AGSM Verona’s Gabbiadini and Öhrström reveal how attitudes in Italy are hampering women’s football in the peninsula
AGSM Verona goalkeeper Stephanie Öhrström and captain Melania Gabbiadini took some time out to talk to Forza Italian Football about the women’s game in Italy and how the attitude in the country doesn’t help the growth of the game.
Women’s football in Italy has been making headlines worldwide in recent weeks. Unfortunately, this has largely been due to Lega Nazionale Dilettanti president Felice Belloli’s alleged derogatory comments.
Belloli was reported to have said during a meeting that he didn’t want to speak more about funding for ‘a bunch of lesbians’ and subsequently lost a vote of confidence.
Belloli’s comments inspired champions AGSM Verona to display a banner at the Stadio Bentegodi proclaiming their desire for greater respect. Elsewhere, Brescia and Tavagnacco threatened to boycott the women’s Coppa Italia final.
ForzaItalianFootball.com met with Swedish goalkeeper Stephanie Öhrström and three-time Italian footballer of the year Melania Gabbiadini from the Verona side that won the Scudetto on the last day of the 2014-15 season with a 3-1 away victory over San Zaccaria Ravenna.
The progression of the Italian game, the fortunes of the Azzurre and Belloli’s offensive comments were all on the table for discussion.
ForzaItalianFootball.com: What does it mean that Italian women’s football has received so much attention due to Belloli’s comments?
Melania Gabbiadini: Unfortunately, when people speak about women’s football it’s always negative. When you start playing football people ask why because it’s masculine. I’ve played for football for 20 years and there’s always been this dismissive attitude.
FIF: Melania, we came across a video of you being awarded your best female player award and we noticed that the presenter focuses primarily on your brother during your interview. Do you think that this reflects this dismissive attitude?
MG: It was disappointing because it was a big moment for me. They gave me a slot on a male football programme for 10 minutes and they presented an award for women’s football and barely asked me two questions and instead focused on my brother.
Unfortunately this is the mentality. Even when you go to collect a trophy for female football, all they ask you about is about the male football.
FIF: Do you think that the controversy and resulting pressure could provide an opportunity to move forwards?
MG: We’re not giving a good impression of ourselves in front of other countries. They’re laughing at us a lot. However, out of the bad surely something good can come. Now, there’s the opportunity to do something.
Stephanie Öhrström: It’s good that this issue has come up and I am very happy that it’s got attention here in Italy and abroad. Let’s hope that it’s the start of something. It’s a shame that there’s these idiots because they only create negative news for Italian football when there are a lot of positives.
We’ve spoken a lot about this recent controversy when we would prefer to talk about the Scudetto that we won last week rather than someone who doesn’t show us respect. The female Champions League final was the other day but people aren’t talking about that.
FIF: Is there too much of an imbalance in Italian domestic football?
MG: Unfortunately, this debate gets to the base of the problem in Italy. We don’t have the youth system to bring up young girls and it’s difficult for them to improve. Abroad, there’s a concept of youth development in children that we don’t have in Italy and that’s a problem. Here, you have first team players who only started playing football three years ago.
I believe that it’s right for girls to go abroad an experience a new mentality, and we’ve started to benefit from that in the national team.
It’s difficult to get foreigners to come to Italy but it would be a good thing to have more in the Italian game as they’d bring a new mentality that we can learn from.
FIF: Have you ever thought of moving abroad?
MG: I’ve had offers from France, Germany and America but stayed here for reasons outside of football. I’m a bit sorry not to have gone abroad. I would have liked to experience it but I’ve still had a very good time here.
FIF: How have you found the differences between Sweden and Italy Stephanie?
SÖ: There’s a big difference. For me, we had these same debates in Sweden but they were 20 years ago. Also in every day life we are ahead, women’s status in society is higher in general. It starts at home. Even in 2015 in Italy I hear mothers saying that they don’t want their daughters to play football.
Mentalities have to change at home, that’s the final step. I’m very happy that this discussion has gotten so big because like ‘Meli’ said, something good could come of it.
The game’s more balanced in Sweden. But there’s teams in Italy that I think would do very well there,
Sweden has 12 teams compared to 14 here. It would be better to reduce the numbers, not because we want to play fewer games but because it doesn’t help anyone to win 11-0. It doesn’t help us or the opposition and it’s not nice to watch.
FIF: The World Cup is coming up this year in Canada, why do you think Italy weren’t able to qualify?
MG: I believe fundamentally that we missed the chance to qualify against Spain in the group. We lost away with a side that was weakened, we were without five usual starters. We played badly and then we got a tough draw against the Netherlands [in the playoffs].
In the 2013 European Championships in Sweden we did well. We finished among the top European sides. We want to implement a project for the future, get the young players to grow and hopefully have a side that’s ready for the future.
How significant was it to win the Scudetto?
MG: Six years without the Scudetto was difficult for us. We’d lost key players and we needed to revolutionise the squad. We had lots of young players and there was an almost complete change of squad. It was a bit difficult to adapt at first but the club signed important players.
SÖ: There’s a better balance between the youth and the experience. It’s been a beautiful year, everyone has beaten everyone and we didn’t win the league until the last day. It’s not as though we won with games to spare.
FIF: Obviously, as league winners you’ll be in the Champions League next season, is there anybody you’d like to face?
MG: It’s hard to say. Whatever side you meet will play well and be strong. However, taking on the big sides like Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain or the German sides would be great because it’s a good chance for us to test ourselves and assess ourselves.
SÖ: We have a good young squad. Last time when when we went to Malmo a lot of us were intimidated and I said “look they’re footballers like us” and we played well against them. Now all of us cannot wait to play in the Champions League.
by Luca Gunby and Luke Barr