You don’t need to be a football fanatic to know that the sport, nicknamed ‘the beautiful game’, is a strictly male-dominated arena. Despite recent efforts through media campaigns and other organisations to promote greater female participation in sports generally, there is still a significant lack of women in football-related roles.
This hasn’t stopped one woman however, who last month became the first woman to manage a male Italian football team. As a result, the Facilitate4Me Change Practitioner for March 2017 goes to…former Italian footballer Patrizia Panico and to the Italian FA. Prior to her, only two women had ever managed a male senior football team in Europe, namely, Scotland and Portugal.
As a retired footballer, having scored 110 goals for Italy in over 200 matches, Panico is not a novice to the sport. In a country known to be one of the most football-crazy countries in the world, Patrizia has taken on the task of managing Italy’s under 16 male national team, a role that has been solely reserved for men until now.
If there are two things Italian football fans are used to seeing from their various national teams, they are winning trophies and having a passionate man lead the squad. In light of this, Patrizia has admitted that she is sometimes on the receiving end of hostile comments from fans, who struggle to reconcile her managerial approach with the macho mannerisms they have been used to seeing from male managers in the past.
In an interview with the BBC she confessed, “I suffer from discrimination daily. For example, people expect coaches to shout and women don’t really shout very loud. A softer voice is not a symbol of weakness, but more of confidence. You don’t need to shout to make a point”.
And it seems that the fans are not the only ones who are struggling to adapt to the new female coach either. The young, impressionable footballers in her under-16 team refer to her as ‘mister’ – which doesn’t bother her as long as “there is always respect on both sides”
Whilst securing the managerial role of one’s national team is a personal dream come true for many footballers, Patrizia particularly hopes her career can inspire other women to succeed in football and in other professions that are notoriously under-represented by women. “I get a lot of letters from girls who have been excluded from football because they’re told it’s a sport for boys”, she said. “Or girls who play in mixed teams who never receive a pass from the boys. But times are changing. Women are slowly reaching roles that were previously denied to them. And in fact, it’s about time.”
Facilitate4Me agrees. And whilst it is encouraging that women are beginning to progress into roles and industries that were once out of our reach, this ‘revolutionary’ accomplishment by Patrizia, in the year 2017, is evidence that there is still more work to be done to ensure that no job or industry is off-limits for women. For the time being though, well done Patrizia, and well done Italy FA for setting the pace.