27 January 2020
Faïna Msellem - talks about her journey from Highbury Fields School to Head of the Women's Sport Division at Pitch International
As a young girl going to school just a stone's throw from Highbury, the odds were heavily stacked that Faïna Msellem would be another Arsenal supporter like her classmates.
But Faïna bucked the trend then, opting to follow Manchester United instead, and has continued to do so throughout a career that could so easily have taken a different path.
"Okay, I may have been a bit of a glory hunter... in fact I was an unashamed glory hunter!" says the Head of the Women's Sport Division at Pitch International. "But at Highbury Fields School everyone was talking about Arsenal and I was done with hearing about them. It was always going to be Giggs and Scholes for me."
While passionate about football, Faïna's choice of subject at East Anglia University may come as bit of a surprise considering where she works now. In fact, it couldn't have been more different.
"I enjoy reading, consuming information and have done so for as long as I can remember," she says. "I love finding out new things and at school had a real interest in the sciences - chemistry, physics and biology. So I chose to do a degree in biochemistry!
"At uni I joined lots of sports clubs and, in the second year, was a committee member for the women's football team, representing the club at regional FA meetings, helping make trainings more fun and grow the club. I carried on with my studies and although I finished the three-year course, I knew that a career in biochemistry was just not for me."
Not entirely sure what it was she did want to do, Faïna started work at Unite trade union, dealing with compliance and employment issues, but it wasn’t long before she was drawn to a new challenge and enrolled to do a Masters degree in Sports Management.
"I had a very supportive line manager and employer in Unite," she says. "They enabled flexibility so that I could do the course alongside my work. I know they must have been thinking 'Why can't you ever just be satisfied?', but I have energy and drive and will be guided by what my mind wants."
And never one to rest on her laurels, Faïna's journey continued at a pace.
"I knew that I could stay at Unite; they were great and very supportive of me, but I had to follow my passion which involved sport business. Of course, I didn’t quite know how to channel that into a career"
That search for the 'something - but she didn't quite know what' took her on a one-way trip to South America where Faïna spent three months travelling solo across five countries "to get more comfortable in my own story".
"It sounds drastic, but I had to do it," she explains. "It was the right thing and I was lucky enough to get a short-term position in the research department of Manchester United in London not long after I came back. They say never work for the team you support, because of the emotional attachment, but in terms of a brand to learn from, it really couldn't have been better.
"They are the most successful team commercially for a reason, there is a system and procedure in the background that they execute to great effect."
Faïna's supervisor at United moved to Pitch International setting up a new Sponsorship Department, and in the best footballing terms, she transferred there shortly afterwards!
Her portfolio of experience and expertise developed, as she quickly learned about Commercial Sponsorships of clubs and leagues, technical delivery, production of live sports, player representation, broadcast landscape and acquisition of sport rights.
But so too grew Faïna's thirst for more knowledge and her desire for a new challenge, which led to her current role as Head of the Women's Sport Division at Pitch International. The first year of the division she has delivered the acquisitions of W Series and Worldwide rights to The Barclays FA WSL and Faïna is excited to see the rise in momentum backed up internationally with interest, investment and visibility.
"It hasn’t been a straightforward path, but then it's so important for girls and women to find the way that best works for them as an individual," she adds.
"There is no right or wrong. I wouldn't even rush to go to further education, as much as we're programmed to do so. It's not for everyone - and not everyone has that opportunity, financial backing anyway and support.
"Knowing what I know, as Arsenal was my closest club, I would've peppered them with emails to find out more about any opportunities they might have, especially during the summertime and holidays. I would have built up as much knowledge of what roles and functions are required to run a club.”
"It's not always a linear path to get to work in the industry, I am the living proof of that! If reading and college are not your things, find a way that works for you - whether it's a casual coffee and chat, networking. Reaching out and making contacts in other ways can be just as useful and that's why Women in Football has also been such an environment of positive support."
One thing is for sure, Faïna has already proved she can navigate her way to where she wants to be - a woman at the forefront of Women’s Football. As her path has shown, there is no doubt Faïna will continue to push to develop herself and her career in sport.
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