Back of the net - A chat with Rita Guarino

From the pitch to the bench, Guarino is now the coach of the Inter Women’s team

Home Life People Back of the net - A chat with Rita Guarino

There is an axis made of passion, professionalism, the values that are considered “good” ones, within a universe, or rather a market (like the football one is), that sometimes overlooks the beauty of what happens on and off the pitch, the beauty of the sport played, the beauty of being on the team. This is about women's football.

All of this may seem rhetorical, but it reflects the exact feeling you experience after talking to Rita Guarino, from Turin, 53 years old on 31 January 2024, coach of the Inter Women's team since summer 2021. Guarino's is one of the most important faces of Italian women's football, for the time she spent on the pitch and on the bench, for the qualities she demonstrated and continues to demonstrate. She started playing at the age of 14; at the age of twenty she made her début in the national team at the first Women's World Cup in history; she has won five championships, has had experience in the United States and today she is one of the most successful coaches in our country. As a footballer she was a quality striker; on the bench she started very early – while still playing – and then experienced from within the arrival of the investments brought by the men's clubs, the introduction of professionalism, the growth of the number of fans. In the meantime, she won four more championships, one Coppa Italia and two Supercoppe.

Yet Guarino says that her journey is not over, that she still has a lot of work to do for herself, for today's and tomorrow's footballers, for the growth and affirmation of the women's movement. Beyond rhetoric.

By virtue of everything she has achieved in women's football, does Rita Guarino consider herself a symbol of the movement?

“I feel part of the path taken by women's football, since it was not in the spotlight and lived in the shadow of the male game. I've also experienced standstill moments, moments without major investments. Now there is a bit of growth, but in reality in my opinion the journey has just begun.”

When did the real changes start?

“I would say starting in 2015, when the men's clubs started to get involved. At first they had to fulfil obligations, that is to create women's under-12 teams, then gradually the thing evolved: the groups were able to acquire the sporting title of a women's amateur team. Since those days, women's football has become an integral part of the professional system. With associated tools and expertise. With completely different means and ambitions.”

Is there anything that has not changed, perhaps in a positive way?

“What has not changed, and which I hope will never change, are the values that women's football carries with it. It certainly starts with a huge passion on the part of the players, but then moves on to sporting loyalty, behavioural ethics, a whole series of events linked to a real closeness to the public. Even the fans themselves, I have to say, have not changed: those who follow women's football support their team more than they insult their opponent, the public is a healthy type of fan.'

How were Rita Guarino's football days?

"Busy. Because in addition to training, travel, the time dedicated to the National team, I was also busy studying. We players were preparing for our future, we wanted to build our tomorrow beyond football. Many women players from the 1980s and 1990s had to be able to combine a real job with sports. Those like me who were in the national team could not do it, in fact we were already professional even without being so formally. But we also thought about what would happen at the end of our career: we would not be able live off our earnings and we needed to build a future in other areas. Today it is different, certainly, but not that much: girls are professionals, but they continue to pursue a kind of parallel career, at university or in the labour market. They are preparing for what comes next.”

Did the idea of becoming a coach come while you were playing?

“My first coaching licence was at 25. A year later, I was already vice-coach of the representative team of Piedmont; a year later I was at the helm of the second team in the club in which I played. For me it was quite natural; I've always liked to hand down my knowledge to younger girls.”

What was Rita Guarino's personality as a footballer?

“I was a fast, technical, selfless attacker. Something was lacking in my headers.”

And what kind of trainer did she become?

“As a coach I like to call myself flexible: I am not anchored in personal models or systems; I try to adapt to the qualities of the players I have at my disposal.”

What is your life hack in preparation for a game?

“I have a great work culture, so I try to take care of every little detail, to dedicate a lot of time to my team: football occupies my mind 24 hours a day; even when I'm not on the field my brain is focussed on my players. I want to get them in the best conditions for the competition we face; I want to analyse the opponents; I want to prepare them for several games in the same game, so that I can manage any contingency.”

After winning five as a footballer, you've won four titles on the bench. How does it feel to win as a coach?

“As a player you are a musical instrument that plays well when the group allows you to do so. As a trainer you have to enhance the sound of many instruments, of all the instruments, so that it produces a beautiful symphony. When you train, I am told, everything is extremely amplified.”

The National Team: what is the memory that has most impressed you?

“Definitely my début with the blue jersey: it was at the World Cup, and I also scored. Even today, when I talk about it, I am overwhelmed by the memory, by the emotions I felt that day. Since then, I've had the urge to think that football could become my real profession. Until then, I hadn't realized what I was doing, where I could get to. The fact that one could experience such a strong emotion meant that I continued to look for it, on the field and then also as a coach.”

What does the women's national football team represent?

“We are talking about a movement that needs to be recognised, about creating a wider audience, so the National team can be a driver of communication. We saw it with the 2019 World Cup, which literally created a new base of enthusiasts.”

What can institutions and clubs do to help women's football grow further?

“We live in a country where a sporting culture is not yet supported in an effective way. Suffice it to say that 40% of our schools lack a gym. Women's football has seen major investments, but now we need to provide continuity: abroad they are not waiting for us; they started earlier than us and are continuing to develop. We need to keep up; we need to continue on the path we have taken in recent years: we need to invest, but we also need to create skills, values, give visibility to a sport that deserves to be supported”.

And from the point of view of prejudices and stereotypes are we really succeeding in defeating them?

“Prejudice, stigma, stereotypes will continue to exist. At least until we stop comparing women's football to men's football. If we want to make progress, we need to recognise women's football for what it is, not for what perhaps it might be. On the other hand, it must also be said that things are beginning to change: professionalism has arrived; important safeguards have arrived; new generations can feel attracted to this world. That would be great, but we have to keep working, to believe in it implicitly.”