In particular, Bertolini praised AC Milan for the club’s commitment to their women’s team. The coach was not so kind to some of the other teams in the league.
More particularly, the technician accused the teams of hindering the growth of women’s football by not allowing their players to practice, or to finish the season.
If anything good has come out of the season’s cancellation, it’s the fact that it highlighted just how much Milan cares about their women’s team. The Rossoneri were one of three teams who provided their players with what they needed to resume play, and they should be commended for it.
Unfortunately for them, the championship was cut short. They’ll have to spend the summer preparing for next season, as they will try to qualify for next year’s Champions League.
Bertolini’s words were also an honest assessment of the state of women’s football in Italy, and why it needs to professionalize as well.
‘Sad, disappointed, and angry.’
The day after Serie A Femminile was cancelled, as the league was unable to complete the six out of six games that were needed to finish the season, a sense of disillusionment arose in the aftermath.
For the coach of the national team, Milena Bertolini, and the Azzurre that just a year ago, started the World Cup with a bang and a surprising victory over Australia – yesterday was supposed to be a happy anniversary for them: ”I had prepared a surprise for the girls”, Milena says.
“It was supposed to be an appointment on Zoom at 13:00 (1:00 p.m CEST), which was also the start time of the debut game in France. It was supposed to be an occasion for memories, anecdotes, and a quiz on our World Cup journey. Whoever got the most answers would have won [the quiz].”
And instead ―
“They were all willing participants, but with a lot of bitterness. There were sad faces, especially from those who suffered the most from the season being cancelled – the Juventus players, who didn’t win the Scudetto, the Milan players, who will see Fiorentina go into the Champions League instead of them. And to think that Juve and Milan were the only two clubs that allowed their players to return to training after lockdown. A paradox.”
In a normal world, starting from May 4th, the twelve Serie A teams would have put the women on a path to recovery.
“They would have done so while maintaining social distancing, and taking showers at home, of course”, the coach underlines, “but [had the teams resumed practice] we would have gone back to talking about women’s football and with all the teams [functioning] under the same circumstances, the league could have started again.
“There were teams, however, that while their men were training, they did not find a field for their women [to practice on]. Is this acceptable? Is this not discrimination? The truth is that there are still some who refuse to understand that these girls are a legacy to Italian football.”
Bertolini rejects the idea that it was the joint letter signed by Sara Gama (captain of Italy and Juventus) and the Serie A Femminile players that broke the negotiations with the FIGC [to restart the season]:
“Let’s judge the facts. Out of the twelve teams, only two – Juve and Milan – have considered that their athletes have valor, and have given them dignity. I understand the difficulties of the four amateur clubs [Orobica, Tavagnacco, Pink Bari, Florentia] but what about the remaining six? They stood still, and that says a lot. It says to us that for some teams, having a women’s team is an important investment, but for others, it is only a matter of image, and devoid of any substance.”
It should be noted that Sassuolo were the third women’s team in Italy to return to training alongside Juventus and Milan. They should have also been included in this list.
Among a thousand difficulties, men’s football will return and start again (“Because in the end, despite the contradictions and with the [contentious] medical protocols, there was a strong desire to go on.”) While one year later, the monumental achievement of Italy reaching the quarterfinals will likely dissipate.
“With passion, and with a common goal in our sights, great results can be achieved. That national side was a result of two seasons of hard work. Unfortunately, as of today, we have now lost sight of all the goodwill that was generated, in favor of [teams] preserving their own self-interests. In Italy, there is no broad vision for women’s football: you cannot let the players go without training for six months … other countries are moving faster than we are, and they are not waiting for us.”
In light of the Azzurre regrouping in September and the European qualifiers against Israel and Denmark, it is important that the 2020/2021 Serie A Femminile season starts early: “Within the first fifteen days of August”, Bertolini hopes, “in order to let us play with at least one month of games in the players’ legs and to do it with adequate preparation, otherwise we will not be able to face the competition on equal terms.
“But in the future, there must be better planning [for the league], strong investments, and not just a facade. So far, however, I have heard a lot of chatter and very few facts [anything concrete].”
The risk, meanwhile, is that those who are more susceptible will succumb to offers from abroad and that the most talented Italian players will be subject to a merciless transfer campaign (Fiorentina’s Alia Guagni is in the sights of Atletico Madrid).
“If we don’t put the girls on a level playing field, Italian football risks losing them. Italy’s still lagging behind on a cultural level and it no longer makes sense to beg for things that we’re entitled to. Women’s football deserves to be professional, period.”