Women's stars' childhood tales inspiring in Sweden

17 Dec 2018
  • Anja Gatu discusses her books on women’s football stars

  • Stories recount childhood of Marta, Kosovare Asllani & Therese Sjogran

  • Gatu: “It’s creating role models that are human”

With many footballers today being global megastars, their images plastered across the sides of buildings and stepping out in front of thousands every week, adding a dose of humanity to the players we see on screen is refreshing.

For kids in Sweden, they are getting just that with some of the nation’s biggest stars’ younger selves living out parallel lives in the pages of a children's book series. Charting the ups and downs of Sweden internationals Kosovare Asllani and Therese Sjogran and Marta, The Best FIFA Women’s Player, author Anja Gatu weaves together tales of their childhood based on the players’ past experiences.

“Children today are growing up with a lot of pressure to be perfect,” Gatu told FIFA.com. “I think it’s a real comfort for them to read that the idols and role models of today’s national team have been children, that they’ve had problems and they thought it was scary to go to football camp without their parents or best friends.

“It’s creating role models that are human, that aren’t always perfect and super strong. So many children’s books only focus on super heroes. I can see why children like reading about them, but I think it’s important to show that you can sometimes be weak as well and still become a professional footballer.”

Her newest book is the third to feature Asllani, Rakt i krysset, Kosse! (Put it in the top corner, Kosse!), and she has struck a chord with children. “It’s really fun writing about Kosovare because she’s such a character, so I can totally see why she’s popular,” Gatu explained.

“She cheats when playing with her brothers and hides in the bushes to skip running in training. She does a lot of bad things! But she’s also really loyal to her friends and is very good in many ways. I think that’s why the kids like her so much, because they can really relate to her.”

While providing Gatu with readymade, complex characters to develop relatable stories for her audiences, covering issues such as overcoming nervousness and self-image, these semi-biographical tales also reveal the birth of traits that remain with her protagonists today.

“In the first book Therese gets a red card. I’ve been covering her and following her around the world for 15 years and I’ve hardly seen her get booked,” the former sports journalist said of Sweden's record cap-holder. “But it was such a trauma for her to get a red card when she was little, so that’s why she tries extra hard not to get them anymore.”

While Asllani and Sjogran’s stories are short, illustrated books aimed at six to nine-year-olds, Marta’s tale is a longer affair for those up to age 12. “That’s a bit of a different story as we follow her from before she was able to start school.”

More closely based on the six-time winner of FIFA’s best women’s player’s path through childhood, it goes on to chart her overcoming perceptions about girls playing football to earning a place at an academy in Rio de Janeiro and struggling to fund her big move.

With her six books still only available in Swedish and Danish, the next step is to go international, both with more languages and more sports stars, and the plan is to have the current stories available in time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. “When children can see the stars on their TVs and then read about them, it’s the perfect combination.”