Seven current and former Roma players were up for awards tonight, and three came away holding prizes. The Gran Gala del Calcio took place on the same night as the Ballon d’Or ceremony, and I’d blame no one if they didn’t want to travel to Paris and see Lionel Messi win yet another golden ball among the two-player UEFA hegemony now stretching beyond a decade. Nah, much better to stay in Italy instead.
The Italian league’s award ceremony saw Roma left-back Aleksandar Kolarov nominated for best defender, Roma forwards Javier Pastore and Stephan El Shaarawy’s goals nominated for goal of the season and four Roma Women players up nominated for the female Best Eleven. Those players were Roma captain and defender Elisa Bartoli, Roma vice-captain and midfielder Giada Greggi, Roma midfielder Manuela Giugliano (based on her AC Milan and Italy exploits of last season) and Roma forward Agnese Bonfantini.
By the end of the evening, Kolarov made the men’s Best Eleven as did Bartoli and Giugliano on the Women’s Best Eleven. But the crowning achievement for Roma was Manuela Giugliano outright winning Italian football’s Female Player of the Year.
Manuela Giugliano’s Victory is No Surprise
Anybody who’d tuned into the women’s World Cup 2019, this past summer, felt that Giugliano’s victory at these end-of-year awards was a near certainty. Giugliano’s game simply has it all, and she’s arguably in possession of the purest shot and dead-ball technique in all of women’s football worldwide. She married that technique with a profound tactical understanding of the game to sustain Italy to a historic World Cup campaign while helping former club AC Milan to a third-placed finish in the Rossonere’s maiden Serie A 2018/19.
Roma signing Giugliano this summer was the definition of a league-wide coup.
Paradoxically, Giugliano and the women’s awards took place on the same day that lawyers and top Serie A Femminile players like Sara Gama met up at the “È Tempo di Pareggiare” conference, seeking a final resolution from the Italian league to recognise female football players as professionals with the right to earn a professional salary from their clubs.
As yet, no such rights exist and Italian football’s female players can earn barely over 30,000 euros per year while they train longer hours than anyone with no adequate protection or safety net against career-threatening injuries and other potential setbacks.
It’s no small gamble dedicating yourself to playing this sport as a woman in Italy. You have to deal with the risk of potentially throwing your career, youth and earning potential away for the love of the game. The women’s Italian league is about 15 years behind top leagues like France’s D1 in terms of revenue, rights and earning potential, but breaking ground has been achieved since 2015 in terms of both league and national sporting performance.
“I’ve seen enormous changes in the last four years,” Italy captain Sara Gama said today. “We’ve fostered a spirit of togetherness among all colleagues since 2015, owed to the changes wanted by [Michele] Uva and merging with the men’s football teams.”
That merger of men and women’s Serie A clubs took place in the summer of 2018, and a more competitive women’s league has already arisen from it. If such a big change could happen in a small time, surely the time to back women’s football to a professional level is now? If not yesterday.
The Italy women’s team dominated the Italian TV broadcast numbers for the summer, in some weeks pulling in more television viewers than men’s club games in the same time-slot, and restored a sense of footballing pride around the peninsula with the country’s best performance at a Women’s World Cup in decades. The feel-good factor was sorely needed after Italy failed to even qualify for last World Cup on the men’s side.
That feel-good factor has carried into this season for Roma, as Giugliano became Roma’s number 10 and has shown the full repertoire of playmaking and leadership in the Giallorosse’s sophomore Serie A campaign currently underway. The same can be said for multiple league-winner and current Roma captain Elisa Bartoli, who stood alongside Bartoli in this evening’s Best Eleven.
Kolarov: I Can Go Another Four Years Easily
On the men’s side, Italian football Best Eleven player and Roma left-back Aleksandar Kolarov was in a bullish mood in the buildup to his eventual award win this evening. The Serbian spoke to Sky Sport about his decision to join Roma back in 2017:
“Every player has to push themselves and prove to themselves that they can do well,” said Kolarov. “Three years ago I was convinced I could do well here, and I’m convinced I can do even better. I’m proud to be here at 34 years old and I’m happy not just for myself but for Roma, because I’m a part of Roma. I could go another four more years without problems, easily...”
The Serbian left-back isn’t hearing a word about seeing the bench or taking a breather this season. He was then asked about his record goalscoring exploits from defence throughout 2019, and whether he’ll continue to step back in the pecking order for Giallorossi spot kicks behind Jordan Veretout and what’s in store for Roma with Paulo Fonseca at the helm:
“In my career I’ve actually missed more penalties than I have free-kicks,” said Kolarov. “I was never a designated penalty taker before, but last year both De Rossi and Perotti got injured and so I took them. [What’s impressed me the most about Fonseca?] His idea of football, how he reads the game, the way he explains to us how we should play and his determination.”