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Germany have some new faces in their squad for their friendly against England, one of whom is Nicole Anyomi. Essen’s 20-year-old striker talks to DW about her journey from back-yard football to representing her country.
Nicole Anyomi is so excited she doesn't know what to do with herself. The 20-year-old striker is in the Germany squad for the first time after head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg selected her for the upcoming friendly against England.
"I was speechless. I couldn't believe it," Anyomi told DW, who spent an afternoon on the phone fielding calls and answering messages from teammates Marina Hegering, Sydney Lohmann, Linda Dahlmann and Lea Schüller.
"I told them how excited I was and they tried to calm my nerves, but somehow it keeps getting worse from day to day," Anyomi said with a laugh. When she spoke to her parents they asked whether she was in the U20s squad. Anyomi replied: "No, Mom, I've been called up to the first team."
For Anyomi, as for most who represent their country in professional sport, this moment is a dream come true. Its origins lie in hard work and brotherly love.
Over 20 years ago, Anyomi's parents moved to Germany for a better life. Anyomi was born in Krefeld, a city near Düsseldorf, and started playing football because her two brothers played in the garden and Anyomi, the only girl in the group, joined in.
Once she started playing, she couldn't stop. Football was something she always played more than watched, although eventually that came too and with it regular viewings of Ronaldinho tricks and Cristiano Ronaldo free kicks. Outside though, being on the pitch is what she loved the most and Anyomi found herself playing as often as she could, wherever she could.
"Of course at the start the boys said things like 'Oh, why does this girl want to play with us?' And naturally when picking sides I was always picked last because I was a girl and because they thought I couldn't play football. I showed them the opposite and next time I was picked first," Anyomi said with a laugh.
"We always had fun and always kept meeting up to play football. They ended up protecting me from other boys saying: 'Be careful, you can't tackle her like this' or 'I don't want to hear anything bad said about her'."
For Anyomi football remained a hobby until she joined Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2012. This was football without boys, a difference Anyomi noticed. Parents and teammates there recognized she was capable of more and so it proved. A state tryout was followed by a national selection day. All the while, Anyomi was doing her best just to make it to training and games.
"Family comes first. I would never have made it here without my family because they have done so much for me and supported me throughout," Anyomi said. "I always had to get the train to training or games because my parents were working. They always organized me a lift with a teammate or that they would pick me up afterwards."
In 2014, she moved to Essen's academy and spent three years playing youth team football, training with older players. That was the moment Anyomi realized the dream of professional football was not far away. Now, Anyomi is one of Essen's best players. Still, she knows this is just the start.
Mind right, play right
"I am working towards being in the starting lineup more regularly because I haven't been that consistent. I play well one game and then not so well for three and then obviously I'm back on the bench. Sometimes my mindset hasn't been right, my body language too because sometimes I often had negative thoughts. I am working on changing that, being more positive, suffering fewer injuries and being free of stress in my mind," Anyomi said.
Such reflection for a young player is an extremely encouraging sign, although in Anyomi's case it is not a surprise. Earlier this year, the 20-year-old poignantly reflected on off-field matters when she spoke about racism in Germany following a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Despite all she has already achieved, Anyomi's character is a refreshing balance of the raw excitement that comes with being 20 years old and a professional athlete's desire to keep getting better.
Part of the latter comes when she watches Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus or Romelu Lukaku. As players who play in her position, either on the left or up front, Anyomi is keen to study their movement to see how she can be more dangerous. Anyomi also has plenty of admiration for Dortmund's 15-year-old youth striker Youssoufa Moukoko. "The number of goals he scores, wow, I would like to do the same," Anyomi said.
Anyomi's record of 16 goal in 79 matches for Essen isn't as prolific, but she was just as prolific in her younger years. For Essen's U17s, she scored 37 in 34 and for Germany's U17s Anyomi netted 17 in 20. These numbers come as a result of her strengths as a striker, namely her speed, strength in the challenge and strong finishing skills.
It's not long now until Anyomi will get the chance to show off those skills for her country against England. It's safe to say when the moment comes, she'll be just as excited.