Monday 04 February 2019, 01:51

Bonansea: I was always daydreaming of football in class

  • Barbara Bonansea discusses juggling football and an economics degree

  • The Juventus entertainer weighs in on her knuckleball free-kick expertise

  • Marta, Sam Kerr and Italy’s France 2019 hopes also make the menu

A scholar at the Università degli Studi di Torino should have been cramming on macroeconomics and entrepreneurial strategies. Her head, however, was engulfed in fantasy about football on French fields.

Two days later, Barbara Bonansea had an exam towards her business economics degree. She passed. A few days after that, she had the hitherto "biggest exam of my life": a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifier against Portugal. She aggrandised her pass with a goal to return Italy to this sport’s most prestigious platform after a 20-year absence.

"I was always daydreaming in class," Bonansea admitted to "Little words or phrases would remind me of football, and then I’d be off, deep in thought about playing for Italy in packed-out stadiums at the World Cup, like I envisioned it when I was little and watching the Italian men’s team at the World Cup on TV.

"Now I’m very close to realising that dream. It’s an amazing feeling.

"I cried my eyes out when we beat Portugal. After losing the play-off for a place at Canada 2015, this qualification was revenge for us girls and, above all, for Italy at a time when people were very disappointed by football. The media publicised it in a big way, especially because it came just seven months after the Italian men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

"I think we’ll be able to surprise a lot of people at the World Cup, because we’ve grown up a lot over the last few years. I’d love to test myself against the strongest national teams like England, Germany and USA, in order to see how far Italian women’s football has come"

To get to potential knockout clashes against three of the top four on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, Italy must escape a labyrinth cave comprising Australia and Brazil – positioned sixth and tenth – and a Jamaica side rising at Elaine Thompson pace.

"I think we’re up against very strong teams," said Bonansea. "What else is there to say about Marta? Her story, achievements and playing style speak for themselves. It will be exciting to play against her.

"I haven’t seen much of Sam Kerr, but I’ve asked a lot of players about her and every single one has told me what a fantastic striker she is, phenomenal in front of goal, but also adaptable and able to play in a different position and in an unpredictable way.

"We’ve never faced Jamaica, so we’ll have to study them even more because our meeting with them will be crucial.

"In football it’s normal to dream and to believe you can push yourself beyond your limits. I dream about Italy winning the World Cup, even though I know the chances a slim and we’re certainly not the favourites."

Bonansea prefers to play on the left of a three-pronged attack, but can also operate as a left-midfielder or just off a striker. Pacey and snake-hipped, the 27-year-old is able to balletically slalom past opponents on grass like Alberto Tomba did poles on snow during his venerated vertex, giving off tinges of Paulo Futre and Ryan Giggs in their irresistible apogees. The Juventus No11 enriches her dribbling with palatial through-balls, à la Mario Corso.

Perhaps the asset in her arsenal that most has Italians salivating, however, is her mastery of the knuckleball free-kick pioneered by the likes of Juninho Pernambucano, Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. "I had never been tasked with taking free-kicks, but I always wanted to, so I started stopping back after training, attempting them, trying to improve," explained Bonansea.

The knuckleballs have aided Bonansea becoming a serial scorer of the golazo – she’s also renowned for hypnotising dribble-themed efforts and long-rangers – and she's renowned as an empress of the assist. But juggling creating and taking goals is nothing compared to juggling pro football and a university degree.

"I started university doing management engineering, but I changed degrees after a year because it was too demanding and economics doesn’t come with attendance obligations, so I could study in my own time," said Bonansea. "Studying and playing football isn’t easy, but I still have four exams to do and my goal is to graduate in 2020."

Harder, still, given that Bonansea admits that "when I get a good book – I love Dan Brown – I can’t put it down and end up getting to sleep way too late!" The former Brescia player also enjoys watching romance and thriller movies, and is "trying to learn to play the guitar because I like to sing, even though I’m not really in tune!"

If the pride of Pinerolo’s knuckleballs are in tune in France next summer, some elite goalkeepers could face a sterner examination than anything the Università degli Studi di Torino has to offer.