Jéssica Silva recently helped Portugal qualify for the Women's World Cup for the first time in history. This is a piece she wrote on how the players she met along the way have helped shape her journey.
My road to the 2023 World Cup starts at an unexpected place. It begins with something you can find all around Portugal - oranges.
When I was young, all I wanted to do was play football. But footballs were expensive. So I would take the small oranges from the tree in our yard. My grandmother would yell, “No, Jess!” But I had to play. I kicked and juggled the innocent fruit all day long.
But I never imagined I would play professionally. I didn’t hear about women doing those things growing up and I never had a role model because of it.
That’s why the women I met along the way have been so important to my life. My teammates are the ones who helped show me what’s possible.
Often in football, you’re competing against the players on your roster for a starting spot. It might make some only look out for themselves. But that’s not what I’ve experienced.
I signed my first professional contract at 23. I didn’t know the team and I didn’t know what country I was going to. I didn’t care. I just knew it was a professional contract and that I wanted it. I ended up at Linköping in Sweden.
When I got there, things didn’t go as planned.
It was the first time I left Portugal – I missed my family and started feeling lonely. I wasn’t used to the level of play. The girls played on teams since they were young. I joined my first team at 14. I excelled quickly and made it to the national team by 16 but of course, there were things I was missing from my late start.
It was difficult going from being one of the best in Portugal to struggling to find confidence on the pitch in Sweden.
But the people I met at Linköping, especially Pernille Harder and Magdalena Erikkson, who are now also part of Common Goal, made a big impact on me.
When I was down, Magda and Pernille encouraged me to keep going. If my pass was off, they offered advice instead of counting me out. They believed in me. And when great players like them believe in you, you start believing in yourself too.
I moved back to Portugal after six months to be around my family and fill my heart. But I was always trying to move up in football. I knew I needed to leave Portugal again to be my best. There was a lack of resources in the women’s game here. No one earned money to play. I had to get a job with my club doing excel just to support myself.
And then it happened. After a few years of playing in Portugal and Spain, I got a call. It was from Lyon. The best team in the world. Even though I didn’t get a lot of minutes there, I became a better player by being around the team.
We had a special dynamic at Lyon. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Linköping. The players were so supportive. When I missed passes and wasn’t feeling confident, Wendy Renard and Amel Majri would come up to me and give me tips and encouragement.
Everyone knows they are great footballers. But they are also great humans.
Having their confidence and words helped me a lot. They taught me how to be a better teammate and for that, a better player.
These relationships I’ve made through football are one of the most beautiful things I have achieved. As I make my mark on football history and culture, I don’t just want to be remembered for becoming the first Portuguese player to win the Champions League or for being part of Portugal’s first Women's World Cup. I want to help people see the importance of lifting other women up.