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Serie A Women

'We're after Juventus!' - How Inter, Roma, Fiorentina & more are creating a thrilling women's Serie A title race

12:00 GMT+3 07/12/2022
Juventus Roma Inter Women composite 2022-23
With Roma following Juve by making waves in the Women's Champions League, the quality in Italian women's football has never been greater.

Since Juventus started its women’s team in 2017, every single Serie A title has gone to Turin. In the 2020-21 season, no one was able to even take a single point off them, and the following year they won the treble for the first time. It’s been the definition of dominance.

But things are changing.

Roma defeated the champions in the Super Cup this season. AC Milan beat them in a 4-3 thriller in October, a month after both Inter and Sassuolo had taken points from the Bianconere.

Fiorentina have another promising project in this new era for the Italian game, while historic clubs Parma and Sampdoria have also recently arrived in the top-flight with women’s teams.

It means that, coinciding with the league’s first year as a fully professional division, there is a title race going on unlike those seen in recent times.

“It's not that Juventus is getting worse as a team, not at all,” Anna Bjork Kristjansdottir, the Inter defender, tells GOAL. “It's more that other teams are stepping forward and getting to Juventus' level.”

It was back in 2015 that the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) made it mandatory for clubs participating in the men’s Serie A to have a women’s academy. That was the starting point for so many huge teams to become involved in the female game.

Elisabetta Bavagnoli, the head of women's football at Roma, recalls it as “something exciting and ground-breaking”. “For Italian women’s football, this was very important,” she tells GOAL.

At that time, the biggest club involved in the women's league was Fiorentina. The Viola were the first ever professionally-affiliated women's football club in Italy's history, doing the league and cup double in 2017 before adding another cup and the Super Cup a year later.

Juventus’ decision to launch a senior women's team was a big step given its status as Italy’s most successful club but, in 2019, an unprecedented moment would accelerate the entire game even further.

At the Women’s World Cup that summer, Italy captured the hearts of the nation with their run to the quarter-finals. ‘Calcio discovers women’, read the headline of one newspaper.

“Before that, it was a minor sport, at least in Italy,” Elena Turra, head of women’s football at Fiorentina, explains to GOAL. “People knew women could play football but only the Americans were considered professional and known by the audience.

“In Italy, despite the high rising percentage of girls playing football, only a few people followed the women’s game. After 2019, the game has gathered interest and fans. In Florence, it is common to see supporters and passion as it is for the men’s team.

“The biggest changes, I would say, are the awareness, the evolution of the game and the cultural development. Today, a woman in Italy can play a sport typically considered as a male one.”

It has led to more investment from clubs and a league that is not only competitive but producing teams with the ability to perform on the European stage, too.

In the 2021-22 Women's Champions League quarter-finals, Juventus only lost by a single goal to Lyon, who would go on to win their eighth title. Those exploits on the continent have given Serie A two spots in Europe, granting Roma a first ever experience in the competition - with them taking a point off two-time champions Wolfsburg in November.

“We are happy, we are proud,” Bavagnoli explains. “But I'm also so happy for the Italian movement. Now, we have two teams in the group stage and if we are able to put on a good performance, maybe we can allow the movement in Italy to grow. For me, it's really important, not only for Roma.”

That movement already has momentum. There are huge clubs at the top table now with similarly large ambitions.

When Kristjansdottir first began talking to Inter about a potential move, her immediate feeling was one of excitement. She liked the sound of their vision, her impressions of the game in Italy were good and they were confirmed when she spoke to some of her closest friends who were playing in the country.

Upon her arrival, she wouldn’t be disappointed, either. “It was this professional environment,” Kristjansdottir recalls. “You could see right away that every section was thought through.”

Her first season with the Nerazzurre, which ended in a fifth-placed finish, would set solid foundations to build on, too.

“We had some good games and you could really see the potential of the team,” the defender says. “We showed some really great performances against the top clubs, such as against Juventus in the cup. You could really see the spark that was in the team and that we had something to give and look forward to.”

With a similar squad to last year, adding just a few players to improve it, Inter are now battling with the league’s best. A 4-0 thrashing of Milan in the Derby della Madonnina in October was a huge statement, with Tabitha Chawinga, the free-scoring Malawi international and a signing that Kristjansdottir believes could take the team “one step forward”, involved in three of the goals.

“We know each other better. Last year, we were still learning about each other, what kind of football we wanted to play, what our style is and we were a little bit up and down. I felt like we weren't stable enough,” the Iceland international says. “We had great games but then the next game, we didn't show at all what we had to offer.

“We know our identity better, we are close as friends and players and we're a little bit more consistent between games this season.

"We have definitely taken a step forward but it's not enough to take one step forward. You have to keep improving between years,” Kristjansdottir adds, speaking of Inter’s aims.

“It's to keep building. I feel like it's also giving more options to the women's section and making us more visible. I think that helps a lot to make it more exciting to come here and play for the team. I feel like we just need to keep doing the work that we're doing and hopefully it will take Inter even further forward.”

The progress made so far means they are one of a handful of clubs that have the ability to battle for trophies and the European spots, part of the chasing pack that is closing the gap on an incredibly successful Juventus.

“Juventus started before us and they had, two or three years ago, many players or all players on the roster at the same level,” Bavagnoli says, talking about the gap to the champions.

“This is very important because when you have the same level and high quality, it means you have good substitutions. In the first three years, that wasn't the reality for us. From last season, and above all probably this season, we reduced this gap a lot.

“The quality of the players, the numbers of players we can involve with the team, with the quality of our stakeholders, of our coaches, with the quality of facilities, the training centre, for example - we have reduced this gap a lot.”

Turra, meanwhile, shows Fiorentina's intentions by telling GOAL of the new sporting centre the club is building, the Viola Park. “It’ll be the biggest and most modern in Europe and the women’s team will work in a reserved pavilion,” she explains.

“The first team but also the youth teams will be in touch daily in this new facility. Our youth sector is pivotal. Young players, male and female, will be close to their role models and breathe football all day long.

“Our main focus is on the youth area. It will have to fuel our first team. We’d like to have a starting XI one day with players coming from our city. The idea is to strengthen the stream of players to build up a new Fiorentina and to give as many players as possible to our national team. If we can fill the gap with the other European countries, we can raise the Italian movement and receive more investments for the clubs.

“We have a new ownership and attention: we’re after [Juventus]."

Roma, too, is investing more in its football school so that talented young girls are able to actually live there. This began in 2022 and 15 players are already doing so. It’s these projects that are most important as they ensure a bright future as well as an exciting present.

The FIGC’s decision to make academies for girls mandatory seven years ago means the foundations are there and they are being built upon further. It’s good for Italian women’s football and its national team in the long run as much as it is for the clubs.

It’s also great if you are a neutral. Here are several ambitious clubs with promising ideas and big targets – but there are only two Champions League spots that can be taken, one league title and one Coppa Italia.

“I know we have been winning for like five years now, but it's not easy,” Juventus defender Matilde Lundorf told GOAL earlier this season.

“All the other teams in Italy are also bringing in good players, international players. Every year is getting more and more difficult for us - but people still expect so much from us and we also expect a lot from ourselves.”

You can expect a lot from Serie A, too, as all signs point to it becoming one of the most competitive and thrilling leagues in the women’s game.