Roma Women's first signing of the summer, Spanish forward Paloma Lazaro comes to the Italian capital looking to add another memorable chapter to what has already been a varied career.
From coming through at one of the best clubs in Spain to testing herself both at home and overseas, we spoke to Lazaro about everything that has brought her to this point - and her hopes for this season with the Giallorosse.
What were you like as a child?
“I was always on the move when I was a girl. I did loads of sports, often more than one in the same period: dance, tennis, 5-a-side football. I was never still for a moment.”
How did you start playing football?
“At school. I started playing 5-a-side. I was the only girl playing with the boys – in the entire league we played in. Thankfully it’s not like that anymore. There are more and more girls getting into football now.”
How did the boys react when you wanted to play with them?
“Actually I was the one who used to bring the ball along and I make the teams during the break. I tended to boss things a bit.”
Did you watch Spanish football?
“Of course. I was born and bred in Madrid just a stone’s throw from the Vicente Calderon and I’m an Atletico Madrid fan. I liked watching the fans going past on their way to the stadium at the weekend. I used to go sometimes myself too.”
How do you feel when you think about the fact that it’s been demolished now?
“It’s a great memory. I grew up next to it so I’m always sad when I go home and see a road where the stadium once stood.”
Who was your childhood idol?
“As an Atletico fan it was Fernando Torres. But generally speaking my favourite footballer was Arjen Robben. The female footballers I admire most are Natalia Pablos, who has retired now, and Jennifer Hermoso of Barcelona. I played with both of them when I was a youngster at Rayo Vallecano. They’re great footballers who have both won a lot and they’re great women too.”
Did you fall in love with football by yourself or was it something passed on to you?
“I don’t know. I don’t think there was one moment in particular. My parents didn’t play football. My mum did karate but she always supported me. It all started at break time with my class-mates. I was good at it so they asked me to play for the school football team and that’s when I got into it even more. I just went on from there, then from 5-a-side I went up to 11-a-side.”
What was it like going from playing with boys to playing with girls?
“That happened when I was 14. After that age you’re not allowed to play in mixed teams anymore. In many ways it was easier – for example when I was still playing with the boys I always had to go and have a shower first after the match. My team-mates would wait outside and only when I’d finished could they enter. There was a big difference in terms of power and pace. Playing with the boys I always had to use every ounce of energy to match them for power and pace.”
You made your professional debut for Rayo Vallecano. What sort of level was the club playing at?
“They were one of the top teams in Spain. We won two league titles and nearly all the national-team players came from Rayo. I was lucky to have the chance to develop at a great club in my own city. Many of my team-mates from back then now play for Barcelona and Atletico.”
What was it like making the step up from youth level to senior football?
“From when I was 15 the first-team coach wanted me to train with them, so I was able to improve by training alongside top players – that changed my mentality too. I started to see football as more than just a hobby – as a job – and I started setting myself higher targets.”
After a year at Madrid CF, you joined Tenerife in 2015. What was it like moving from a big city to an island?
“It was a big change. I took the opportunity to mature as a person and as a footballer, and to become more independent. I became a different person to the one I was before. Besides, the quality of life is very good in Tenerife: it’s sunny all year round, it’s cheap, everything is nearby, you have the sea… But I must admit that I missed the chaos of the city having grown up in the centre of Madrid.”
What were away games like? A two-hour flight at least for every game?
“Yes, we’d take a plane once a fortnight. There was a 45-minute coach ride to the airport on the other side of the island and then the coach journey in the city we landed in as well. We’d leave on Saturday and our match was at 12:00 on Sunday, then we’d fly back to Tenerife soon afterwards. It was tiring.”
Why did you decide to join Pink Bari in 2019?
“I wanted a change, a new experience. I wanted to get to know a new culture and a new language. I liked it in Italy so when I had to choose between going back to Spain or joining Fiorentina there was no doubt in my mind – also because in Florence I had the chance to play in the Champions League and at one of Serie A’s top teams.”
What differences have you noticed between Italian and Spanish football?
“It’s very technical in Spain but I’m seeing more and more really good technical players in Italy too. The national team has improved a lot and is closer to teams like Spain and England now. I think they’ll keep getting better every year. I was very surprised by Italy’s performance at the 2019 World Cup and that convinced me even more that I should stay in Italy.”
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
“My best memories so far are from when I played for the Madrid team from the age of 14. In Spain there are leagues between teams from different regions. I remember the first time we won in the final against the team from Valencia. I played in four of those tournaments and we won them all.
"Then I won the European U-17 Championship with Spain and we came third at the U-19 World Cup. Those results helped Spanish football to grow a lot. They were really important experiences because you develop so much with the coaches teaching you about technique and tactics. I’m very grateful for having had the chance to play in those teams.”
Is there someone who has been particularly influential in your career?
“There are lots of people I could name – coaches who have helped me to improve mentally or team-mates for example – but if I have to name one, I’ll say Blanca Romero. She’s a fitness coach I’ve known since I was 15 at Rayo and Madrid CF. She knows how to get the best out of me both physically and mentally. She’s known me since I was young and she’s always been someone I’ve looked up to.”
What’s your first impression of Roma in the first few training sessions you’ve had with the team?
“They’re a team who want to be in control of the ball and the game, and for someone like myself coming from Spain that’s excellent. There are lots of good technical players and I like that a lot. The club is very well organised too. All of that makes me feel sure that I’ve taken a step forward in my career.”
Did you like training on the beach in Ostia?
“Yes, I loved it! I always used to play lots of beach soccer tournaments in the summer and I really missed going to the beach with a ball.”
How much has the women’s game developed since when you first started out?
“Loads. Now we’re able to train with a professional set-up. When I was at Rayo I remember my older team-mates coming to training after work and that means you can’t rest properly. Away journeys were by coach and lasted up to 10 hours because the trains cost too much. It’s improved lots and in so many ways.”
What was lockdown like for you and how much are you looking forward to playing again?
“Personally I miss football a lot even during the normal month-long holiday so you can imagine how much I’ve missed it lately. I was basically stuck indoors at home in Madrid for 90 days and I missed everything: the routine, away trips, the dressing room, matches… everything.”
What are your expectations for this season with Roma?
“We have to aim to win everything we’re in. We have the team to do it and that’s what our mindset must be. We have to work hard to win every game. That’s how it should be at a great club like Roma.”
Check out earlier entries in our Big Interview series:
AS Roma x Davide Zappacosta
AS Roma x Carles Perez
AS Roma x Lindsey Thomas
AS Roma x Antonio Mirante
AS Roma x Juan Jesus
AS Roma x Diego Perotti
AS Roma x Justin Kluivert
AS Roma x Amadou Diawara
AS Roma x Jordan Veretout
AS Roma x Elisa Bartoli
AS Roma x Betty Bavagnoli
AS Roma x Chris Smalling
AS Roma x Edin Dzeko
AS Roma x Gianluca Mancini
AS Roma x Aleksandar Kolarov
AS Roma x Nicolo Zaniolo
AS Roma x Jim Pallotta
AS Roma x Cengiz Under
AS Roma x Paulo Fonseca
AS Roma x Leonardo Spinazzola