Changes and challenges have never been shied away from throughout Louise Quinn’s career.
Quinn’s career is one that more Irish footballers could learn from. It’s a career that, by the time the coronavirus hit Europe in 2020, had already seen her play in Ireland, Sweden and England, and was perhaps always likely to have another turn ahead.
So, when the chance to move to Italy presented itself, even during a global pandemic that only made things more complicated, Quinn leaped at the opportunity.
“I was on the lookout and it was obviously a tough time to go and find a team generally,” the Fiorentina and Ireland defender told Forza Italian Football. “Things led me to Italy. I spoke to [Fiorentina coach] Antonio Cicotta and liked what he had to say.
“Italy had always interested me. The women’s team had a great World Cup and it was just an opportunity that arose. It was one of those things that just happened and, in terms of football, it was the best move for me.”
Quinn had previous experience playing abroad, having taken a huge step moving from Ireland to Swedish outfit Eskilstuna United to sign her first professional contract at the age of 22.
A move to England originally saw her join Notts County before they abruptly pulled the plug on their women’s team, but the Ireland international landed on her feet and found a move to Arsenal.
In London, she was relatively close to home, so the decision to make the move to Italy mid-pandemic might have been something that others would think twice about, but Quinn saw more positives than negatives when the opportunity fell her way.
“You’ve got to make those sacrifices,” she said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made.
“I’d felt like I’d already had a lot of time abroad and I was really settling into England and the handiness of getting home from there. But these are the things you have to do for football, and I was ready to take on the challenge once I got here.
“It’s just another challenge for me. Do I wish it wasn’t during COVID? Absolutely – to get people to visit. Italy is probably one of my mam’s favourite countries, so it’s tough that she won’t be able to visit any time soon.”
Italy can be a tough country for a non-Italian to settle. The bel paese has its obvious beauty and character unmatched by most countries around the world, but living there comes with complications and teething problems.
— Louise Quinn (@louise_quinn4) March 21, 2021
Quinn hasn’t escaped those difficulties in Tuscany but has been able to enjoy some gentle reminders of home that have helped the process.
“I’m a very open-minded person and I’m open to learning different cultures,” she said. “It’s tough because I struggle with the language and sometimes I get a hard time for that, but I’m trying my best.
“But it’s been really fun to embrace, I’m learning so much about the people. As an Irish person, I love the passion they have for their country here. You can definitely see some similarities between Irish and Italian people.
“In Siena, there was a lot of green, white and orange. We were there and there was a Vespa with an Irish flag sticker on it, which I found hilarious. There’s been a lot of change, but that’s all part of the fun of it.”
Those obstacles in adaptation have come on the pitch as well, and some harsh lessons have been learned. In the fifth Round of the Serie A season, Fiorentina travelled to fave Juventus. La Viola were behind inside five minutes. After 13 Quinn was dismissed for a foul on Barbara Bonasea.
“One of my lowest points [in Italy] was the red card against Juve,” she said. “I’d had a few rough weeks in general in Italy and with the Irish team as well. It just felt like football wasn’t my friend around then.
“The things you really don’t want to happen were happening, and then I was sent off after 13 minutes. It was unbelievable.
“I felt like I had let the girls down so much. It was my first game against Juve, there was a lot of talk, a lot of hype, and I really felt like I let them down.
“I apologised [to my teammates] and even had a couple of tears. I’m a strong player but I’m in my emotions as well. I hate letting people down. Some of them were a little pissed off, but I think that was more because of the result.
“I had a few down days, a couple of down weeks. But you’ve got to keep going and wait for that change, to wait for things to click. It’s football, these things happen. That’s life.
“It was a learning moment and it hasn’t happened since.”
It hasn’t, and that was shown when Quinn next faced Bonasea. Expectedly, she learned and, as she did at Arsenal, has adapted. Now, the 30-year-old is more aware than before of the threat Italian forwards pose.
“You’ve got to be smart here, and it was one of the first experiences where I realised how easily players go down here,” she said. “Checking their movement has been the biggest change. They’re very good at coming off the defender’s shoulder, coming from your blind side.
“They’re very good with their backs to goal, either at playing a one-two with their midfielder or even keeping the ball and using their body. It’s a completely different style, a different pace.
“I’ve learned to read their body language and to time a tackle. If you don’t get it right, the decision is going against you. Even if you do, it’s probably going against you. Reading players is something that I’ve needed to do more.”
The next time she faced the Juventus forward, an inch-perfect tackle carried out in the most stylish way imaginable, by extending an outstretched leg behind herself, cleanly dispossessed Bonasea, and was never at risk of leading to another sending off.
Who said defenders can’t be flashy?
Louise Quinn may be a centre back but she’s still got the flicks ?pic.twitter.com/GJJbDtWiPg
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 17, 2021
“The first time I got sent off, the second time I loved it,” Quinn joked. “I enjoyed that. I sometimes do it in training if I know I’ve been done one way. I just stick a leg out – it’s long enough! It was a dangerous place to do it, but I very cleanly got away with it.”
That one tackle perhaps served to highlight how Quinn’s style of defending has had to change with her surroundings, but learning, developing and adapting is something she’s done throughout her career.
“The entire process is about growth for me,” she said. “I learned the trade in Sweden, that’s where I had my first professional team. I learned how to be and live like an athlete there. Then I went to England and with Arsenal, it all upped another level.
“There, I changed the sort of player that I was. I’m generally a real centre-back – tough, I love big tackles, get the ball as far away from goal as possible, literally do whatever it takes.
“But now you see that centre-backs are changing. It’s more modern, you’ve got to be a ball-playing centre-back and I learned that at Arsenal. I learned to pass the ball around my own box and to play out of tight situations. I completely developed a new way of football, and to do that at 27, 28 and 29 – I loved it.
“I’m definitely still growing as a person too. I’ve learned a lot moving to Italy. I do think it’s a shame when I ask players if they’d ever play abroad and they say: ‘no, I’d miss home too much’. It’s something we have the luxury of doing as professional footballers.”
Development, growth and improvement are things that extend to Serie A and women’s football in Italy as well. The league is growing, investment is coming in at a quicker rate than before, and the results are being seen.
Serie A is competitive, and the distribution of talent is more evenly balanced than in some other countries around Europe.
“The whole Italian team play in Italy and they’re quite evenly spread out,” Quinn said. “I quite like that. There aren’t many games where you can think that ‘we should get three points here’. It’s tough. I like that it’s top-to-bottom here. It’s an even league. Juve have a little bit more, but in general there’s a great mix.
“You can see the direction that teams are going in. The investment that’s going to be there, and soon turning it fully professional. The bigger teams are investing and it’s still a little bit behind but it’ll grow fast – it’s already been growing quite fast.”
While things haven’t always been easy in Italy, Quinn believes that it’s a good place to be, and her general impression of her first season in Serie A has been positive.
“Italy’s an interesting place to come for foreign players,” she said. You feel like it’s one of those countries that is the home of football. There’s huge passion behind it, the country itself, and I think it has the potential to grow and fast.
“Anywhere I go, I want to make something good happen. Even if that’s inspiring younger girls in Italy or in Ireland to play and know that they can go and play abroad in countries like Italy, England or Sweden. It’s definitely something that I want to show.
“There’s absolutely quality in this league and it’s going to grow very quickly and get bigger and better.
“I just want to enjoy it and I’ll gladly take on that bit of responsibility [of helping Serie A grow]. Hopefully, the league stays open to taking in foreign players, growing, and learning more styles and ways of doing things.”
For now, Fiorentina find themselves mid-table, and a three-way fight to rule Tuscany is unfolding with La Viola, Florentia and Empoli all on 23 points after 16 rounds of games.
“There’s still pride to play for,” Quinn said. “I know it’s a cliche but I don’t want to come away from a game thinking that people didn’t give their best.
“We’ve got to keep going. To grow individually and as a team, and to work on ourselves for next season.”