming. You can always hear me on the pitch, the one in the changing room that is always having a laugh and I think that shows on the pitch. With my relaxed nature, composure and in situations. 

It's important that you maintain that element of feeling comfortable and happy... 

With footballers I think a good footballer is a happy footballer. If you're not happy off the pitch you're not going to express that on the pitch. A good footballer is one that is confident. Feeling happy in themselves will just show on the pitch. You will be calm, composed and the physical technical aspects all just flow into that. That goes hand in hand with themselves. 

Off the pitch are you someone who doesn't like sitting still?  

I mean yes you could say that. I'm so calm and so laid back. If people were to describe me they always say that stupid phrase, “You are so laid back that you are laying down.” I love to explore different things and I love to put my hand in different attributes that I can learn about. Things that I can see if I will like and if I can grow in a certain area. I'm not just a footballer off the pitch. 

What areas have you explored and what other things would you like to do more of? 

I'm touching the surface of the fashion world and growing up it's always been something that has intrigued me. But it's never really been an option for me. Now with football and fashion mixing worlds a little bit, the doors have slowly started to open for me and it's something that I am really enjoying. It's something that I have a real interest in.

That's something I would love to continue to go down, alongside meeting new cultures and broadening my horizons, such as music, languages; I would love to be able to speak different languages, it's something that I tried to pursue in lockdown but it didn't go too well. I think it's easier to learn another language when everyone around you speaks that language. It's really hard to try and pick up. I always love to try and experience different cultures and learn about other places. I would like to think that I'm quite well travelled and would like to try and continue that later on in life. To grow even more knowledgable about the world and other cultures. 

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Starting off at Chelsea, a club so established, what was that academy experience like?

I'm so fortunate for the experience that I gained at Chelsea. I didn't see as much of the pitch as I would have hoped being a professional football player. It really helped me to grow my personality off the pitch though. Chelsea is one of the clubs that has one of the most widespread nationalities in the team. The one that would stand out for me is Ji, from South Korea, she is such an incredible person. Her football talents speak for themselves. Learning from players like that about how they work, how their way of life is, how they are as footballers and different experiences they can bring from their culture to our changing room is amazing.

There are other nationalities as well at Chelsea; there were Swedish players, the list could go on with nationalities. As a young player you learn so much about different places and how different people in different areas work. Bring that into the working environment and they are lessons you can learn. That has massively helped me and it has helped me without realising. When you are in these changing room environments you are picking up on traits, experiences and you're learning new things without realising. You are having a conversation with your teammates and that is one of the best things when you are young. Learning things without realising it is one of the best ways to learn.

Do you like the idea that football can unlock opportunities to see other parts of the world?

That's one thing a footballer can forever be grateful for. It's the fact you can touch so many areas of the world just by playing football. I went to Tokyo with Chelsea on tour and it was unbelievable. I only got to scratch the surface but I've been to the likes of Los Angeles with the England youth teams, which was an incredible experience. I went to Israel for the European tournament for the under 19s. When you are that age you don't think of countries like visiting Israel. It was such an unbelievable experience with the culture, the religion, the people, the food. Everything about it was incredible.

Without football I would have never even touched some of these places. I think every footballer is lucky to be travelling with work and seeing some of the places that you see. Sometimes you only get to see the stadium and hotel. Even going to those places you could not get with any other work. It's definitely a bonus to being a footballer.

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Would you say through those experiences you made lifelong friends?

Yeah definitely. Some of my best friends are ones that I've met through my football journey. You go through experiences and are with them everyday. You go through the highs, you go through the lows and they are people I would now call family. They are with you on the journey and they get how football works. They are understanding of your career and one of the things with being a football player is you have to sacrifice a lot. Especially when growing up. Some people may not understand the sacrifices you have to make to become a professional football player. The friends you gain along the way are so understanding of that. As I said before they are some of the people I would call lifelong friends. We are all in the same boat and it is good in that sense.

It’s almost impossible to compare what it's like growing up for a female player in a game where so much attention is on the men. What drove you to push through and become a professional player?

When I was growing up, even maybe to a certain extent now, being a football player isn't a life of luxury as the men get. The lifestyle will not be the same as the men get but that is what makes women's football so pure. Wanting to be a professional football player, as a woman, is purely for the determination and devotion to reach the top. To be the best in your game and not for the thousands or millions paycheque. To have the satisfaction of reaching the top and the achievement. Experiencing playing in World Cups and playing on the best stage there is possible. Being able to achieve the goals you have set out.

For me personally I do not have one particular goal in sight. I like to take each season as it comes and any advice I would give is take each day as it comes and enjoy it. As I was saying before, when you are enjoying something you are going to get the best out of yourself. When you are getting the best out of yourself the sky is the limit. That's when things will happen for you and that is the road I am trying to go down.

Many people can get lost looking too far forward or looking too far back…

I agree, people can get lost in targets they achieve. If you are not setting high targets then you are not really pushing yourself. But then you can set something that is too far away. Everyone loves to tick something off a sheet, just little steps. Those little steps will get you to the top eventually.

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What was the loan experience like for you? Again, that’s got to be something that comes without luxury...

It's a completely different experience for male and female players I’d imagine. When I went out on loan the teams that I was sent to weren’t full-time then. For example when I went to Everton they were still training in the evenings. They put me up in a flat, a lovely location, but I was quite young. I think I was 18 or 19, moving away from home for the first time and that was a different experience.

I know for the male footballers sometimes they get digs and stuff. I don't think that was ever an option when I was going on loan. I was probably too old for that anyway and it was probably time I moved out to learn things for myself. It was a weird experience moving away from home for the first time. Being completely by yourself and independent. On a personal level it changed my work style because when I was at Chelsea I would get up and go to work.

It was hard to adapt to training in the evening. That was something that was completely out of my routine from what I was doing at Chelsea. It was something I did as an academy player, training in the day. To adapt to training in the evening I found that quite tough. All you want to do as a football player is get up and train. To try and plan your meals, to try to get motivation throughout the day to start training at 20:30 in the evening is really tough. Female football players in the lower leagues still have to go through that and I admire them for it. That is something I really struggled with training in the evenings. Female football players in the lower leagues still have to work alongside that. Fortunately I did not have to, but that is something which is physically and mentally tough – fair play to them for still doing that now.

While it’s been a journey, you come across appreciative of the life lessons along the way…

I'm grateful for every opportunity I have had. I’ve had lessons that I have learnt about myself on and off the pitch. Every club I have been at, everywhere I have been, I'm grateful for every opportunity as a professional football player. As you said moving away from home for the first time taught me a lot off the pitch. People my age that were moving away from home for the first time are going into university. That's a completely different experience to moving away from home and working.

My lifestyle, at that moment, was completely different to my friends who I left school with. They were on a completely different path to me and I think that adaptation was tough. It did teach me a lot about myself off a pitch. On the pitch it was trying to adapt to a completely different routine quite fast and having to be at the best of your game. I think there was a week or two between the space of my learning, from training in the day to training in the evening, switching from that was physically tough. My sleep pattern had to be different and my eating routine was completely different. Trying to adapt to that and get the best out of that situation so I can deliver on the pitch. I learnt a lot about myself there as well.

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Tell us about going to Cyprus. Where did that come from and what was that like as an experience? Again, it's commendable because it is not the normal route that someone would follow...

The Cyprus story was actually crazy when I look back at it. I find it incredible in myself that I actually went through and did that. The story goes that I was released from Chelsea, Chelsea was all I knew for three or four years. I went out on loan for a while in that spell. It was a team I have grown up with as an academy player and that is where my friends were. It was an environment that I was used to so being released from there was a shock to the system. I took a break from football for a couple of months and was working in recruitment. My cousin contacted me about an opportunity that was potentially in Cyprus and I wasn't too sure what I wanted to do. I had fallen out of love with football and it took me a while to consider that option quite seriously.

I spoke to my family and I spoke to my friends about it, as I said I am quite a laid back person, then thought I'm just going to do it. There had been a couple of players that I know that had been to Cyprus before so I reached out to them and got their opinion on it. Everyone was positive about it so I thought “Why not? I do not have anything to lose and I can try to get the love back for football.” That's exactly what I did and I had a really successful time out there and I fell in love with the game again. Fortunately I had a good season and that opened doors up for me when I returned back to England. It was definitely something that was crazy at the time and people thought "why?" when I did that move. I think it is probably the best things I have done and one of the best steps I have taken in my career. The timing was perfect and it is something I am forever grateful for. It was perfect for me looking back at it.

Kudos to you for making that decision. Taking you out of your comfort zone, finding out who you are and falling back in love with the game – did you become stronger for it?

I had lived away from home before but moving countries and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone especially by yourself is difficult. You are not going out with friends and family. My mum dropped me off at the airport and I cried going through the security gates. I didn't know when I was going to next see her and in football you don't know when you are going to get time off. I didn't know when I was going to next see my mum. This is naive and ignorant of me but I didn't know how long the flight was. So I'm getting on a flight to a new country, to play for a new football team and I did not know how long the flight was! I just remember being in the air and I thought Cyprus was near Italy or Spain just a couple of hours.

I'm not a very good flyer and I asked “Excuse me is something wrong? Why have we not landed yet?” The reply was “It's a 5 hour flight and we are only two and a half hours in.” I thought Cyprus is far, I can't pop back if I have a night off. I was thinking I'm really not going to see my mum for a long time now. So that is pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to the max. It's predominantly a Greek speaking country and Cypriots are so nice and welcoming. They help you as much as they can so I was fortunate that the majority of people I was around spoke English, so that made settling in a lot easier. It was a wild experience but that has made me even better as a person and a player. That is something I am thankful for, that people pushed me and I chose to do.

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From then to now, how has the game changed? Has it given you the appetite to explore more industries through football, like fashion as an example?

As time has gone on and football has developed and other areas, for example fashion, we have developed more knowledge. Apps have developed, cameras have developed, agencies have developed and they're giving you more knowledge as to what fashion brands would want. Knowledge and experience around that platform for male and female football has grown. That has then gone hand-in-hand with those opening for further opportunities between football and fashion.

Football players now have a platform where they can express their fashion or music interests off the pitch. They can do that in an elegant and sophisticated way. Previously they have not had the knowledge of how to portray that. That's shown in time with technology and the right people connecting those bridges, it's growing across a male and female platform. I'm grateful that it has because it is definitely exciting and something that I love doing personally.

What things have you experienced in your life as the popularity of the sport has grown? Have you felt a change? Has it positively affected your life?

I think it has for me personally, yes. As the game has grown, the exposure has become larger. With my social media I have felt more of a role model every year. You have little girls reaching out to you and parents reaching out to you saying you have inspired their daughter. You get messages all the time, on social media, which is nice for us to see that you are inspiring little girls.

I think for the younger generation they are fortunate that social media is as big as it is now. They can have these role models growing up and then have role models on TV. When I was growing up women's football didn't have the exposure that it has now, so I didn't have as many role models. But little girls and the younger generation now have that access and it's good for them and nice for us.

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With that in mind where do you look for inspiration? Where do you pick up what's on trend?

I follow a lot of fashion stylists on social media. I have a range of mood board ideas and experiences. I get little bits and each one and with social media things are always in your face so you can always see different trends. You can always see the latest thing and what's going on in other areas of the world by just going on your phone. Little inspiration from little bits I have got over time. I take bits of fashion from different places and put it together.

Looking forward, what would you like the future to look like for you both on and off the pitch?

For myself on the pitch I just want to be the best footballer that I can be in myself; to achieve the things I know I'm capable of. I would love to win titles, to push myself to the limit and once I have done that I will have achieved everything I know I can. For myself on the pitch it's those sort of targets, as I said I normally take things season by season. Of course I would love to win the WSL and the Champions League for example. As long as I'm pushing myself every year I know I will reach where I am supposed to be. An end goal and realistic targets would be playing in a World Cup, trying to win a World cup medal and making an Olympic team.

I'm still only 24 so I'm hoping these targets are still achievable. Off the pitch I would like to continue to grow in other areas and expand myself as not just a footballer. I would like to keep touching the fashion industry and podcasts. Different creative things off the pitch that I have never had the opportunity to do before. It's something I want to continue to go down. A long term goal off the pitch is to be high up in a brand somewhere helping link football and fashion worlds. I would love to continue what I'm doing at the moment and go from there because it is really exciting.

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