In 2017, Italian soccer legend, Patrizia Panico, became the first female head coach of a men’s national soccer team when she took charge of Italy’s U-16 team in a pair of friendly games against Germany.
It was a landmark moment but one that the former striker hopes will become more common in the future. She has stated that she would like coaches to be appointed purely on their technical ability regardless of gender and that her appointment should be seen as a beginning, not an arrival.
Legend of the Italian game
Panico enjoyed a 23-year playing career in which she featured for nine different clubs scoring 653 goals in 591 games (a better ratio than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo) and finishing top scorer in 14 seasons. She is also Italy’s most-capped player with 204 appearances and their highest-ever goal scorer with 110 goals. Her haul of honors includes 10 Italian Championships, five Italian Cups, and eight Italian Super Cups.
The Rome-born coach had already been working as an assistant to Daniele Zoratto when he was called to aid the Under-19s in their European Championship preparations. That opened the door to Panico to step in and guide the team for the two games. She continued to study for her coaching badges and is currently working towards a UEFA Pro licence which would enable her to coach anywhere including in the English Premier League, the No. 1 division in the world.
In 2018, she was put in charge of the Under-15s on a permanent basis. Her most recent group of players have gone unbeaten for a year highlighting the strength of the Italian boys but also the ability of the coach to train them and bring out their best level.
Growth of Women’s soccer could help open doors
This begs the question of whether she will go on to coach a men’s team at the highest level and if it possible for a woman to break into the European top-flight arena. Plenty of men have coached in the women’s game. The England women’s national team reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup under the guidance of former Manchester United player Phil Neville and the Lionesses were previously coached by Paul Sampson.
The women’s game has enjoyed a boost thanks to the popularity of the 2019 FIFA World Cup which attracted huge TV audiences. The tournament also attracted plenty of wagering interest and all the best betting sites in 2020 now offer comprehensive markets on the women’s game – a good sign that commercial interests are growing. As more high profile men get involved in the women’s game, it makes sense that more doors should open for women to enter the men’s game.
In 2014, former France international Corinne Diacre made history by becoming head coach of French Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot. This was the highest level a woman had coached in the men’s game in Europe. Diacre tried to downplay her achievements at the time. However, she did express her concerns that she had been the first woman to reach that level considering the principles of coaching are identical for men and women.
Diacre coached the second-tier team for three full seasons before she left to take over France’s women’s national team. Away from Europe, Chan Yuen-ting became the first female coach to win a top-flight title in the men’s professional game when she led Hong Kong team Eastern to the Premier League title in 2016.
Panico has been a pioneer throughout her playing career and looks set for a successful career in coaching. Her drive, ambition, and passion for the game are remarkable and you get the feeling that if any woman is going to become the first top-flight coach in one of Europe’s elite men’s leagues – it might just be her.