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Bavagnoli Speaks on History, Progress & Future of Women's Football in Italy

To mark International Women's Day, Betty Bavagnoli looked back on her career and ahead to the future of women's football in Italy.

Football woman Roma-Juventus photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Roma's “The Big Interview” series on the official site has been going on for almost two years now. In addition to featuring black and white photos of the players looking like serial killers, this interview series has provided a glimpse into the players/managers/executives behind and apart from the normal sound bytes. From Aleksandar Kolarov's experience growing up in a war torn nation to the early stops and starts to Chris Smalling's career, this series provides more depth and nuance than your standard post-match presser.

However, it's been a bit disappointing to see the Roma women left out of the equation thus far. That all changed today, as, in honor of International Women's Day, the club spoke to Betty Bavagnoli about a range of interesting topics.

On the differences between her on the pitch and off the pitch life as a child:

I have fond memories of playing football as a girl. All my male friends were very kind to me, probably because I was talented and they all wanted me on their team. I never had any problems or felt discriminated against by them...

Off the pitch, however, I found there was more resistance. Other parents and adults who stopped to watch would end up labelling me a tomboy. Even just the sentence, “I play football” would trigger shocked reactions as if that were unthinkable. If I think back to that now, it makes me smile because I can say that the times have changed, but I think that what we’ve achieved today has come about thanks to people in my generation, the one before and the one after leading the battle against taboo and discrimination shown by all the people around us

I found it very interesting that Bavagnoli was quick to point out that, once the boys in her neighborhood realized she could play, the discrimination sort of subsided, but it was the parents and adults making the fuss. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Bavagnoli would also describe how her own parents tried to steer her away from football, getting her involved in volleyball, judo and even a stint as a high jumper. While these would all make her a better athlete, Bavagnoli started her professional career thanks to her Aunt, who helped convince her parents.

And thank god for that. With seven Scudetti under her belt and a coaching apprenticeship alongside Carolina Morace, Bavagnoli stands as one of the towering figures in Italian women's football.

On the current state of calcio femminile:

I’m so pleased with what we’ve achieved and the lingering feeling is possibly regret for the fact that my generation wasn’t able to experience what is available to girls nowadays. I say that without any anger or pain. If we’d had football schools like young boys had, we’d have been able to showcase the movement in the way that it deserves from a much earlier point. The team-mates and opponents that I’ve had in my career have all been very strong and didn’t have the help or training that girls get today. From a personal point of view, I certainly would’ve liked to have lived through the present situation when I was seven or eight

On the emotion she experienced watching the Azzurre in World Cup 2019:

It was a struggle for me to contain my emotions every time I watched Italy play, even when I was commentating for Sky. Watching the Azzurre’s campaign made me think about the past, about how difficult it can be for young girls to get into football and about how much positivity that tournament generated. I loved seeing how the girls were appreciated and supported by the public. It was really hard for me to contain my emotion – they gave us a huge amount. I felt such incredible happiness.

The best thing was hearing kind words from male athletes and from the fans who were so taken with the team and got right behind them. People were blown away by the feel-good vibe created by the teams, not just because of the football but also because of the loyalty and authenticity they showed out there

On the switch to professionalization: need to make sure you put in all the little steps to get there so that you don’t then realise you haven’t done everything required to make sure we don’t go back again. I’m mainly referring to all the protections and coverage that clubs and the FA will need to introduce to make sure the change happens successfully.

In this instance we’re talking about football, but there is no sport in Italy where women are professionals. We need to put women in a position where they can be protected. It’s not right for an athlete who plays sport professionally not to be protected in the event that she gets injured or becomes pregnant. We’re all united on that issue. I think we’ll probably need an intermediary step, but I hope it doesn’t take too long.

The interview wrapped up with a focus on her life in Rome and the club's current progress towards a Coppa Italia title.

I feel like an honorary Roman – I’ve been living here for 30 years basically. This city has given me an awful lot. Obviously I feel very close to my roots, but in all the time I’ve spent travelling the world, I’ve never found a more beautiful city than Rome. I really believe that it’s the most beautiful city in the world. I truly love this city. I think we’ll all have to do a bit more to help it to keep getting better

From a team perspective, at this point of the season, the improvement I’m happiest with is that we’ve become more of a team. We’re realising that we need to build a first-rate mentality

...Nothing and nobody is preventing us from trying to win, but if we’re going to try for that we need to know that we need to raise the bar – and that’s something that starts in our heads. I’m working hard on that and recently the girls are showing increased awareness. Without setting specific objectives, my team and I will try to go as far as we can.

Roma are struggling to fight their way out of third/fourth place this season, but interviews like this give me faith that Bavagnoli was the perfect person to lead this new project. Her experience, both as a player and manager, has spanned nearly the entire modern history of women's football in Italy, giving her a level of insight and perspective seldom seen in the game.

We'll end this one on kind of an odd note, by turning to Manchester City.

We'll just add one amendment. It's not men's or women's, it's just Roma. Watch this team and you'll instantly fall in love with their personality, tenacity and quality.

Roma jump back into league play on March 21st against Florentia. Don't miss it!