The smile across Sophie Roman Haug’s face could hardly stretch any further when she’s reminded that AS Roma Women, in no small part thanks to her, are champions of Italy. The relief of finally getting over the line is palpable, though it’s impossible to not sense the confidence and assuredness given off by the Norwegian and, by extension, the Giallorosse this season.
“Thank you,” she laughs, congratulated by Total Italian Football at AS Roma’s training facilities on the recent title win, all done with plenty of games – and crucially a trip to outgoing champions Juventus – to come. “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s what we’ve been working to for a long time now so I’m happy to have finally reached the goal.”
The word ‘work’ becomes an unavoidable theme of the interview. Under Alessandro Spugna’s guidance over the last two seasons, no side in Italy has picked up more points than Roma. From the midway point of the 2021/22 campaign, nobody outperformed them and, by the end, they were unfortunate to not get the better of their northern rivals, having to settle for finishing as runners-up in both Serie A Femminile and the Coppa Italia.
“We were close last year and we always want to improve so this year it was the natural goal for us to want to win the scudetto,” Roman Haug says. “But when you come into the season you just focus on the games that are coming because you can’t allow yourself to look too far ahead right away, so we were focused on every game but it’s always in the back of your head that you want to win the scudetto.”
Roman Haug herself has had to watch on from the sidelines for a little longer than she would have liked this season, with her campaign being interrupted by injury. Although still managing to appear in the majority of Roma’s games and having a huge impact on their season both domestically and in their historic Women’s Champions League run, that need and desire to do more wouldn’t leave her.
“When you’re not able to play, not able to help and just standing on the sides you want to be part of the team and to help in every way but when you’re injured you don’t feel like you can in the same way,” the 23-year-old Roman Haug explains. “So to come back and finally feel like I was able to help out, finally… I’m so happy the team is doing good. We’ve been doing really good work and to see it pay off is the result of all the work we’ve been doing. For me to be a part of it and to witness it… I’m really happy for the team.”
History-making AS Roma Women
Naturally, some parts of returning from an injury are harder to deal with than others. With Roman Haug not quite yet ready to return, Roma made history by hosting Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico in March. The fixture saw the highest-ever attendance of an Italian women’s football game, and marked the Giallorosse’s first game at the men’s home stadium and their first in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. The desire to relive nights like that is undeniably something that drives them on.
“Yes of course we want it [another night like that against Barcelona at the Olimpico]. When you’re working in training you want to play the big games, so that’s important for us,” Roman Haug says. “We have to not look too far ahead and keep focusing on our everyday work to keep this progress.
“Of course you wish you were on the field with the girls and the team so that was one of the more difficult evenings during my injury, but also just to be there with that atmosphere gave me goosebumps. But, for me, it was more afterwards that I saw how big everything was and to be a part of that is exactly what you would imagine it to be.
“It was extremely cool to see how everybody gathered around it though, and it showed where we’re heading in women’s football. The fans made that evening incredible.”
With the title within their reach by late April, Roman Haug returned in time for Roma’s game against Juventus. Knowing a win would put them just one more result away from their first-ever scudetto if the Giallorosse could just beat the outgoing champions, there was plenty on the line. To add to the tension and occasion, the only two games Roma had failed to win domestically this season came in home and away defeats to the Bianconere. Coming off the bench late, Roman Haug soared to head in a last-gasp winner to complete a dramatic turnaround.
“It’s difficult to describe,” Roman Haug adds, again with a smile stretching from one ear to the other. “It’s everything you hope for when you’re working your way back from an injury and it’s all you imagine in your head and how you want to come back. But for it to happen is just an amazing feeling. In that picture where I’m lying on the ground, it’s a picture of relief, just lying there and everybody is coming to celebrate… just the relief and thinking ‘yes, I made it’.
“It’s hard to describe the thought. Just that feeling of: ‘you made it, you’re back’. It was just indescribable.”
A second home in Rome
Settling into a new life in another country isn’t always easy, and it’s often enough to put players off overseas moves. With Roman Haug heading to the capital a month after fellow Norwegian and former club teammate Emilie Haavi, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to think the two had been discussing their next steps while at LSK Kvinner.
It wasn’t the case though, and although she’s pleased to have a familiarly friendly face around, Roman Haug has fully embraced her new surroundings and thrown herself into the language and the culture.
“It’s a big change and, of course, it’s always nice to have someone that you’re more comfortable with when you’re moving to a new place with a lot of new things to have that safe person…it’s always nice at the beginning,” Roman Haug says. “When I started talking to Roma I didn’t know she was coming here. We were at the same club before but I didn’t know, so it was big news for me and it’s really nice playing with her, which I have for a long time, but no I didn’t know. Coming to Roma was something that I wanted to do.
“The thing that’s so amazing about this club is that it’s in the culture, in Italy too. The people are so accepting and kind. From the moment I got here everybody has been so open and welcoming and warm to me. It’s really not been a problem to become part of the group.
“Not everyone speaks English but they really try, even if they don’t speak, you can feel that they want you to feel welcome and they try with gestures, everything. It’s also been important for me to try to at least learn the…,” at this point, a passer-by overhears and interrupts to explain that, although Roman Haug disputes it, the 23-year-old is already fluent in Italian after not even 18 months and is one of the strongest speakers of their non-Italian contingent.
“It’s important for me,” Roman Haug adds. “It’s important for me to show everyone around me that I’m happy to be here and that I want to be here and to learn Italian to be able to communicate with people, and to do more things.”
With a contract running until 2025, she admits that Rome and Roma has become “a second home to me”. Asked if that means two more Serie A Femminile title wins, her response of “that’s the goal” couldn’t be clearer.
With 2022/23 already a historic season for Roma domestically and in Europe, it could yet get better. Having gone further than Juventus in the Women’s Champions League, beaten them to the Serie A Femminile title and edging them in the Supercoppa Italiana as well, the Gialorosse can make it a clean sweep in Salerno in June where they’ll again meet their familiar foes with silverware on the line, this time in the Coppa Italia final. Last season’s final saw the same fixture, with Juventus then completing a late turnaround to snatch the trophy from Roma’s grasp.
“We’ve been good at being focused on every game, thinking that the next one is always the most important one,” she says. “When you look at the table now, you can see that we’ve been focused – it’s a big gap, take a look at it now.
“I think it was important for us to win against them to show that we’re stronger than them and to not go through the season without winning against everybody. Now we’ll bring more confidence and energy into the cup final. It’ll be a tough game but we’re looking forward to it.”