Friday 08 March 2024, 13:00

Conti: FIFA’s Mentorship Programme was an unforgettable experience

  • Pamela Conti has been the coach of the Venezuelan women’s national team for more than four years

  • The Italian took part in the second edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme

  • She is full of praise for her mentor and the programme, and assesses the current state of the game

In 2021, after Pamela Conti had been in charge of Venezuela’s women’s side for nearly two years, Montse Tome, the current coach of world champions Spain, suggested that she take part in the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme. “Montse’s one of my best friends; she told me: 'Pame, do it – you’ll get a lot out of it’,” the former forward, who earned 90 caps and scored 30 goals for Italy, told FIFA. “I'm so grateful I listened to her, because it really exceeded my expectations. It improved me as a coach and as a person, and it was an unforgettable experience.”

Conti was mentored by Scotsman Tom Sermanni, the former Australia, United States and New Zealand coach. He has been involved in six FIFA Women’s World Cup™ tournaments, most recently in 2023 as part of Canada’s backroom staff.

“Tom is a humble guy, with a lot of knowledge, and that made it very interesting to work with him,” recalled the 41-year-old, who retired after an eventful 18-year playing career in 2014 to open a youth academy in her native Palermo. “He always made himself available to listen to me, chat and give me advice, or help me with a problem. He was more than a mentor; he became a friend and a father figure.” Although the second edition of the programme concluded in December, Sermanni hosted Conti – who coached the Atletico Madrid U-16 team before taking the reins of Venezuela – in Australia in January, where he fulfils the role of Head of Women’s Football at Western Sydney Wanderers. “I attended training sessions and matches, and experienced a different situation from what I’m used to in Venezuela, both in terms of infrastructure and the work,” said Conti.

Mentor Tom Sermanni and Mentee Pamela Conti speak at the FIFA Coach Mentorship programme workshop in Lisbon

“For example, I was surprised by the commitment shown by the players at training, and by their level of fitness during matches,” she said. “I even called my brother Vincenzo, who’s also my assistant coach, and told him: 'We have to achieve that kind of intensity.’ In Australia, I just kept asking myself about what I could do to improve things, what I’m missing, and what I need. Because in Venezuela there is a gradual improvement taking place, and we have definitely got better, but we still have a long way to go.”

Conti also praised the useful exchange of information prompted by the in-person seminars held in Costa Rica – during the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup™ – and in Portugal: “I've always thought that to learn, you have to spend time with people who know more than you, and there was a lot of that on offer. It also enabled me to compare situations, especially with other countries in the Americas. That is always beneficial.” Absorbing new information and experiences is something to which the well-travelled Conti is accustomed. “In each country that I played in, I learned something new that I now apply in my coaching work,” she said. “In Italy, it was the importance of defending. In Russia, it was the arduous training: I would get up at six in the morning and have to run in knee-deep snow and minus 35-degree temperatures. And it means I can say to my players, ‘If I did that, then you can too!’

Angela Hucles of USA and Pamela Conti of Italy vie for the ball during the 2008 Queen Peace Cup match between the United States of America and Italy at the Suwon Sports Complex on June 19, 2008 in Suwon, South Korea

“Then I spent three years in Spain, where I trained as a coach, so I know the 'tiki-taka' style, and I'd love my team to play like Barcelona. In Sweden, I acquired a sense of respect, punctuality and responsibility. And in the United States, I learned how vital the physical side of the game is. I tell my players that I'd like to pass all of that experience onto them, but they just look at me like I’m crazy (laughs).”

This fusion of football cultures even comes into play in the working dynamic she enjoys with her aforementioned sibling Vincenzo. “We fight all the time, but that’s perfectly normal,” she noted with a grin. “He's Italian like me, but I've been around the world and my way of looking at football is not as Italian as his. That actually makes us a good team!” But football has always been something of a family affair for Conti: her father Francesco and other brother Daniele were also professional footballers. “At home we lived and breathed football – they helped me to develop as a player and then as a coach.”

With all the acumen she has built up, she is capable of looking back in order to analyse the current state of women's football: “Tremendous progress has been made in terms of investment and media coverage: the sport is able to sell itself more and more, and there are even quite a few female journalists. My role model was Mia Hamm because I played against her, not because she was famous. Now young girls have so many female idols right across the sport, and that’s crucial.” She added: “Now if you watch an international match in England, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia or the USA, or many of the games at the last World Cup, you can see that the technical, tactical and physical level is much greater than it was in my day. I don't know if my speed would have helped me to stand out in today’s game, or if I would have been better because of all the tools available that didn't exist back then. But the overall standard is quite clearly superior.”

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - DECEMBER 13: Pamela Conti during a Portrait session as part of FIFA Women's Development Programme at HoF, Home of FIFA on December 13, 2023 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/FIFA)

Tom is a humble guy, with a lot of knowledge. He always made himself available to listen to me, chat and give me advice, or help me with a problem. He was more than a mentor; he became a friend and a father figure.

Pamela Conti
Venezuela Women's National Team Coach

Conti is well aware that she still has a lot of work to do in Venezuela, with her charges having missed out on the inter-confederation play-off for the 2023 Women's World Cup after losing on penalties to Chile in the fifth-place match at the 2022 Copa America Femenina. “The senior side has a lot of girls who are playing club football abroad,” she said. “They’re a good young team with a bright future, but a lot of investment is needed. “We need to invest in infrastructure, in grassroots football and, most importantly, in comprehensive organisation and training. If we don't have a competitive domestic league, it’s going to be tough, because girls leave football at 14 or 15. We have to find a way for them to keep playing, but as professionals, not as a hobby.” Even so, Conti’s dream of steering La Vinotinto to their first senior Women's World Cup remains intact. “My dad always told me that football gives you a chance of redemption, and maybe we weren't ready for the World Cup, but I still struggle to understand what happened in that game,” she said. “The positive thing is that we reacted well as a team – we had a good 2023 and we’re hopeful of doing better at the next Copa America. I think we have the makings of a top team.”

Pamela Conti coach of Venezuela gives instructions to his team players during an international friendly match between Argentina and Venezuela

Coach Mentorship