Gama ready for official Hall of Fame induction: “Proud to have contributed to the growth of the women's game”The Azzurre captain is the sixth player to receive this accolade: “It means that I have done well, and I would like to think I have made a difference both on and off the pitch”
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
She has been at the forefront of the some of the best moments in Italian women’s football’s most recent history and is showing no signs of letting up. As captain of Juventus, vice-president of the Italian Footballers’ Association and a former former federal councellor, Sara Gama has made a significant contribution to the growth of the women’s game, and now she’s ready to join Morace, Panico, Gabbiadini, Vignotto and Bertolini and officially become part of the Hall of Fame club. The recognition dates back to February two years ago, but, due to the pandemic, she’s had to wait to receive her award. It will be given to her at the end of the month, when Barbara Bonansea, who was inducted a few months ago, will be presented with hers. “I'm really proud because this means that I have done well, and I would like to think I have made a difference both on and off the pitch, making my own individual contribution to the growth of the women’s game,” said Gama.
At club level, the Azzurre captain has played for Tavagnacco, Chiasiellis, Brescia, Paris Saint-Germain, Brescia again and, since 2017, the Old Lady. She has enjoyed a highly successful career and overcome difficulties and prejudice, becoming an role model for so many young girls who idolise her. She has won practically everything: five Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias and five Italian Super Cups, an ever-expanding trophy cabinet that really began to fill up after her return to Italy: “During my experiences abroad, I struggled with some serious injuries. Having said that, my decision to leave France was one that I made with a heavy heart,” explained Gama. “I was part of a professional setup there and heading back to a game where big clubs were lacking wasn't exactly what I had envisaged for that stage of my career. I can now say that it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made, as it presented me with the opportunity to rediscover my form. Since then, I’ve enjoyed some great moments. None of this is luck: you have to work hard, make tough decisions and always involve yourself; if you do this, the results will soon arrive.”
A natural leader on the pitch, Sara has also played a massive part off it. True captains don’t just show their credentials on the pitch. In 2019, Forbes included her in their list of the hundred most influential women in Italy and, a year later, she was elected vice-president of AIC (the Italian Footballers’ Association), becoming the first woman to ever be appointed in this role. “I’m not afraid to assume responsibility, as I have always considered it a real honour. Whenever I play, it feels natural for me to lead and help the team wherever I can. The pressure away from the pitch is greater because I understand the importance of what us players do to make our sport progress and move in the right direction,” she added.
In all of her roles, she is constantly looking ahead to the challenges coming up. Among these, in strict order of time, is the task of sealing a fifth consecutive Scudetto and winning the Coppa Italia for a third time, the transition to professionalism in Italy but also the fundamental international events that await the Azzurre. Speaking of the Azzurre, you can’t not look back to 2008: it was a year when she tasted success with her teammates at Under-19 level, winning the European Championship and lifting the trophy as captain: “Those memories will stay with me for the rest of my life. We are very proud of that title: it was our first-ever triumph and will live long in the history books of the Women's National Team. I often think about those good times; we were young but behaved with a certain maturity. It was a fantastic journey: we beat France, who were the hosts, and then Norway in the final thanks to Parisi’s penalty and a great deal of defensive resilience. It was an extraordinary achievement.”
That Italy side was “humble, but aware of how good a team it was.” The same could be said of Milena Bertolini's National Team, whose 2019 World Cup exploits won the hearts of millions of Italians and who now are eagerly waiting for Euro 2022: “After a 20-year absence, we brought Italy back to the World Cup,” continued the 33-year-old from Trieste, who has played 135 times for the Azzurre. “For us, it was the beginning of a journey, and it should no longer stand alone as an anomaly. We must remain consistent and continue to perform well because playing at the highest levels is essential if you want to improve as an athlete. We want to showcase our quality at the European Championship and then, in September, achieve World Cup qualification. We’re worthy of playing on these stages.”
As a defender, she tries to be one step ahead of her opponents, always aiming to beat them to the ball. Playing catch-up, which is what the Azzurre have been forced to do, isn’t something she enjoys. Therefore, the development of the women’s game in Italy is something she particularly cares about: “The change in direction started in 2015; we have been growing since then thanks to some excellent planning. All you need to do is watch the Under-19s to see that youngsters are benefitting from this work. The talent has always been there in Italy, but now the girls are more prepared on a physical, technical and tactical level. This is because they train well during the week with their clubs. There are now more national youth teams compared to the past, and we are structure. The change taking place is there for all to see. We need to consolidate this work to bring Italy and Italian clubs to the highest levels.”
The foundations to accelerate this process are already there, with women’s football in Italy a step away from a historic turning point. Sara has won one of her biggest battles: from 1 July, following the approval of the required regulatory changes, Serie A will become a professional league from 1 July: “This will be a major step forward, with there being two aspects in particular to consider. First, the players involved will be able to count on recognised protections, like, for example, insurance and pension coverage. Then, there’s the fact that we will have the opportunity to really boost a discipline with enormous untapped potential. Investment will help Italian football to compete at the highest levels. Both aspects are extremely important and will only help our sport develop, something which will benefit everyone and not just the athletes. This is what professionalism means.”