As Roma Women begin pre-season on Monday, our columnist takes a look at the importance of one returning face - winger Agnese Bonfantini...
In a summer in which Roma have already been busy changing the complexion of their women’s squad, signing international stars like Manuela Giugliano and Andressa Alves, there has been one piece of business that could prove equally important next season – retaining the services of Agnese Bonfantini.
Italian winger Bonfantini flourished in her first season with Roma, scoring four goals in 23 appearances, making three assists, and creating many more chances for her teammates.
However, with her only being on loan that season, Roma had reason to be fearful that they could lose her – especially with parent club Inter gaining promotion to Serie A.
It would have been understandable if Bonfantini had wanted to return to Inter. She had been there since the age of 13, with her quality visible from a young age. It was there where she was handed her first taste of senior football, making her first team debut at the age of just 16, in one of the final games of the season.
Over the next three years, still a teenager, she became a regular in Serie B – and she wasn’t just there to make up the numbers. In the 2015-16 season, she scored nine goals from 20 appearances; certainly an impressive return for someone who was yet to reach adulthood.
She scored 14 goals the following season, and in her last season with the Nerazzurre, she played in every game as her side finished as runners up to Orobica. She put her name to a further 13 goals as she established herself as a key component of one of the deadliest attacks across the four groups that made up the division, with only promoted Florentia bettering the 100 goals that Inter scored.
She was also grabbing the headlines on the international stage, scoring a spectacular goal against Scotland Under-19s with a flick from the outside of the boot. Confidence is one thing Bonfantini has never lacked.
Thus, Roma knew they were getting a quality player when she made the switch south later that summer, and she didn’t disappoint. However, after affiliating with the men’s team just like Roma had, her former club Inter were also becoming a force. And, having gained promotion to Serie A, Bonfantini had a decision to make based on almost equal terms.
The fact Bonfantini has decided that Roma is the best place for her to be for the upcoming season shows the positive impression last year had on her.
Coach Betty Bavagnoli is overseeing an ambitious project, putting the groundwork in place for long-term success. Her methods have struck a chord with the squad, and Bonfantini appears to have been inspired too. The belief that she can develop further in the capital will have played a part in influencing her decision to extend her stay for at least another year.
The Giallorosse are determined to build on last season’s positive fourth place finish, knowing only the top two places can provide them with their first taste of European football. That would no doubt be a dream for the large portions of the squad, most of whom are yet to experience that.
Retaining Bonfantini will certainly help them towards those ambitions. The 20-year-old could find herself on a path perfectly aligned with Roma’s: both player and club are in the early stages of their growths, both with the potential to reach a very high ceiling.
Those upward trajectories have run simultaneously right from the beginning. Bonfantini was on the scoresheet when Roma secured their first ever win in Serie A by beating Florentia 2-1 in October.
It was a strike that showcased her cool head in front of goal. Latching onto Giada Greggi’s through ball, Bonfantini neatly tucked the ball under the opposing goalkeeper in an encouraging display of composure.
Bonfantini is all about a direct approach. She thrives on getting in behind opposition defences, finding pockets of space with or without the ball, and that goal was a prime example of how she could pose a threat by doing so.
Her first home goal came a week later and also demonstrated her willingness to get in the box. It came as she made her way into the centre of the six-yard area, connecting to the low cross Annamaria Serturini had played in.
On top of being a potent finisher, Bonfantini was thriving as a creative force, and she displayed it with an Assist of the Year contender against Milan in December. Coming inside at pace from the right wing, she held the ball up before deploying one of her favourite tricks, the nutmeg, on opposing left-back Linda Tucceri Cimini. She then skipped past defender Monica Mendes before teeing up Flaminia Simonetti to give Roma the lead.
It was back to being a goalscorer in January, when Bonfantini was the protagonist as Roma came from a goal and a player down to beat Sassuolo 2-1. Bonfantini’s first goal saw her put away Serturini’s cross from a free kick, while the match-winner was arguably her best of the lot.
Drifting into the space just inside the box, as she intelligently does on many occasions, Bonfantini received a pass from the strong and determined Greggi (with whom she has developed a great rapport both on and off the pitch). Getting the ball out of her feet, she used the pair of defenders in front of her as a mask against the keeper, who saw the ball only too late as it went in to complete an unlikely comeback.
The trio who combined that day were all instrumental last season, young players who linked up well for many of Roma’s attacks. For Bonfantini and top scorer Serturini in particular, their combinations were pivotal to the team, as much of Roma’s success came from the wings.
Two confident players who back up their pace and technique with an eye for goal, they can now look forward to linking up again, hoping to be major characters in another successful season.
Ahead of the new campaign, Bonfantini has been well equipped with plenty of learning experiences which can help her flourish further. She is on the radar of the Italian national setup, having made her senior international debut in March as part of Milena Bertolini’s World Cup preparations.
And even though she didn’t make the final squad for the showpiece tournament in France – having stayed in training camp up until the final cuts - it won’t be the last time Bonfantini is involved with the Azzurre.
More recently, she was a part of Italy’s squad for the University Games in Naples, in which the side reached the quarter-finals, before confirming seventh place with a win over Canada. Playing in all five games, Bonfantini saved her best until last, scoring her side’s fourth goal in the 5-2 triumph over their North American opponents. Thus, she goes into the new year on a high note, ready to rack up more positive achievements.
All those experiences will have benefitted her greatly as she prepares for her second season in Rome. Just like her team, she made an impressionable start that showed potential to challenge at the very top in future – and judging by the year she has had, coupled with the numbers she recorded earlier in her career, there is reason to believe she can get even better this time around.