To local football fans, Esse Akida needs no introduction; she is arguably the most lethal striker to ever don the national colours.
And even though her relationship with the national side has been bittersweet, Esse Akida has had profound success while plying her trade in Europe.
Hers has been a journey of navigating a treacherous path in order to mold her career in football.
The talented striker owes her achievements to a Kilifi based NGO, Moving The Goalposts (MTG) which identified the talent in her, paving way for a transcendent career.
Akida was born in Kilifi County in a humble family. According to her, the village life was deeply rooted in the cultural belief of women and girls being subordinates to males. As such, it was difficult for girls to play football or would only do so after boys were done.
“Girls in my community were not allowed to play football or even stay out of the house for long hours,” she told Moving The Goalposts.
Akida says she fell in love with soccer at a tender age as she would watch her brothers play and juggle the ball. She therefore induced herself into this sport.
“I was driven into it because I was raised in a family where I was the only girl. I mostly did what my brothers were doing especially during games time,” she says.
Moving The Goalposts
In 2001, an NGO called Moving The Goalposts (MTG) was incepted to help nurture talents and empower the girlchild in Kilifi County.
Akida became the beneficiary of MTG a year later and put in the much needed efforts into developing her talent.
For her, life became a balance between juggling the ball and attending to her class work. She recounts that her parents were pessimistic of football being a reliable career.
“My parents didn’t want me to pursue football because it was like wasting time. They didn’t see that it was gonna help me,” she recalls.
“But one day, they got convinced. I got this trip to Algeria and I came home with something and they were like: Okay, let her chase her dreams,” she adds.
Football Career and facing racism in Israel
She kicked off her career with MTG. The NGO offerred partial sponsorship for her university education at Kenya Methodist University.
Akida had stints with various local clubs such as Matuu FC, Thika Queens (Now renamed Kenya Police Bullets FC) and Spedag.
The lethal striker would then impress an Israeli side, Ramat HaSharon joining the club in 2018.
However, while in Israel, she faced racism and even contemplated quitting football. In a recent interview with NTV, Akida says there was a time she was forced to forfeit her room to a new player, an American footballer.
This meant that she had to move to a low quality room, more of an open space.
Akida shared her experience with her family and friends who encouraged her to tolerate the egregious treatment.
With time, she was able to prove her worth and became a dependable member of the team.
In 2020, Akida signed for Turkish giants Besiktas. However, her tenure began at the onset of the Covid pandemic which led to cancellation of football fixtures in Europe.
She had a brief return to Thika Queens before signing for Greek side top tier side PAOK Thessaloniki.
In the 2021/22 season, Akida won the golden boot in Greece after netting 17 times in 18 matches. She also became the first ever Kenyan to score in the UEFA Champions League after recording a hat trick.
Harambee Starlets Fallout
Despite being one of the best strikers in Kenya, the 30 year old has frequently missed on the list of those summoned to national duty.
The matter has raised eyebrows with allegations coming out that Akida has the proclivity for ‘fighting for players’ rights.’
However, she rubbished the accusation saying “if you’re not called, it means your services are not needed.”
This is not to mean that Akida has failed to shine while on national duty. In 2016, she was the top scorer at the COTIF Women Football Tournament in Spain. That same year, she became the first ever Kenyan to score at the African Women Cup of Nations after she netted against Ghana.
Asked about how it felt, she took a deep breath recalling how emotional the achievement was.
“Of course it was special. That is a big stage. It won’t be erased and history will always be there; first Kenyan to score in that big stage.”