Exclusive – Joe Montemurro: Juventus Women’s new challenge, Champions League hopes, increased competition in Serie A Femminile

Juventus Women coach Joe Montemurro spoke to Total Italian Football's Conor Clancy for an exclusive interview, discussing Juventus' tough start to the season, their UWCL hopes, and the squad's need to evolve.

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Juventus Women haven’t had the best of starts to the 2022/23 season. Or, rather, they’ve fallen a little bit short of their usual high standards in Serie A Femminile, having won each of the last five. But coach Joe Montemurro isn’t overly troubled by what some consider to be a slow start for the Bianconere.

With a loss and two draws to their name after eight Serie A matchdays, Juventus have already drawn and lost as many matches domestically as they did in the entirety of 2021/22. Then, though, they lost once and drew twice in 22 games. But it’s perhaps worth noting that Juventus haven’t lost to any of the three teams above them in the table just yet – inflicting leaders AS Roma’s only loss of the campaign upon them, beating Fiorentina and drawing with Inter.

“We’ve lost stock of which games are worth looking forward to and which aren’t, so they’re all worth looking forward to,” Juventus Women coach Joe Montemurro told Total Italian Football in an exclusive interview in the build-up to their trip to the Stadio Ennio Tardini to face struggling Parma.

“With this amount of football, we’ve five weeks left before Christmas with eight games including the Women’s Champions League. So it’s a matter of playing, doing the best we can and getting the best [results] we can.

“To be honest they’re all tricky games and they’ve all got their own little bits of nuance in terms of being after an international break or being stuck between Champions League games, so they’re all different. But we love it, and it’s what top-end football is all about.”

Joe Montemurro speaks to his Juventus Women side. (@JuventusFCWomen)

That the season hasn’t started perfectly probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for Juventus. They had a number of players at the Women’s European Championship last summer and with minimal time together as a group in pre-season.

“I think every season has its challenges. This is different to last year in that I think we still have a bit of a hangover from the Euros and some players haven’t had a rest,” Montemurro said. “I think we had five days together before the Champions League qualifiers so it’s been a bit of a blur in terms of preparation.”

Eyebrows were raised all over Italy when Juventus suffered a 4-3 loss to an inconsistent AC Milan side, having found themselves 4-1 down on the day. It was a defeat that Montemurro is now grateful for though, and it didn’t come as too much of a shock to him at the time.

“When we played in Zurich we had a 48-hour turnaround with travel to do for every game [that week]. We got to Milan on the Saturday and we were just tired, I could feel it,” Montemurro said.

“We left Zurich on the morning [after the game] because we couldn’t leave that night, so then we landed and got on the pitch to do some training and did an hour’s work, fed the players, went home, and then we were in the next morning to go on to [play] AC Milan.

“We’re just human beings and that turnaround was ridiculous so that loss against AC Milan was probably needed, I hate to say it but it was one of those losses that was coming and it was expected to happen sooner or later because you can’t expect players to be back on the pitch after 48 hours at the highest level.

“The good thing about losses and especially in Juventus’ case as serial winners is that they bring back humility, they bring back that level of understanding the privileges of where you’re at and it’s always a good thing for coaches because it brings everyone back in line and back where we need to be.

“Our first game was on August 15 and we’ve only lost one, so I think you probably would’ve ticked that off at the start of the season for this stage. I’m proud of what we’ve done even if from the outside there’s a lot of: ‘Oh look Juventus have lost a game and they’re third’ or ‘they’re having a tough season’ but I’m proud of how we’ve approached something new, something that these players haven’t experienced before.

“So to do what they’ve done and to back up what they’ve backed up and to be performing at the level that they are is something that they’ve all learnt from and are growing with.”

Turning European inferiority into Champions League dreams

Juventus celebrate a goal in the Women’s Champions League. (@JuventusFCWomen)

Juventus have made enormous progress in Europe since Montemurro’s appointment in the summer of 2021. In his first season at the club the Bianconere managed to progress through a tough group alongside Wolfsburg and eliminate Women’s Super League champions Chelsea. In the knockout rounds, they managed a first-leg win over eventual champions Lyon before being beaten in the second leg.

“When you’re playing in the Champions League against the best of the best you gain all this knowledge every week and I think the beauty of this group is that they’re so willing to learn and get to the next level,” Montemurro said.

“The biggest thing when I got here that was so surprising was that they had this lack of belief, this small-club syndrome when it came to talking about Arsenal, Chelsea, Lyon and so on. It was incredible for a club of this magnitude – I mean, Juventus! Wherever they go they’re a big brand but there was a level of inferiority and that was the first thing we had to knock out of them so that we could just focus on football and then start on an even par and it’s just the team that manages the moment and goes out there with a plan that will probably get the result. From my perspective, a club of this magnitude needs to be at this level.

“I’d like to say we’re probably still 24 months away from being a team who can confidently say that we’ll get out of the group stage, and then the latter stages of the Champions League can go any way.

“It’s going to count on a lot of things though. It’s going to count on us competing at this level now and getting the best result we can and getting into a place where we can be drawn in pots one or two. These games now are so important for getting into the top eight and being drawn in pot two so it’s a really big team and us. I think it’s 18-24 months before we can bank on getting into the next round.

“The other thing is to make sure that we keep competing domestically as well because if we don’t finish in the top two in Italy then the Champions League is a non-event so it’s a big task because we don’t have the privilege of a direct place and have to go through the qualifiers.”

Evolution at Juventus Women

Growing and maturing is something that plenty in Montemurro’s Juventus squad will have to do a lot more of. The core of the team has been in place for a number of years now, winning five consecutive Serie A title and a number of Coppa Italias and Supercoppas as well.

“Clubs go through cycles and I knew that in year two, and bleeding into year three, there would be a cyclical change,” Montemurro explained.

To lead that new cycle, players like Agnese Bonfantini, Arianna Caruso and even Sofia Cantore are going to have to take yet another step up. Cantore has already done so more than once – enjoying loans at Hellas Verona and Florentia before thriving at Sassuolo to earn her Juventus return. Bonfantini impressed with Roma and even helped them past Juventus in the 2020/21 Coppa Italia semi-finals to go on and beat AC Milan in the final.

Sky’s the limit for Bonfantini and Caruso

Juventus Women celebrate, with Agnese Bonfantini and Arianna Caruso in the centre. (@JuventusFCWomen)

To lead this new era of Juventus, players are already in place. Cantore and Bonfantini are two more recent additions to the first-team setup. Caruso has played more games than anybody for the club, recently hitting 150 Bianconere appearances. And at 23, there are still so many ways that Caruso can improve her game and kick on to even more lofty heights.

“We’ve been very strategic even before I came here with squad selection and building in that we already had that next batch of national team players that will continue that legacy,” Montemurro said. “Agnese Bonfantini is one of them and Cantore is one of them… you’re talking about [Cecilia] Salvai, Caruso… they’re that next batch.

“That more experienced batch are going to be very important for those players and that transition. We’ve been strategic and there will be a little bit of pain, that’s probably even happening right now, but we want to do it the right way and I think that’s very important.

Caruso has [a lot of football ahead of her]. She now has to take that next level in terms of doing what she does week in week out against the bigger teams. She’s a player who is so effective every week in Serie A, and now I want to see her make that jump on the European level.

“She’s got it, she just needs that little bit more belief in what she can do. The career she’s had already and the enthusiasm she comes into training with every day… she can be something really, really special.

“I think she sometimes wants to be effective all the time – she wants to be the match-winner or to play that last pass, the one that wins the ball on the first press. She’s probably gotten away with it in Serie A in her earlier years and I think now she has to be more clever in choosing her moments on when to do things. If she picks her moments better in big games then she can be really effective and probably even more effective going forward.”

Juventus Women celebrate an Agnese Bonfantini goal in the Champions League (@JuventusFCWomen)

Bonfantini is another notable name in the Juventus squad. Having joined from Roma on a free transfer ahead of the 2021/22 season, the winger has been used strategically by Montemurro in his time at Juventus and was curiously left on the sidelines for almost all of Italy’s disastrous Women’s European Championship campaign in the summer.

Montemurro, though, knows how much ability the 23-year-old has, and he made no secrets about her having a higher ceiling than anybody else working under his orders in Turin.

“Talent-wise, yes [she has the highest ceiling],” Montemurro said. “We’ve strategically tried to give Bonfa a lot more starts this year to see, she’s historically been an impact player, and what an impact player!

“We now have to get her more involved when games are at their highest peak, in the first 20-25 minutes when teams are fresh and going for it. She seems to get a little bit lost then and she just has to be more effective in conserving energy and being sure that, when she starts, she picks her moments of when to do things. I think she’s getting there, and more starts will help that.

“That’s one of those conundrums of being at a club like Juventus – you can’t be a development club, you can’t sacrifice games because everybody who plays against Juventus treats it as a final, so you’ve got to be careful with that developmental process. It’s a real balance and we’re talking and picking, she’s got talent to burn and now just needs to be more mature and professional when she starts games.”

A welcome challenge

Valentina Giacinti in action for AS Roma against Juventus in the Supercoppa final. [@ASRomaWomen]

Bonfantini’s ex-club, Roma, are serious title contenders this season. Having also qualified for the Women’s Champions League group stages – where they’ve won each of their two games – the Giallorosse currently top the table domestically as well as having beaten the Bianconere in the Supercoppa Italiana final at the beginning of November. The Juventus coach is aware of their threat and welcomes the challenge.

“They’ve done well and recruited well,” Montemurro said. “They’ve found a good balance in the squad and have some good players of an international level.

“It’s great, that’s what we want – to get Serie A to a level where it’s a league of a level to push the other European teams. We need two or three big teams doing well and all credit to Roma.”

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