The morning before her 37th birthday, Aston Villa defender Anita Asante announced her retirement from professional football.
Asante’s announcement was perhaps slightly surprising, but sewing up an immense twenty-year career was bound to come sooner or later. Asante’s presence is one as familiar as a pitch itself and a WSL season without the centre-back gracing the grass will certainly take some getting used to.
From childhood football in the cages of North London to representing Great Britain in the Olympics, Asante’s career has taken her across the globe and seen her win multiple accolades, always at the very pinnacle of the game.
Signing a senior contract at her beloved Arsenal in 2003 as a teenager, Asante was a part of the Gunners squad that made history becoming the first and only club to win the quadruple (Premier League, Premier League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League) in 2006-07. Asante is widely regarded to have played an exceptional game in the Champions League final against Swedish side Umeå.
Asante then moved across London to join Chelsea for a year before spending the next portion of her career overseas. In 2009 Asante joined New Jersey side Sky Blue FC in the inaugural season of the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) and helped the side to win their first campaign. She was then traded to the now obsolete Saint Louis Athletica and the briefly joined Chicago Red Stars. Asante moved once again in 2010 to Washington Spirit before following then coach Jim Gabarra back to Sky Blue.
After the WPS folded in 2012, Asante took the opportunity to head back to Europe and settled into the Damallsvenskan, the top-flight of women’s football in Sweden. Asante joined Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC (now known as BK Häcken) and went on to make 41 appearances and score nine goals, as well as winning the Svenska Cupen (Swedish Cup) and the Svenska Supercupen (Swedish Super Cup).
The defender then moved across to Swedish champions LdB FC Malmö (now known as FC Rosengård) and continued her illustrious run abroad. Asante picked up hordes of silverware in her four years with Rosengård, including the league title in 2014 and 2015, the Swedish Cup in 2016 and the Swedish Super Cup in 2016 and 2017. She also was part of the side that reached three Champions League quarter finals.
Swedish dominance achieved; Asante returned to England to join Chelsea in the WSL in 2018 before signing the final contract of her career with Aston Villa in 2020 for their first campaign in the top division. Rather fittingly, Asante’s final away match came against Arsenal, signing out the very same way she signed in.
With such noteworthy domestic form, it is unsurprising that Asante’s international bearing is no less impressive. Asante played for England through the youth groups and captained the U19 Lionesses to victory in 2002 at the U19 World Cup. Asante went on to make her senior debut in 2004 and subsequently made 71 appearances and scored two goals for her country. Asante was also part of the 2012 Olympic squad in which she featured prominently, playing in all four of Team GB’s matches before their eventual defeat in the final eight.
Asante’s style of play is simple; no nonsense, fundamentally driven, quality defending, and it has been her complete mastery of the basics that have kept her at the top for so long. In the final stretch of her pitch side endeavours Asante has played over 35 games for Aston Villa, still an essential part of the set-up as she was twenty years ago.
Timely blocks, clever interceptions, imposing body positioning to force an opponent onto the wrong foot, all make up the small details of Asante’s game. Yet, possibly where she is most deadly is in one-v-one situations. Governing that backline with a notable astuteness, Asante is incredibly calm when handling immediate pressure. She will stick with an attacker before knowingly using her physicality or smart footwork to dispossess. In fact, in this final season alone, Asante leads as the player who has tackled the greatest number of dribblers throughout the term. Put simply, one sighs a certain amount of relief when Asante’s name pops up in the starting eleven.
Asante’s mark, however, has not just been stamped between the confines of the touchlines. Advocate and activist, for many years Asante has campaigned for the rights of the LGBTQAI+ community, as well as strongly supporting Show Racism the Red Card and Amnesty International and Goals for Girls.
Looking ahead, it seems there will be plenty on the horizon. Asante already lends her experienced voice to the masses, sharing her expertise in educating the nuances of women’s football as a pundit within the media industry. Yet further than that, Asante has ambitions that will eventually see her back in the dugout, aspiring to come full circle and head back to where it all began. Asante hopes to one day return to The Arsenal and manage the club that has sparked two decades of a remarkable life.
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It is abundantly clear there is a deep passion that runs through Asante for the causes and issues that are close to her, and whilst pitch may lose a great, the sport and its lending organisations gain someone truly special. The floods of tributes from coaches, players and supporters alike only served to confirm the iconic status of the stalwart. Plain and simple, the pitch will miss the ever-present excellence of Anita Asante.