SINGAPORE - National footballer Siti Rosnani Azman has signed a one-season contract with Japan's International Athletic Club (INAC) Kobe Leonessa to play in the new Women Empowerment (WE) League - the country's first professional women's football league.
She becomes the second Lioness to play professionally after Lim Shiya, who played for W-League team Perth Glory FC in Australia's first division from 2008 to 2009.
Rosnani's move to Japan was facilitated by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and Albirex Singapore's chief executive Shu Namba and team manager Suzanna Foo, who connected her with the director of INAC Kobe.
The 24-year-old joins INAC Kobe from Australian semi-professional club South West Queensland (SWQ) Thunder, who compete in the National Premier Leagues Women's, the country's second-tier competition.
During her time in Australia, where she made 31 appearances for the Thunder, Rosnani herded cows, picked fruit and worked at a motel just so she could extend her work and holiday visa.
On signing for INAC Kobe, Rosnani told FAS.org.sg: "I am very honoured and thankful for this rare opportunity to train and compete in Japan.
"I believe this experience will push me outside of my comfort zone to grow as both a player and an individual."
The inaugural WE League season, which starts on Sept 12 and ends in May 2022, will feature 11 clubs.
There will be no relegation for the first few years and the league also requires that women comprise half of each club's staff and officials.
Prior to the formation of the WE League, INAC Kobe had been part of the Nadeshiko League Division 1, which is now the second tier of women's football in Japan. They won the league three times in a row from 2011 to 2013 and finished second last season.
Some of Asia's best talents, including the likes of Arsenal's Japanese forward Mana Iwabuchi and Korean internationals Ji So-hyun (Chelsea FC) and Cho So-Hyun (Tottenham Hotspur), have played for the club.
In the upcoming season, Rosnani will have the opportunity to feature alongside Japan internationals Ayaka Yamashita, Emi Nakajima, Hina Sugita, Yuka Momiki and Mina Tanaka, who were part of the Japan squad at the Tokyo Olympics.
The defender said: "I had to adopt a professional mindset and lifestyle even before I had gotten a contract. Moving to Australia was a great step forward. It meant being away from family, taking care of myself and even having to get my hands dirty in cattle farms and pick bananas to extend my stay to play. But that is how serious I am about football and how dedicated I am to improve.
"I'm excited to gain experience in Japan where the standard of football keeps growing. It still feels like a dream, but I know that it will not be easy. I am ready and want to challenge myself to see how far I can go. I hope that this will inspire girls back home and instil the belief that being a professional female footballer is indeed possible."
National women's coach Stephen Ng, who has been in the role since March this year, hailed Rosnani's groundbreaking achievement.
He said: "Although I haven't had the chance to work with her since my appointment, I have seen her play and know that she is a key, reliable defender for the Lionesses. It is a great feat for Rosnani to play in Japan and I am thrilled to see her efforts recognised.
"She has always been a leader and an ambassador of women's football in Singapore. On the pitch, she commands; off the pitch, she inspires. I hope that this will boost and spark hope for the Lionesses and that in time, more players will follow suit. I cannot wait to see Rosnani excel in the league and wish her the best as she reaches new targets."