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A Consultation with ‘Panico’
In 1991, Italy had Carolina Morace; in 1999 they had you. Who do you think will be Italy’s star of 2019?

I don’t know! I think this Italy side are stronger as a group as they don’t have just one star player. They have important players like [Barbara] Bonansea, [Alia] Guagni or [Sara] Gama, alongside [Elisa] Bartoli, who’s a vitally important defender. These four players would be their stars, but there are also others like [Cristiana] Girelli. In fact, there are so many players who could become stars of this side.

How do you think Italy will get on at France 2019?

I think they have what it takes to come through the group stage because the team has developed a lot. They’ve improved physically and there’s great work being done by professional clubs, who are investing heavily and helping women’s football grow. And then there’s the top work that [head coach] Milena [Bertolini] and [her assistant Attilio] Sorbi are doing. They have all the ingredients to do very well in the group.

What advice would you give to the current squad in their preparations for the finals?

I’d tell them to live in the moment as freely as possible, because if they start to overthink what they have to do, what results they need, it can be counterproductive. So, I’d just tell them to try to experience it with as much calmness as they can, while being mindful of the fact that a good result for Italy could provide the women’s game in this country with a lot of impetus.

PANICO’S PLAYING DAYS

  • Scored 110 goals in 204 games for Gli Azzurri
  • Scored twice at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, against Germany and Mexico
  • Won multiple Serie A titles with several clubs, including Modena, Lazio, AGSM Verona and Torres
We’ve been discussing the women’s game, but your current role is that of head coach for the men’s Italian U-15 side. How important do you think it is that teenage boys – whom you are coaching – can directly see a strong female role model working in the men’s game?

In my case they don’t realise this. They don’t factor in whether there’s a man or a woman on the bench. They look at what their coach has achieved and won. They respect you and listen to you, but they also look into your background, reading any news about you on the internet.

They’re the first to recognise that what I’ve achieved [in my playing career] is significant. They respect me firstly for what I’ve done as a player, but also for how I am as a coach. I don’t think they care whether you’re a man or woman, but rather whether you’re good at what you do, whether you’re competent, whether you have charisma. At least I’ve never noticed any consideration about my gender on their part.

If a woman was trying to get involved in coaching in ‘the men’s game’, what advice would you give them?
What was the biggest challenge you faced growing up playing football?

I never had to deal with parents who objected to me playing, but I did feel that I had to prove to them that girls can play football. I had to deal with scepticism in people who, on seeing you play, would tell you that girls aren’t able to play football. And that’s why, whenever I took to the pitch, I did it with the idea that I had to convince everyone who was watching me.

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