Turin (Italy) (AFP) – After 120 years, The Old Lady of Turin has finally opened its doors to an elite women’s team, which is shaking up the world of women’s football in Italy.
Since September, Rita Guarino’s Juventus women have swept aside their rivals with eight wins from eight league games so far, including the last two champions Brescia and Fiorentina.
Now Juve look poised to follow the success of their dominant men’s team in Serie A.
Italian national women’s team coach Milena Bertolini sees the arrival of the new team as a sign that things are changing in a sport that is seen as one of the last men’s strongholds in Italy.
“The arrival of Juventus has given a strong impetus to the whole movement,” Bertolini told AFP as the national side are also poised to succeed where their men failed and qualify for their first World Cup since 1999.
“We have spoken more about women’s football in the last six months since the arrival of Juventus than in the last ten years.”
Juventus –- winners of a record 33 men’s league titles, including the last six, 12 Italian Cups and two Champions League crowns — are used to being first and the club have provided significant funding for their women’s team to crush their rivals.
“The budget isn’t yet well defined because the majority of activities linked to the women’s team are merged with those of the men’s,” explained Stefano Braghin, head of Juve’s women’s section.
“But we have a sufficient budget to achieve the objective fixed by the club: to become as soon as possible a team of international calibre, not just national.
“A girl who supports Juventus now has the possibility to play for the club. A possibility is offered to passions that before risked being stifled.”
The newly-created team has an international flavour; some, like striker Simona Sodini, played last season for Cuneo, the club from which Juventus purchased their Serie A licence.
Others joined from top Italian teams like Brescia, attracted by the opportunity to play for the biggest club in the country, with New Zealand’s Katie Rood fulfilling her lifelong dream by signing her first professional contract from Kiwi side Glenfield Rovers.
“We’re a team with a lot of girls who have never played together, so it wasn’t easy,” 35-year-old Sodini told AFP.
“But there is such professionalism and determination from the players and staff. We’re aiming to reach our objective which is the Scudetto and Champions League qualification.”
– Inter Milan next –
Unlike their male counterparts with multi-million euro salaries, women players in Italy are considered amateur athletes, and many in smaller clubs struggle to make a living.
“(The salary) is nothing compared with the men’s but I can just focus on football for now,” said Finnish defender Tuija Hyyrynen.
“They have great ambitions and great facilities,” added the 29-year-old, whose career has taken her to the United States, Sweden and Denmark.
Fiorentina and Juventus are the only big clubs features in the 12-team women’s Serie A. Inter Milan will follow next season, but other major clubs such as AS Roma, Napoli and AC Milan are still not represented.
“Juve have started this journey and we hope next year to see other big clubs so that women’s football will be in the spotlight,” said goalkeeper Laura Giuliani.
And the big objective is to increase the popularity of the sport in Italy, which lags behind top European nations including France and Germany for the numbers involved in the game.
“In Finland and Sweden it’s really popular among girls to play football and I have the impression that maybe it’s not the same yet here in Italy,” added Hyyrynen.
Juventus’s ultimate aim is to rival clubs such as Lyon, Frankfurt or Wolfsburg in the Champions League.
But the question of the amateur status of players needs to be addressed immediately, according to Braghin.
“It limits us a bit in the choice of foreign players because a lot are professional in their country. It’s difficult to propose to a professional to return to being an amateur to join our team.”