Thursday 28 November 2019, 17:21

Pamela Conti and La Vinotinto, love at first sight

  • Pamela Conti is Venezuela’s newly appointed women’s team coach

  • Italian has a major goal: take La Vinotinto to a maiden Women’s World Cup

  • Speaks about her playing philosophy and the importance of unity

“Boss, we’ve won thanks to you. Come and celebrate with us,” said Venezuela’s players after their new coach, Pamela Conti, had overseen a 1-0 friendly defeat of Paraguay. The wide-eyed Italian could scarcely believe it. Here she was, accepted as just another member of the team after only two days of training. The Vinotinto players meant what they said as well, lifting Conti up and cheering as they threw her up and down in the air. A clear case of love at first sight.

“They’ve made me feel part of the gang from day one,” she said. “I’m living a dream.” Day one came a little over a month ago but the mere memory causes a broad grin to flash across Conti’s face. The coach is visiting her family in Italy for a few days before returning to Venezuela, a country she has fallen in love with despite the problems it is facing.

“I want to live there and get to know it, the people, the culture and the food,” she said. One of her first decisions was to take part in the national “Sembrando fútbol” (literally “sowing football”) project that the Venezuelan Football Association has set up to find talented young players.

“A 13-year-old girl came along with a pair of borrowed boots that were three or four sizes too big for her. But when she got on the ball, I said to myself: ‘Wow! She’s amazing!’ There’s a lot of talent here.”

The lowdown on Pamela Conti:

  • Aged 37, born in Palermo

  • A former midfielder, she played in Spain, Italy, the USA and Russia

  • She also played for Italy at two UEFA Women’s EUROs, in 2005 and 2009

  • Her brother Vincenzo, a former professional himself, is her assistant coach

What Venezuela have to do now is develop that kind of talent and take the nation, which currently lies 59th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, into the global elite. As Conti explained, the medium-term goal is clear: “To qualify for the World Cup for the first time”. And she has a plan to make that happen.

Conti’s four steps to World Cup qualification:

1. A professional approach and organisation:

“There was a bit of a culture shock at first because I’m Italian,” said Conti in reference to her first training sessions. “I’m crazy about tactics, especially when it comes to defence, and I saw that we were making the kind of mistakes you just can’t make at international level.” Her goal is to instil organisation and tactical discipline but not at the expense of the possession mindset that is a feature of the other school of football that influences her: the Spanish game: “I played for three years there, my favourite coach is Pep Guardiola, and I watch a lot of Spanish football.”

She held her first training camp with her players in Italy at the start of the month and was very satisfied with the progress they made: “They’re like sponges,” she commented.

2. Developing self-confidence and team spirit

“They need to be organised and every player needs to know the importance of what they have to do,” she added. “We have to work on the mental side of things too. They don’t know how good they are. They don’t believe it and we need them to. We need them not to be scared of having the ball.”

Team spirit is another key aspect, as Conti went on to explain: “The nicest thing at the end of the camp was to see players saying: ‘Before, I didn’t want to come to the national team and now I don’t want to go’. It fills your heart with happiness. We can teach them everything we know but if we don’t put a team together, then it’s going to be a much harder job for us.”

Venezuela players pose

3. The team comes first

Absent from the November training camp were two of the country’s most talented players: Deyna Castellanos and Daniuska Rodriguez. “The level’s really going to improve when I get them back,” said Conti before explaining that the team is bigger than any one player: “I don’t like to see a player become a leader and for us to be dependent on them. For example, Deyna has a lot to offer this team but the most important thing is that all my players know that there’s a common objective, and that’s the World Cup.”

4. A house style

The aim is for Venezuela to play a disciplined but possession-based game at all levels: “I’m also supervising the U-17 and U-20 teams. We want every team to have the same style of play, so that when the youngsters break into the senior team they’re ready.”

The challenge is huge but Conti is only too happy to take it on. “I could feel it as soon as I arrived and went out on to the pitch with them. I said to myself: ‘This is my team and I’m staying here’.” It could just be start of a love story that takes La Vinotinto to the very top.