With the Serie A Femminile season entering into its final four rounds, there’s still a lot on offer at both ends of the table. While Juventus look likely to claim another title despite AC Milan’s best efforts, San Marino Academy, Napoli and even bottom-placed Pink Bari are locked in a fight for survival.
San Marino midfielder Millie Chandarana is no stranger to scrapping at the foot of the table, though, having had to do exactly that in 2019/20 as well, which was her first season in Italian football with UPC Tavagnacco. Those battles on the pitch, though, hardly scratch the surface of her experiences since landing in Italy in 2019.
“I didn’t really realise I’d have to speak Italian,” Millie Chandarana laughed, explaining the early obstacles of her Italian adventure in an exclusive interview with Forza Italian Football. “I had absolutely zero. Not a word of it.
“I understand a lot more now though and once you start trying and picking up words it’s easier. But it was quite difficult. I’ve been around quite a lot so it was kind of normal, and it was something that I wanted to do.
“It’s definitely been so much easier in San Marino than before, because I can understand the language now and it makes things a whole lot easier. When I first joined Tavagnacco it was really difficult and I didn’t understand anything. It took me a few months to get into the flow of things.”
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Chandarana joined Tavagnacco, a then-Serie A club in the province of Udine as a 22-year-old embarking on her first adventure in professional football.
Of course, the game had always been a huge part of her life, but the move to Italy presented her with her first professional experience, which would have been a considerable step in any circumstances. To make the leap fresh out of university and without a word of the local language only added to the complications. Add the destination being a small town in Friuli Venezia Giulia to that and you have a situation wherein she could have been forgiven for feeling completely lost.
“It was quite difficult,” Chandarana said. “But in San Marino now there are a lot more people who speak English, so it has been easier for me here. Not only because of learning the language, but people here understand my English as well.
“It was the most difficult thing, a barrier. It wasn’t a negative because it helped me to grow as a person. I learned a new language and, I guess, added a new dimension. But it was difficult at the beginning, even to speak to my teammates as normal people.”
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Beyond getting by in everyday life, existing in a dressing room without knowing the spoken language presents challenges. While in a lot of football dressing rooms around the world English is widely spoken as the go-to language, it hasn’t always been that way since Chandarana arrived in Italy.
That, naturally, can be something of a strain on the atmosphere in the dressing room, and can easily lead to cliques forming, but overcoming those complications can lead to an even tighter group.
“I’ve been talking about this quite often with the other foreign players, but with the Italians too,” Chandarana said. “I think we all find it quite difficult because we’re all from different cultures. There are differences that can come from that and languages.
“It is very difficult but I think that’s what makes the connection the best in the end, if you can get it between those cultures.
“All teams go through tough times and challenges and you need to speak about that, you have to speak as a team and all together. But if we don’t understand what the problem is or what’s being said, then it’s difficult to then go and find a solution.
“There has to be a team solution, and the girls who speak English and the coaches who speak English do help a lot with that, but it’s something that could be developed more to create a team dynamic.”
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Even on the pitch, communication can prove challenging. Chandarana is an attacking midfielder who likes to knit things together and link the defensive and attacking phases of play.
“I still struggle a bit,” Chandarana said, asked if the language can get in the way on the field. “When I’m on the pitch I’m thinking in English and it’s difficult to change and switch between languages when you’ve half a second to do something on the pitch. There are difficulties and there have been examples of those showing, but football is football and it speaks for itself a lot of the time.”
Chandarana hasn’t had the easiest of rides in her two seasons so far in Italian football. With both Tavagnacco and now San Marino, the midfielder has been involved in relegation fights. Currently second from bottom and locked level on nine points with Napoli above them, at least two of San Marino’s last four games are six-pointers, with Napoli next up on Saturday.
“We’ve had a whole year of games and then, in the space of a month, we’ve got the four biggest of the season,” Chandarana said, joking that “it’s not been an easy start to my Italian career”.
“We basically play all of the teams at the bottom for the last four games. It’s challenging. It’s a difficult time but our season is really starting now and it’s what we’ve been competing for all season. But we’re ready for it and we have to show that we’re ready for it, because otherwise…
“We know the games that we need to win. We know how many points we need and we know the games that we’ll look for draws from.”
With Napoli and Pink Bari – currently placed above and below San Marino in the table – being games targeted to take wins from, a draw against Inter on top of those six points would allow San Marino to breathe a little more easily going into their final game of the season against Fiorentina.
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This competitiveness at the bottom is also seen at the top of the Serie A table, where Juventus are still being pushed in their pursuit of a title despite having won every Serie A game they’ve played this season. AC Milan are behind them in second, having only dropped points in two defeats to the Bianconere.
With Roma recently inflicting Juventus’ first domestic defeat in over two years to reach the Coppa Italia final at their expense, Chandarana is confident that a serious title challenge, perhaps involving more than a couple of teams, is on its way.
“Starting this year there was a sense that Milan were pushing for the title, and even Sassuolo,” Chandarana said. “Even Empoli were there at one point. There’s a lot of competition and Roma have just beaten them in the Coppa Italia.
“It’s coming. You can see the bigger teams putting more into it and creating teams that can compete with Juventus and go on to win titles. They’re creating teams to push on in the Champions League, which is what they really want.
“Milan definitely [can push for the title]. Roma, even other teams like Sassuolo too. There are a few teams who could push Juventus next year.”
For now, though, and until the season’s end on May 23, Chandarana and San Marino’s eyes are firmly fixed on the job at hand. Ready “to fight against Bari”, Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina, the midfielder will no doubt be hoping for a more straightforward third season in Italian football without the trials and tribulations brought on by a relegation fight.