It has been a special year in the UEFA Women’s Champions League for Italian women’s football as two Serie A Femminile representatives took part in the group stage for the first time.
Both Juventus Women and AS Roma Women made it to the group stage and for the Giallorosse, it was their first-ever time. Alessandro Spugna’s Roma side made it through to the quarter-finals, whilst Juventus were just edged out of a very tough group containing European champions Lyon and WSL giants Arsenal.
DAZN Women’s Champions League commentator Michael McCann believes that Roma and Juventus are closing the gap towards those at the top of the women’s game in Europe, considering a Serie A Femminile team has been in the last eight for back-to-back seasons now.
McCann has commentated on seven UWCL games this season, as well as 100 live women’s matches over the past four seasons. He has worked on Spain’s Liga F, England’s WSL, as well as doing voiceover work for the EFL Show on ITV and the National League on BT Sport.
Speaking to Total Italian Football for an exclusive interview, McCann, who commentated on Roma’s last two UWCL group games for DAZN, explained that the gap is closing but it will be a slow process.
“The one-word answer is yes, they are catching up. But it’s not easy, I think it’s easy to be impatient, particularly if you’re an Italian football fan wanting to see one of these two sides lift trophies etc., but they both didn’t exist recently [Juve started out in 2017, Roma in 2018],” McCann said.
“You’re trying to catch up with clubs that have got a lot of history and infrastructure and have been doing this for a long time. So for Juve last season to get to a quarter-final and to lose 4-3 on aggregate to Lyon, the mighty Lyon, I think a little bit of perspective has to be put in that that was a massive success for Juventus to do that.”
McCann feels another barometer of Roma’s growth in particular is the type of players that they are signing and who are willing to come and play in Italy.
“Carina Wenninger is a great example; part of the furniture for so long at Bayern Munich, their all-time leading appearance maker who wants a new challenge and goes to Roma on loan this season,” McCann said.
“You’ve got an Austrian captain there, someone pretty much at the peak of their powers with so much experience, who decides that Roma is where they want to go. You make signings like that, it makes the rest of Europe turn around and notice and she’s by no means the only one, they’ve got a great squad.”
New Serie A format and title race
The 2022/23 Serie A Femminile season is not only the first professional campaign, but it is also the first with a new format. The league was reduced to 10 teams for this season who will all play each other twice, and then the league will split into two halves.
The top half and bottom half will play against each other another two times to see who will be relegated and who will win the title and get the other UWCL place.
McCann thinks it is a very promising sign for the development of the league and how it is being taken seriously.
“The thing I find really encouraging for Italian football as well is this model of going down to 10 teams with wanting things really done properly and fully professional. Juve have had their problems domestically, but it is good for a league to have a situation where Roma are beaten twice, by, Juve, but Juve have dropped so many other points elsewhere that it’s Roma who are top at Christmas,” McCann said.
“That tells you that you’ve got a league where teams are taking points off the top teams and that always makes the league so much more eminently entertaining than a feeling that the top teams only real chance to get past each other is when they play each other.”
Standout Roma and Juventus players
There have been some standout performers in the UWCL and throughout the domestic campaign for Juventus and Roma and the player that McCann feels has really impressed for the Bianconere is Lineth Beerensteyn.
The Dutch forward has scored six times in Serie A Femminile since joining from Bayern Munich and she also scored once in the UWCL group stage.
“I haven’t covered any of their games but I’ve watched some of them just out of joy of watching a game and I like Lineth Beerensteyn. I like her as a signing. She gives them a goal threat, she’s very direct in the way she carries and progresses the ball,” McCann said.
As for Roma, there have been a number of key performers such as Andressa Alves, Valentina Giacinti, Giada Greggi and Emilie Haavi, but McCann picked out a deeper midfielder.
“I probably look at Manuela Giugliano who is a very good progressive midfielder. Her role model is [Andrea] Pirlo but she’s actually a bit more naturally attacking than Pirlo. In terms of her delivery from set pieces, it’s a thing of beauty. She progresses the ball, she’s pretty two footed, she’s got a very good eye for a pass and she’s one of their sort of main cogs and at only 25 years old, she’ll keep getting better,” he said.
Diversity in men’s and women’s football
Michael McCann has proudly stated during his commentary that he is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and it has been clear for many years that the women’s game is a more tolerant and open-minded environment than the men’s game.
When Blackpool forward Jake Daniels came out as gay in May 2022, he became the first male player to do so in the UK since Justin Fashanu in 1990. That is in stark contrast to the women’s game where there are numerous examples of players in a number of leagues that are openly out and feel safe enough to do so.
For McCann himself, having a large part of his work take place in the women’s game was a big part of his decision to come out.
“I’m someone that loves working in both men’s and women’s sport and there should absolutely be a place for you to do that in both, regardless of your identity. But both are in very different states, particularly when it pertains to diversity in terms of sexuality,” he said.
“I don’t think that I would have come out publicly if it wasn’t for having a rough half-and-half split of my work being in men’s and women’s football. Unfortunately, men’s football is still so far behind in so many ways.
“I think it’s important for women’s football not to be complacent only in the sense that on a wider level, you know, there are challenges about diversity in society, and sport is a mirror of society, and even women’s football is not immune to that. But certainly particularly when it comes to diversity of sexuality, women’s football is a far more welcoming place.”
These details are something that McCann liks to drop into his commentary from time to time, such as pointing out that Arsenal star Beth Mead once said she and teammate Vivianne Miedema are “the Posh and Becks of the lesbian world”, something that McCann describes as ‘gold for commentators’.
He then explained that after mentioning such a story, he will quickly add that he himself is a part of that community and comments like Mead’s make “such a difference for visibility”. That leads to him receiving a number of messages from all over the world of people who find it hard to be themselves, but feel empowered to see players who are out, and a commentator who is out.
Unfortunately, it can also lead to a number of “disgusting” messages from people who feel the detail is irrelevant to the game in question.
A huge part of a commentator’s job is to make sure that their pronunciations are correct, something that is not necessarily done by all in the space.
McCann tells a story of how the Their Pitch podcast interviewed Arsenal midfielder Frida Leonhardsen Maanum and immediately asked how the Norwegian’s name is pronounced, and more specifically whether both surnames should be used.
“She said ‘yeah, I go with both surnames, in Norwegian we say Frida Leonhardsen Maanum, but in England they pronounce it totally wrong’, so she’s made it clear there she’s got two surnames and she wishes to be referred to by both of them. She’s also made it clear that the one surname that is being used, was being said as ‘Marnum’ when it’s actually ‘Morenum’,” he said.
McCann then used the correct naming and pronunciation in his next Arsenal match and that led to mixed reactions on Twitter.
“I dropped in the quotes directly from the player on commentary because I had a feeling there would be people thinking ‘oh this is a bit different’ and I kind of naively just assumed that once you’ve said that and quoted the player and said they said this on Their Pitch podcast, that’s the end of it because the players said this is how I want to be referred to,” McCann explained.
“For the most part, most people did, but it sort of surprised me that even then you still had you know, a few dissenting voices who were determined that this was somehow wrong because it was different.”
Amusingly, the change in pronunciation led to a Twitter account called @awfcclips creating a montage of McCann saying Leonhardsen Maanum’s name.