Saturday 06 March 2021, 07:16

Arianna Criscione: The Disney story that led to dual PSG role 

  • Arianna Criscione is a goalkeeper at Paris Saint-Germain

  • The former Italy international is also one of the club’s sponsorship managers

  • She tells us about her dual role and the “Disney story” that led to it

Millions of us grow up with the dream of playing for a world-renowned club. As we mature, and those ambitions fade for all but the fortunate few, hopes can form of an off-field role in the game.

The idea that it would be possible to do both, simultaneously combining these dream jobs, would seem the stuff of fantasy. Yet Arianna Criscione – Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper and Sponsorships Manager – has made it her reality.

Criscione is 36, and by the time she arrived in France, the California-born keeper had already won caps with Italy, Serie A titles with Torres and experienced football in Sweden and the Netherlands. But two years ago she had stopped playing and was drifting towards retirement when a chance meeting with Bruno Cheyrou, then sporting director of PSG’s women’s team, changed the course of her life.

As she explained: “I’d been working as project manager at the Women’s European Freestyle Championships and somehow – don’t ask me how – ended up with a first-class ticket home. When I got on the plane I noticed that Bruno, who I didn’t know at the time, had European Club Association papers next to him, so I just started chatting to him.

“I’d just done my Master’s at the FBA (Football Business Academy) and he was asking about everything I’d learned, what I thought about the future direction of women’s football and, when we landed, he looked at me and asked me if I wanted to keep playing. I told him I’d love to, but that I’d studied and worked so hard to start making the transition from playing to the business side. I asked if there was any way I could combine both and, fortunately for me, he loved the idea.

“I call it my Disney story. I grew up on Disney movies and, for me, that whole situation with Bruno was the kind of thing that you could imagine watching on TV, thinking: ‘I love it, but that sort of thing never happens in real life’. It really did happen though, and it happened to me.”

The outcome, of being able to forge an off-field future while enjoying the autumn of her playing career with one of the world’s best teams, is a fairy tale ending in itself. But Criscione, who plans on retiring at the end of the current season, has her sights set on adding a final flourish that would, again, be Disney-esque.

“I’d love to win the Champions League and, honestly, I think we can,” she said. “We have the best squad in women’s football right now as far as I’m concerned and, with the way the season’s going (with PSG in the UWCL Round of 16 and leading Lyon in the French top flight), we should definitely finish with a trophy or two.”

Arianna Criscione in action for PSG

Regardless of how the campaign ends, it seems highly unlikely that Criscione will be tempted into prolonging her playing career. Not even the inspirational, record-breaking example of team-mate Formiga – 43 this week and still going strong – is sufficient to prompt second thoughts.

“It’s incredible and awe-inspiring to see what Formiga can still do, but she’s a real physical anomaly. And I’m just not,” Criscione admitted frankly. “I’m stopping on my terms, and I’m ready. I’ve had some injuries, my body’s tired and, while I’ll still work out for the enjoyment of it, it will be nice not to need to train every day.

“It’s also not always easy to combine the two roles. We don’t have a set training programme with the team – it changes from week to week, often at short notice – so it’s really tough to schedule business meetings.

“And although I’m retiring, I’m not saying goodbye to football. I’ll still be very much involved – just from a different perspective. I’ll be as passionate as ever about developing women’s football, and I feel I can make a real contribution to that off the field.”

Criscione has also earned the right to reduce a dizzying and, at times, draining list of commitments. After all, besides her dual day jobs with PSG, she is also participating in Harvard University’s ‘Crossover to Business’ programme for professional athletes and, as of this week, has begun studying for the FIFA Diploma in Club Management.

Where that will lead, only time will tell. “I’ve stopped making five- or ten-year plans because my life never goes to plan – often in a good way,” she said, laughing. But whatever her professional destiny, Criscione is passionate about showing female footballers that avenues into a post-playing role in the game do not begin and end with becoming a coach.

“It’s something I really want to spread the word about,” she said. “In my generation, everyone in the US finished school before trying to go pro, and you have all these amazing women who are highly educated and qualified for these top roles but who also know the game inside-out. And I know from experience what a valuable asset that is.

“I’ve had team-mates with degrees in accounting, law, mathematics, and all of those skills have a place in modern football clubs, associations and stakeholders. Yet I don’t see nearly enough women in these kinds of roles. Part of solving that problem is that we need to be applying in bigger numbers whenever these positions in football come up. Once we start to do that, and receive the opportunities we deserve, I'm sure you’ll see even more of what women can bring to the game.”

Criscione has certainly led by example. And while we might not see her stopping shots and claiming crosses for much longer, this PSG keeper seems sure to be positively impacting her sport for years and decades to come.

Arianna Criscione.

This article is part of our series focused on women’s football, and women in football, to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. To find out more about FIFA’s Women’s Football Strategy and Development Programmes, and to read more articles like this, click here.