Back in June, when we first discussed AS Roma's voyage into women's football, our coverage was necessarily quite vague. At that time, all we really knew was that Roma were one of several Serie A clubs making in-roads into the women's league, an effort many hope will raise the profile of Serie A Femminile among it’s European competitors. We knew Elisabetta Bavagnoli would be coaching the team and that Mia Hamm was involved somehow, but that was about it.
Slowly but surely details emerged, and before we knew it the season was kicking off. For my part, I approached the season cautiously simply because I didn't know what I needed to know or how to go about getting that information. My biggest fear was covering the team half-assed—I didn't want it to be seen as an afterthought—but thanks to the club broadcasting nearly every match, those fears soon subsided.
So, with that in mind, dallagente and I sat down to discuss the highs and lows of Roma's rookie season, as well as predicting what lies ahead.
1. Watching a brand new football team isn’t something fans get to do everyday, let alone when it’s an extension/addition of a club you already love, so did that newness impact your expectations for the club, or even your experience as a fan?
Bren: I sort of mentioned this in my Bonfantini piece over the weekend, but coming to this team and league with little to no background knowledge whatsoever was so incredibly freeing; I didn’t know who was good, who was bad, who was young or who was old. Not having any preconceived notions allowed me to approach the team with truly open arms, and I think that’s part of the reason why I became so excited to cover them.
As far as the expectations are concerned, I really had no clue either. After they started 0-3, I though “shit, here we go again” but they came back so resoundingly after that, it really gave me hope going forward, but I think, considering all that, fourth place was probably a just result.
dallagente: Several times this season, it was refreshing to have the women’s team as a wider perspective of what direction the club can push towards. There’s always been a temptation for me to get myopic and over-analytical about football matches, news, press conferences. And I robbed myself the enjoyment of just getting behind the team.
The women’s team forced that enjoyment back in again. There are very few stats or analytics around the web for each game, you have to just get back to watching the game, being a fan and not trying to be armchair-coach or armchair-DS. Because there’s so much about the history of the woman’s side in football that I’ve yet to catch up on.
Bren: Yeah, you nailed it. I found it frustrating at times to bring the same level of statistical objectivity to covering this team as we do with the men, but you’re right, it did free us to just enjoy the team, which was a relief!
dallagente: Exactly. I hope we can get more analytics in from the official Lega site, in the future, to make sure we’re telling the story straight. But for now it’s been a wake-up call that Whoscored was the source of all my powers!
2. Roma started off slow, went on an incredible tear, and then sort of limped to the finish line, but through it all what impressed you most about this club?
Bren: I guess I sort of just hinted at it, but their persistence is what impressed me most. That 0-3 start, particularly considering they were the first three matches in their history, could have torpedoed the season, but it didn’t, and there was a stretch there in the winter when they were among the best club’s in the league. In terms of specific tactical approaches, I LOVED the way this team just kept attacking. When things were rolling right, there were no wasted passes and everything was attack, attack, attack; it was beautiful.
dallagente: The mental strength for me. Similar to what you’ve mentioned about persistence, Bren. They were responsive to the coach, mid-game in most matches Roma TV did a good job of relaying what little adjustments Bavagnoli was giving them to stay on top of games, and they responded. There were no downing tools mid-game, giving up or mental blackouts, from the games I saw.
I guess we’ll see if that lasts into next season, because the crowds were already building up from just a few dozen to over half capacity at some of the games this season. As the pressure and expectation starts to build up on this team gathering a following, which it will, I hope they can play with the same mental freedom as they have this season.
Bren: Another good point about the TV coverage; that definitely made it easier and more fun to follow, but I just hope the brass does them a favor and makes the team stronger next season because, as you mention, they’re so strong mentally, giving them a shot in the arm this summer could push them to even greater heights.
3. No team is perfect, so give us a few areas in which Roma must improve ahead of next season.
Bren: While the defense was a bit shaky at times, at least compared to other teams at the top of the table, the biggest problem I see is simply the lack of a secondary scoring option: Annamaria Serturini had over a quarter of all their league goals. While that’s all well and good for her (and really quite impressive, she’s an amazing player), it’s not exactly a recipe for sustained success.
When you look at the leading scorers in the league, you’ll see multiple representatives from Juve, Milan and Fiorentina; Roma needs more punch upfront, plain and simple. They obviously can’t steal someone like Valentina Giacinti (the capocannoniere from Milan) but I wonder if they can poach some scoring talent from mid to low table sides; they need another proven scorer to help relieve some of the pressure.
dallagente: They have to control the ball better in midfield and the final third. I enjoyed the team most during the winter, when Bavagnoli’s football was showing itself as very attacking, proactive and keeping the ball high up the pitch away from Roma’s goal.
I thought the defence did well controlling possession when they were on the halfway line, Greggi did excellently evading any pressing and moving the ball up into the opponent’s half, but from that point on it was either you find Serturini and Bonfantini running behind the defence… or nothing. The midfield needs to support each other better. They tried to move Greggi further up field to see if that’d make a change, but it takes more than one player.
4. Which player(s) impressed you most this season?
Bren: Well, my Bonfantini bias is evident, can’t hide that--and Roma certainly has a wealth of talent--but I”ll go with a relatively unsung player to shake things up a bit. I was consistently impressed with Flaminia Simonetti, who is neither the tallest, strongest or fasters member of the team, but she was always in the thick of the action and finished the season with 5 goals in only 900 minutes. Every team needs players like her, and at only 22-years-old, she’s still got room to grow. It wouldn’t shock me if she became a consistent threat for 7 or 8 goals a year while playing several different positions.
In terms of the starters, it’s hard to omit Giada Greggi, who, for large stretches of the season, looked like the best midfielder in the league. She’s got that low center of gravity that makes her hard to dispossesses, she’s as fast as the day is long, she gets stuck into tackles and she can pick out a final pass. In so many ways, she’s emblematic of the modern midfielder; fast, technical, tenacious and capable of contributing in all facets of the game.
dallagente: Well there’s no point in me trying to hide it, and you already know my answer Bren. Giada Greggi. Like you said, she has that low centre of gravity, she keeps the team’s centre of gravity high up the pitch with her speed of thought and feet, I think I can count on just two hands how many times she’s been dispossessed this season.
I could seriously go on about her game all day. For coaches like Bavagnoli or EDF who want to keep the ball in the opponent’s half, you need players like Greggi. And she’s not shy of taking well-timed shots on goal either.
Elsewhere, I was impressed by Lipman, Bartoli and the first-choice front three. Piemonte frustrated me a lot until the very end of the season. I want to believe Piemonte can really explode to that next level, next season.
5. As Roma fans, we’re always focused on the future, so, regardless of your previous response, which player has the brightest future?
Bren: Hmm, well as far as I know Bonfantini is heading back to Inter next season, and as much as I was impressed with Giada Greggi, I’m going under the radar; Camilla Labate. The simple fact that she found minutes at fullback of all places is testament to her skill at such a young age, but witnessing her as a do-it-all number ten with the Primavera gives me hope that, should Bonfantini return to Inter, Roma won’t be without a dynamic threat up top for too long. She’s tall, agile and intuitive, just like Bonfantini, but perhaps even more versatile; Im very excited to see what she can do next year.
It’s a toss up for sure, but with Labate, Greggi and Serturini to build around, Roma’s attacking core is incredibly impressive.
dallagente: That’s a shame if Bonfantini is leaving. She is one of the country’s top prospects. She always had the pace and technique, and now we’ve seen the way she times her runs to cut inside and get on the end of passes has improved drastically over the season. She put in a lot of work for the team this season.
Other than that, I’m going to go with the name that could land me the most egg of my face. Martina Piemonte. She says her idol is Ibrahimovic but to me she is more like Drogba, or could be. She also has said herself she feels like ‘there’s a bomb waiting to explode inside of her’ talent-wise, and I believe it. If she can strike up a better understanding with her teammates next season, they can work her into goal more. Because right now the biggest problem is she’s only scored 4 goals, compared to the Azzurre front two at Milan scoring over 20 goals each.
6. Roma fans are also quite critical of their managers, so what did you make of Betty Bavagnoli’s performance this season?
Bren: Hard to say given the lack of comparisons, but I was continually impressed with her frankness and ability to keep the team motivated; there were very few instances in which we saw them hanging their heads and she never really made excuses during down stretches.
Tactically speaking, it’s hard to say since she wasn’t really forced to deviate too much this year, but my only point of contention was her inability to settle on a consistent back four, which could certainly be attributed to personnel as well, we just don’t know at this point. If nothing else, she seems like a level-headed motivator, which is a rarity these days.
dallagente: She gives her players a lot of pointers in game, and ways to beat their opponent, from what I heard on Roma TV. What the touchline reporter said often matched up with how the team adjusted mid-game, so she’s clearly got the trust of the players and knows how to get in their heads.
I just hope she shows ambition. She’s been in the shadow of Carolina Morace her entire career, and yet again this season, who’s standing just that little bit higher in the table than Bavagnoli? Morace’s Milan. Get mad about that or don’t get mad, whatever it takes to find the motivation to compete.
At the beginning of the season Bavagnoli aimed high, in her own words, and yet fell short of her stated goals. By the end of the season, she was saying “to do any better than what we’ve done would have been a dream”. Is that really something Elisa Bartoli wants to hear?
Let’s not forget Bartoli was sold on a promise, and moved on from a title-winning team elsewhere to come to Rome. I’ve said it before about the men’s team: I don’t want Rome to become synonymous with having to sacrifice your goals elsewhere just to exist here.
As long as Roma have continuity (that the men’s team doesn’t have), and the board shows ambition to go and sign quality players, then marry that with the culture of winning Roma has a Primavera level with graduates like Labate, Greggi and others… there’s a lot there for Bavagnoli to keep pushing up the Serie A table with.
7. What was the high point of Roma’s first season in your eyes?
Bren: I LOVED the 7-1 romp over Chievo; it was nice to be on the other end of that for once. Broadly speaking, the entire winter was a high point for me. After starting off 0-3, they won 14 of their next 19 matches in all competitions, and three of those non-wins were all one-goal defeats against Juve, Milan and a draw with Fiorentina; that stretch really gave me hope that they aren’t that far off from taking the league.
dallagente: Yeah, I feel exactly the same way. It was the winter run where everything was clicking. Lipman was doing well to control the ball at the back along with Bartoli, the defence was recycling the ball well. Greggi was playing deep and beating her opponent on the ball, skipping past them every time. Serturini and Bonfantini were in peak physical form, making tireless runs and scoring goals.
8. Finally, finish this sentence: Roma will win a Scudetto by____________?
Bren: I’ll give it another year and say 2021, by that point Greggi, Serturini, Labate and Piemonte will (hopefully) have had three years playing together under their belt, and if Massara (or whoever makes the decisions for the women’s team) can spend a bit of money and round out the squad, time and youth is on their sides; they have more young talent than any other top four team.
dallagente: I’d agree with that, 2021. If it doesn’t happen soon, it’s only going to get harder to make it happen in the future. Serie A femminile will only be getting more professional, more competitive, and more organized thanks to the money and coverage. I don’t think there’ll be any “one step forward, two steps back” like the game suffered at the turn of the millenium.
It’s weird to say it but, if you watch games in Bavagnoli’s era at the highest level, like the Mundialito of 1984, the football was more organised than what I’ve seen in Serie A femminile this year. There’s really no excuse for the women’s game to keep getting knocked back in Italy like it has done. And now the professional clubs have brought the men’s and women’s teams under the same franchises, country-wide, to mimic the direction of other European leagues. So there’s no turning back.
That just means a Juventus Women side that’s going to build more and more momentum. More “Premiere” showpieces matches at Juve’s stadium each season. I hope this Roma team gets back to the fullest by the board, to keep up with them and compete along with Milan and Fiorentina. Keep the Roma core together and do what it takes to sign quality on top (keeping Bonfantini would be a good start).
We hope you enjoyed our coverage of the women's team this season, and we'll have more reviews throughout the week, silly season coverage when the time comes, and of course we'll be on the Azzurre during this summer's World Cup in France.
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