Atlético Femenino have embarked on a project which they will hope will take them in the upper echelon of the women’s game.
After defending their league title last season, Atlético feel they still need to raise the bar not only to prolong their domestic dominance, but also be more competitive in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
To make this dream a reality, Atlético brought in Elena Linari of Fiorentina. Linari, 24, was considered one of Italy’s best talents, and her new club hopes she can fulfill her huge potential.
Speaking to Into the Calderon, Linari explained why she chose Atlético over other experiences ahead of the upcoming season.
“I wanted to do an experience in another country since I was 16 years old,” Linari explained.
“Atlético already wanted me last year, following the 2017 UEFA Women’s European Championship, but I preferred to stay at Fiorentina even though I knew that Atlético Madrid is an enormous opportunity.
“Fortunately for me, they contacted my agent once again and this time I could not reject this chance so now, I am a rojiblanca.”
The former Fiorentina player — with whom she featured 22 times last season — said she was already aware of the club’s achievements prior to signing for them.
“I follow a lot of women’s leagues across Europe and I used to follow some of the players at this club on social media, checking out their professional lives,” the defender said.
“I also support the men’s team because it has Diego Simeone, El Cholo, as coach and nowadays his son, Giovanni Simeone, El Cholito, plays for Fiorentina.”
Something that has struck Linari since traveling to Spain was the professionalism applied by the club in their policies and training schemes.
“It is incredible,” she said. “Everything is controlled and calculated, even the rest time. They organise every single hour of our life and that was a bit unexpected for me. I have always loved to do this kind of life, but in Italy it is not always easy.
“I love my new teammates, the medical and technical staff because we work together toward the same [goal] and that makes me enjoy this game on and off the field.”
Linari, who featured for Brescia earlier in her career, has spoken fondly of the way that Atlético motivates her in training every day.
“Atlético’s emblem makes the difference in every training session and every game we play,” she said. “The difference is not the game, but the way we prepare it. The coach [José Luis Sánchez] and his staff focus their attention on a lot of aspects in every single game and that helps to gain more knowledge about our characteristics both as an individual and as a team.
“Most probably, one difference that there is between Spain and Italy is that I am training with more intensity here.”
After claiming two straight Spanish championships, Atlético want to take the next step in the women’s Champions League — even though the draw did not really provide a comfortable test as the Spanish side will face English giants Manchester City.
“We know we are a very good team, formed by a lot of young players but all with the hunger to win,” Linari said. “Unfortunately the draw in Europe was not so favourable to us, but we are working in order to improve and do our best because football is football and everything can happen in a two-legged affair.”
Atlético will be Linari’s first experience outside her native Italy, and she is excited for the opportunity to compare the differences in the women’s game between the two nations.
“In Spain, women’s football is more important than in Italy, especially now that the U-19 and U-20 women’s selections have made history by winning the UEFA U-19 European Championship and earning a silver in the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup,” Linari explained. “Our matches are always live on television and that gives us enormous exposure while it helps us engage with our fans.
“Here in Spain, fans recognise us and always wants to take photos [with] us. On the other hand, women’s football in Italy is still earning its own respect.”
In fact, to add insult to injury, the Serie A and Serie B openers have been postponed following a dispute between the Italian FA and the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti (LND). Women’s football in Italy has been usually organised by LND, but prior to the 2018/2019 campaign the Italian FA announced their intent to do it, and the players backed this choice.
However, things changed when the LND accused the Italian FA of a lack of transparency and wants to regain control over women’s football.
“Unfortunately, I read and saw what is happening now in Italy,” Linari said. “I am sad and angry because it is incredible that they have to be involved in such [a] situation.
“Women’s football seems to be more a trophy rather than a sport in which they need to spend and create a long-term project. I have no idea how will this situation finish, but I am sure that the players will fight for a better future because it will pave the way for the younger generation.”