Sow: Football gives me strength

• Coumba Sow is the new star of Swiss women’s football • Her route to the top was by no means an easy one • “If I didn’t have football, then I don’t know where I’d be now”

Ramona Bachmann, Ana Maria Crnogorcevic and Fabienne Humm are the first names that come to mind when the Swiss women’s national team is discussed. However, there has been another figure garnering attention of late: Coumba Sow, the Swiss No.11 who has already bagged six goals in FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ qualifying – one of them coming in the crucial win over Italy. That said, her route to the top has certainly not been an easy one and has featured plenty of ups and downs. She suffered a serious injury in 2016 which kept her on the sidelines for a lengthy period, but the now 27-year-old was not ready to abandon her dream of international football. "I’ve just got a real passion for football, it’s my outlet. It’s my way of letting everything out and just living in the moment. If I didn’t have football, then I don’t know where I’d be now. Football gives me strength and it helps you find time for the things that are really important to you," said Sow in an interview with FIFA.com. There are only 24 hours in a day and the body needs to have a break to get its strength back – and this is something that Sow found out to her cost particularly during her teenager years, when she would regularly push herself too hard.

"There was a time in high school when things were really tough,” she explains. “I was 15 or 16 years old and I’d always had issues in school, because I was often away with the national team. They wanted me to go to a sport school but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be around just athletes all the time. I think it’s good to have friends from other walks of life. I was in a really good class. I was always falling out with people about it, and I had to mediate between the two sides. I was getting pressure from both and there did come a time when I thought: ‘I can’t do this’.” "I used to get home at 10 o’clock at night every day after training, I had to study until 3 or 4 in the morning and then get up again at 7 o’clock. There was a time when I was really pushed to my limits. It got better after that when I started work and had a reduced-hours job. I was able to start at 10 am and finish at 4 pm. It was still tough, but doable. When I compare that with my everyday life as a pro, I now see that I was under real strain." During her time at her home-town club of FC Zurich, Sow worked in a childcare centre before making the big leap to joining French Division 1 side FC Paris. She made her international debut under coach Nils Nielsen on 13 November 2018 against the Netherlands in what was a bitter-sweet moment, as two years earlier, her older sister had died and was very much in her mind at that time. "I thought of her and told myself: ‘I know that you’re proud of me’. Everything I do, it’s also for my sister and my family," says Sow, thinking back to the event three years ago. Wearing the Swiss national jersey fills the midfielder with pride, but she is also keen to give something back to the people who have been supporting her throughout her life and who have played such an important part in her progress.

"Switzerland is my home and it’s always a real honour to play for your country,” she says. “I still think a lot about all the friends I have here. I was brought up on a farm with kids from various other cultures. I was always doing things with the guys from the farm. It’s great to feel support from the people I grew up with. They all follow my career and wear my jersey when they’re out and about. Not everyone in District 11 in Zurich has an easy time of it growing up, and I can give them hope. I can prove to them that you can achieve something, even if you grow up in circumstances like that. They’ve always been there for me and helped me to get where I am today. I hung out with those guys every day, playing football with them. " Plenty has changed in Sow’s life from those days, and she is now an integral part of the Swiss national team. The media use phrases such as “always good for a goal” and “rising star”, and while some would see that as an addition source of pressure, she herself says: "Pressure is always there – to a greater or lesser extent. I use it as a source of motivation." She should have plenty of motivation in the coming year as she looks to build on the most successful period in her career to date. She helped the Nati to qualify for the EURO and they have already made solid progress in securing a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ berth. "Personally, it was a year when I learned a lot. I found out what’s possible for me and also which positions I can play. I’d spent my whole life playing through the middle but for the past two years, I’ve also been playing on the left side of the forward line,” she explains. “I’d never have thought that I could play on the wing but I’m learning a new position and I’ll see what else I’m capable of. I get the feeling that changing the position you play really adds a lot to your game. It was tough to accept to begin with, but now I’m really grateful for this experience."

The main aim now is for Sow to put this experience to good use, with a major tournament now just around the corner, the UEFA Women’s EURO being held in England from 6-31 July 2022. In the group stage, Switzerland are set to meet the Netherlands, Sweden and Russia. "I hope we get through World Cup qualifying and that we manage to go as far as we can at the EURO,” concludes Sow. “I believe in this team. If we work hard, we can really go far. I’ve got a good feeling about this."