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The Big Interview: AS Roma x Manuela Giugliano

On Monday afternoon Manuela Giugliano signed a new contract with Roma Women - committing her future to the club until at least June 2023.

One season into her adventure with the Giallorosse, the new deal signifies the first time the Italy international has decided to stay in one place for an extended period.

Following the signing of the new deal, we sat down with Giugliano to discuss her reasons for signing the extension, her career to date, and much more...

What were you like as a child?

“I was a proper little nuisance as a kid. I kicked a lot when I was in my mum’s tummy so I think I was always destined for a career in football!

"I grew up in Istrana, in the Treviso area, but all my family are from Naples. I have a tough, stubborn, prickly character – especially when I know I’m right. Having said that, I’m also really good at putting myself in other people’s shoes.”

What was your first contact with football?

“Playing on the little pitch near where we lived. My dad worked in aviation so we lived on a military base. There was a pitch there and I started kicking a ball for the first time there with my dad and brother, both of whom love football. They passed that passion on to me, though I believe it’s always been inside of me. They just gave me that extra push to kick on.”

Would you play football at school in breaktime?

“Yes, I’d always go to play with the boys with my best friend Sofia. We were always playing football and could never wait for breaktime to come!”

How did the boys react?

“I always felt a bit discriminated against as a kid because a girl playing football wasn’t seen as a normal thing. Gradually they realised that I could play a bit – in fact, I was better than them. I gave everything I had to make them accept me, and eventually I managed it.”

Was your friend as good as you were?

“No, she kind of just followed me. She didn’t love football that much but we were such good friends that she’d come with me to play with the boys.”

When did you start playing with a club?

“I started playing for Istrana when I was six and carried on for as long as I could keep playing with the boys. Then, when I was 14, I joined a women’s Serie C team in Barcon, which is near to Istrana.”

How did you get on with your team-mates and opponents? And how did the parents feel about it?

“I remember those years really well. It was a bit tough at the start, partly because I had to shower first and the rest of the team had to wait for me. Plus there were a few parents that thought I shouldn’t be part of a men’s team. I did everything I could to change people’s minds, but it’s not easy to deal with that kind of stress when you’re just a kid.

"At the end of the day, my passion for football always came through – and I was good, so everyone wanted me on their team. They were all really sad when I had to leave the team.”

What was the switch to women’s football like?

“It wasn’t easy. Back then there was a big difference between men’s and women’s football in terms of the facilities and training grounds. That’s still the case now, but the difference was more apparent back then, in terms of the training methods too. I still enjoyed it though. In the first year we didn’t really have anything that you could call a training ground. We didn’t have physiotherapists, whereas now I have access to three.”

Who were idols as a kid - and who do you look to now?

“My idols were [Alessandro] Del Piero, because of his free-kicks, and [Andrea] Pirlo, because of the calmness he showed on the ball in the middle of the park.

"Now it's probably Rose Lavelle, the USA midfielder. I enjoyed watching her in the World Cup. She’s a complete player in terms of going forward, defending and her mentality. Every time I see her play, I try to learn from her movement and the way she plays.”

Has your family always supported your passion?

“Yes, always. Initially my mother wasn’t totally convinced. She was a big lover of volleyball and tried to sign me up for that, but the coach saw that I played more with my feet than I did with my hands so suggested I go back to football. That won my mother over. They’ve always supported me in every decision I’ve taken.”

It’s fair to say that your volleyball coach had a pretty important role in your career then…

“In a sense, yeah. I got lucky that day. Maybe I wouldn’t have been strong enough on my own to put my foot down and go back to football. Generally speaking I’d say that the most important people were always my family, because despite the difficulties and the discrimination they always told me to relax and enjoy playing, because it was what I liked doing.

"Another really important person is Ambra [Capotosto] – she’s always been right behind me in every decision, particularly when I was going through a tough period in my career in Madrid. She was brilliant.”

You’ve moved club every year so far, but you’ve signed a longer-term contract at Roma. Why did you decide to settle down here?

“I’ve changed clubs a lot but I’ve never been able to find stability at any team. Roma showed they really wanted to sign me and when I came here and spoke to the club, I felt at home right away. Because of the way I am, it’s really important for me to feel like I’m part of a family. I knew that I was making the right decision straight away, and everything that happened last year only confirmed that.

"The team welcomed me from the start and made me feel like an important part of the group. When you have a good relationship with your team-mates, it helps you to express yourself better on the pitch. I decided to sign a new deal to 2023 because I feel good, I’ve found a family here and I hope to stay here for as long as possible and win a few trophies for the club.”

How has moving about so much influenced your development both as a person and as a footballer?

“It’s never easy to adapt to different cities, clubs or groups. My passion for this sport is what has given me the strength at various times, both positive and negative. I’ve realised that stability is essential for a footballer, so that’s why I hope to stay here for as long as possible.”

In terms of tougher moments, was your time in Madrid the hardest period of your career?

“Yeah, looking back now I can say that the decision was a bit forced. I got caught up in the desire to get up and go. It’s not every day a club like Atletico Madrid shows an interest in you, but once I got there I realised that it was a world that was still too big for me. I was 17 and it wasn’t the right time to take that step, so I decided to come back to Italy and go from there.”

It worked out pretty well…

“I had a good season with Verona. It was my highest-scoring season – I played as a trequartista and sometimes as a forward and ended up scoring 14 goals. It was a new start for me both on and off the pitch. It wasn’t easy to leave Madrid and come back on my own, but I really grew that year.”

How does it feel to represent the Italian national team?

“It’s the realisation of a childhood dream. Representing your country is the best thing ever, in my view. It takes sacrifice, determination, courage – it’s something that every young girl in football wants to achieve. I made my debut when I was at Torres, when Antonio Cabrini was the coach. Since then, it’s been unforgettable moment after unforgettable moment.”

What was your personal highlight from the 2019 Women’s World Cup?

“I was lucky enough to play in every game and experience it to the fullest. Every match felt different, from the first one against Australia to the quarter-final against the Netherlands.

"Maybe the highlight was our first game – I had tears in my eyes as we walked out onto the pitch, then after the anthems there was the countdown, with the whole stadium shouting. My heart was pounding. Then as soon as the whistle blew, the weight was lifted off my shoulders and I focused on the game.”

How did you get on during the COVID-19 lockdown?

“It was quite relaxed. I spent it with my family, having just come back from the Algarve Cup with the national team. The club was always there for us, providing us with support on both the physical and psychological sides. They put us at ease, which is essential during an experience like that.

"I really missed playing and was always looking for ways to play at home, even though I didn’t have enough space.”

Looking back on the season just gone, do you ever wonder how different the campaign might have been if your free-kick against AC Milan on the first day had gone in rather than hitting the bar?

“To be honest with you, I spent the whole season thinking back on that. There’s no way of knowing whether we would have gone on to win the game if that had gone in, but I do think it would have changed the way our season started.

"That’s the only game I’d like to have another crack at – it’s still on my mind. That said, the new season is just around the corner and we need to focus on that.”

How happy were you to get back to playing with your team-mates?

“So happy. Seeing my team-mates again was an amazing feeling. After five months doing nothing, I was absolutely dying to get back to having fun and not having to think about anything else. I think that was the same for everyone. We’ve come back strongly and there’s real unity.”

What are your expectations for the season ahead?

“We need to make a step up compared with last season and find an extra gear so we’re able to win a trophy. We really deserve that based on all the work we do during the year and everything the club does for us.”

Do you like the new Super Cup format?

“It’s a nice idea. It’s an important competition and we need to go into it with the goal of winning. They’re one-off games, so we’ll need to give more than 100% to win it.”

What’s it like working with Betty Bavagnoli?

“I met her for the first time last year. She’s a wonderful person who reads everything that happens on the pitch. She’s really good at putting herself in our shoes and understanding what we’re going through, whether it’s good times or bad times, so we can find the solutions to problems together.

"We use the ball a lot in training and that’s massive for me – I enjoyed it right from the start and I hope that she stays at Roma for a long time, like me.”
 

Check out earlier entries in our Big Interview series:

AS Roma x Paloma Lazaro
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

 
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