In her domestic Ethiopian league, 22-year-old Loza Abera was the Goal Queen, having scored over 200 goals across six seasons with teams Hawassa and Dedebit.
Now she's proving herself in Europe, after moving to Maltese football giants, Birkirkara, in what was the first professional deal in the history of Ethiopian women's football.
I first heard of Loza Abera in December after she scored seven goals in Birkirkara's 17-0 league win over Hibernian. Not only did she hit the target seven times, but she totted up a couple of assists as well. After a little bit of digging, I discovered that despite this being the Ethiopian Goal Queen's first-ever season playing in Europe, she had already been named Player of the Month twice on the bounce. I had to know more.
Loza Abera was born in the small town of Durame in southern Ethiopia, and as I get to know the Goal Queen, I realise that her footballing career kicked off pretty quickly.
"I grew up playing football in a sandy field in our neighbourhood with men. When I was around the age of 12 or 13, I was selected to play for a women's team in my district, and then later on for the state I live in," Abera explains.
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"Since then I started to draw attention and that was where I was scouted for my first club, Hawassa City FC, a club to the capital city of the southern state."
Loza played for Hawassa City in the Ethiopian women's Premier League for two seasons and in that short time, became the club's top goalscorer. She then joined Debedit FC, who she calls the 'country's giants'.
"I joined Debedit with the mission to win back the women's title as it had been won by our rivals, Ethiopia Nigid Bank," Abera tells me.
"I played for the 'blues' for four seasons, and I won the league title three times in a row with them before moving to Swedish side, Kungsbacka DFF. I played there on a trial basis and helped them win promotion to the top flight, but I wasn't able to secure a deal due to problems with paperwork and salary.
"When I returned back home after five months, my club Dedebit had been disbanded due to financial issues and so I joined Adama City in early 2019, in the middle of the Ethiopian league season. Again, my task was to help win the league as Adama was neck and neck with giants Ethiopia Nigid Bank for the title. We did it! With Adama, I won the league title, and so I won the league for the fourth time in a row."
Loza had a rapid rise to the top in Ethiopian football, becoming a top goalscorer far before she even turned 20, and I wondered if this was due to the perception her country held of women in football.
"In Ethiopia, football is a culture," she explains.
"Everyone plays football just like any other childhood game. We play on the streets or on any sand fields in our neighbourhood. Usually, the girls play football in a mixed team with boys, they form small groups together and play at school or in the village.
"However, when girls reach the age of puberty, they stop playing together with boys. If a female wants to play football in Ethiopia, it's not difficult - until she reaches the age of puberty. After this age, girls start to feel pressure because football is then seen as a boys sport. In my case, I just continued to play football with boys and was always in the starting lineup. Initially, my family were in dismay but I received their full support once they understood my deep passion."
In late 2019, Loza Abera moved to Maltese side Birkirkara, making her the first Ethiopian woman in history to pen a professional, foreign contract.
"It took me years to land my first ever professional contract in Europe. I had been to Turkey and Sweden before where I performed well and had clubs that were keen to sign me, but the process [of signing] is so difficult because my country, Ethiopia, is not on the map of women's football at international level.
Loza goes onto explain why she thinks her move to Malta is so significant when it comes to the development of women's football in Africa.
"It's so hard to complete a transfer in Europe for a player who comes from the eastern part of Africa, let alone a player from Ethiopia. Our region is not known as a potential area by clubs and their scouts. For me, and the youngsters in Ethiopia, my move [to Europe] is an eyeopener. I should perform well and convince scouts that Ethiopia is home to talented female football players," she says.
Whilst we discuss life in Malta, I can't help but reference Loza's seven goals in Birkirkana's 17-0 win from earlier this season. She tells me that it's a wonderful feeling to score that many goals, and revealed that on one occasion in Ethiopia she managed to hit the back of the net nine times within the 90-minute mark, which almost makes Vivianne Miedema's double hat trick sound... average?
Much like myself, Loza has benefitted from being able to watch a certain generation of female footballers go before her, and pays tribute to her ultimate idol: Marta.
"Indeed Marta is my role model. She is a living legend," the forward announces.
"Ethiopia is home to many gifted players just like Brazil, but the Brazilians have got good football structure, clubs and scouts where they are able to get the opportunities to play abroad which then paved the way for more talents back home and development of their football.
"Marta played the biggest role in this, not only to the Brazilians but to all those girls across the world who are passionate about football. I am among those girls. I would always hear and watch the media discuss her hard work and success. If Marta, who is from a poor country, can achieve all of this, then why can't I?
"So, I imitate the power of Marta to my inner self. I tell myself, a player from a poor country can do miracles just like what Marta did in the process. Making Marta my role model has helped me a lot. I really want to play by her side before she hangs up her boots."
Touching on ambitions, as well as aiming to play in more competitive leagues across the world, Loza expresses her desire to help the development of football in her home country.
"[I'd love] to play for a big club in one of the world's most competitive leagues, but I also want to help Ethiopia bring back the Africa Women's Nation Cup. It's has been a while since we played in the continental championship.
"A move to England would be a dream come true. I recently started to follow the [Women's Super] League closely. I am shaping myself to the standard of the league and I believe I can perform well there, but right now my focus is all on the Maltese league so as to win the league and earn a spot in the Champions League."
Amongst discussing Loza's personal achievements, such as her 25 goals for the Ethiopian National Team, the Ethiopian Player of the Year accolade, or her 200+ domestic club goals, Loza and I also talk about the global state of women's football and how that affects her career.
"Things are changing right now," she tells me.
"Women's football has started to get recognition, but a lot of people involved in the game still see the women's football industry as a burden that's imposed on them. Women footballers earn a much smaller salary than their male counterparts at the same club. The treatment they receive is deafening. The supply of training equipments and match utilities are almost nill. Some women's league games are being held in empty stadiums, despite free or cheaper tickets," she continues.
Loza is, however, content with how domestic football is growing in Ethiopia, despite its stunted birth.
"Saying that, we have a big, two-tier league in Ethiopia, as well as some local division leagues. It's only been nine years since the inauguration of a women's league in our country, so I don't mind the development. We are growing. New talents are coming. Girls are playing football without a shame, hoping that they will earn a good living in their future career."
Looking ahead to the rest of Loza's season, her dream is to win the Maltese league title. After that, she has the Champions League in her sights.
"Sadly, I could not make it in time for [Birkirkara's] Champions League matches as my transfer wasn't completed in time, but this coming season I dream of winning the league title, and then I want to write my name in gold as the first Ethiopian to play in European Champions League.
I'm left in awe of Loza Abera, who, at exactly the same age as me, has upped and left her home country in pursuit of footballing glory all whilst averaging around a hat trick per game.
Having heard her talk with such enthusiasm about Brazilian superstar, Marta, I have just one last, burning question for the Ethiopian Goal Queen - who was her player of the tournament from last summer?
"My favourite performer in the World Cup?" she asks.
And without any hesitation, responds:
"Sam Kerr."News Now - Sport News