Panico: It's not about your gender, but being competent
Patrizia Panico discusses her experience of Women’s World Cup
Legendary former forward also looks at hopes for Italy at France 2019
"I want to coach professionals, whether they are men or women"
Some trailblazers inspire a generation. There is no doubt that Patrizia Panico has moved thousands of youngsters to recreate her goals – more than a hundred of which she scored for her country’s national team – in playgrounds across her native Italy.
Now, she is blazing a fresh trail, as coach of the Italian men’s U-15 national side, one of very few women’s coaches working in an international set-up in the men’s game.
With Italy preparing to head to their first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ since USA 1999, FIFA.com sat down with Panico to cast her mind back to that tournament, where she – naturally - scored twice. We also looked ahead to Gli Azzurri’s chances at France 2019 and discussed her current role.
FIFA.com: How did it feel to represent your country at the Women’s World Cup?
Patrizia Panico: At the time I remember thinking it was very natural. I thought: ‘This is the norm’, as that was how it had been for me up to then. And so, my tournament experience was very calm, even flippant. But it was very nice as I never thought a World Cup could attract such interest and crowds.
In 1991, Italy had Carolina Morace; in 1999 they had you. Who do you think will be Italy’s star of 2019?
I don’t know! I think this Italy side are stronger as a group as they don’t have just one star player. They have important players like [Barbara] Bonansea, [Alia] Guagni or [Sara] Gama, alongside [Elisa] Bartoli, who’s a vitally important defender. These four players would be their stars, but there are also others like [Cristiana] Girelli. In fact, there are so many players who could become stars of this side.
How do you think Italy will get on at France 2019?
I think they have what it takes to come through the group stage because the team has developed a lot. They’ve improved physically and there’s great work being done by professional clubs, who are investing heavily and helping women’s football grow. And then there’s the top work that [head coach] Milena [Bertolini] and [her assistant Attilio] Sorbi are doing. They have all the ingredients to do very well in the group.
What advice would you give to the current squad in their preparations for the finals?
I’d tell them to live in the moment as freely as possible, because if they start to overthink what they have to do, what results they need, it can be counterproductive. So, I’d just tell them to try to experience it with as much calmness as they can, while being mindful of the fact that a good result for Italy could provide the women’s game in this country with a lot of impetus.
PANICO’S PLAYING DAYS
Scored 110 goals in 204 games for Gli Azzurri
Scored twice at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, against Germany and Mexico
Won multiple Serie A titles with several clubs, including Modena, Lazio, AGSM Verona and Torres
We’ve been discussing the women’s game, but your current role is that of head coach for the men’s Italian U-15 side. How important do you think it is that teenage boys - whom you are coaching - can directly see a strong female role model working in the men’s game?
In my case they don’t realise this. They don’t factor in whether there’s a man or a woman on the bench. They look at what their coach has achieved and won. They respect you and listen to you, but they also look into your background, reading any news about you on the internet.
They’re the first to recognise that what I’ve achieved [in my playing career] is significant. They respect me firstly for what I’ve done as a player, but also for how I am as a coach. I don’t think they care whether you’re a man or woman, but rather whether you’re good at what you do, whether you’re competent, whether you have charisma. At least I’ve never noticed any consideration about my gender on their part.
If a woman was trying to get involved in coaching in ‘the men’s game’, what advice would you give them?
I don’t believe in that way of thinking. I just don’t think it's right to say that I want to coach men or I want to coach women. I think the correct thing would be to say that I want to coach professionals. Then it makes no difference whether those professionals are men or women. That’s how I feel it. And from there a whole world opens up. I don’t think there should be any differentiation.
What was the biggest challenge you faced growing up playing football?
I never had to deal with parents who objected to me playing, but I did feel that I had to prove to them that girls can play football. I had to deal with scepticism in people who, on seeing you play, would tell you that girls aren’t able to play football. And that's why, whenever I took to the pitch, I did it with the idea that I had to convince everyone who was watching me.