With Serie A kicking off again, interested spectators will be tuning into games featuring a plethora of multi-million dollar new signings the top clubs have acquired over the summer.
Juventus announced the signing of Blaise Matuidi from Paris Saint Germain (PSG) for €20 million – the umpteenth multi-million euro signing in a summer headlined by Neymar's €192 record-breaking transfer to PSG from Barcelona – but another piece of news from Italy's 'Old Lady' went unnoticed.
Juventus' first-ever senior women's team will compete in the 2017/2018 women's Serie A, 120 years after the club was founded in 1897.
Juventus is owned by Fiat-founding dynasty the Agnelli family, one of Italy's richest, and is the most successful in the country's history with 35 titles. Several stars have multi-mullion dollar contracts at the club.
Yet the team of players Juventus has assembled to represent in its maiden season in the Serie A Femminile, the women's league, will compete as unpaid amateurs.
The disparities in salaries between men and women's football are well-documented worldwide. But in Italy they are extreme.
In England, for example, women footballers earn between £5,000 and £35,000 each year, according to the Professional Footballer's Association (PFA) cited in the Manchester Evening News.
In Italy, women only receive expenses.
There are two tiers of Italian women's football. Twelve teams will compete in next season's Serie A, while a total of 47 teams each play in four different regional groups in Serie B, the second division.
Only one team is from south of Rome, the bizarrely-named Pink Sport Time, Bari FC's women's team.
The female leagues are governed by the National Amateur League Association (NALA), despite the fact that several of the most famous men's clubs have recently launched teams for women.
A NALA spokesperson confirmed to The Local that under amateur association rules, players are not allowed to sign professional contracts.
Women players receive per diems of around €60 per day “for a maximum of five days per week during a season” from their clubs, plus a €77.47 performance bonus for matches.
Daily allowance v million-dollar wage
“Closing the gap between women's teams and professional male teams is one of the largest challenges,” the spokesperson told The Local Italy.
While new interregional championships, classic relegation rules with playoffs and more innovations are planned for women's football in Italy in the next two years, professional salaries still seem a long way off.
“Women's football is still amateur and for that reason we cannot pay salaries, only expenses,” a spokesperson for Fiorentina Femminile, the winners of last year's Serie A, confirmed to The Local.
According to Fiorentina's spokesperson, the average attendance at the champions' games is between 2,000 and 2,500.
The club's annual budget is €800,000 – less than what most players earn in the men's second division in Europe's top leagues.
Fiorentina were the first traditional men's club to launch a woman's team in 2015. Others followed and Empoli, Sassuolo and Juventus will all join the Serie A for the 2017/2018 season.
Despite the encouraging signs of growth and the league's plans for the next three seasons, women's football still suffers from an image problem in Italy.
In 2015, the man formerly in charge of promoting the women's game, Felice Bessoli, then president of the National Amateur League, told a gathering of his organization's members that “we can't always talk about giving money to these four lesbians,” according to leaked minutes published by soccerlife.com.
Bessoli has since been replaced but the top-down vitriol has left a sting.
A statement earlier this year by Italy's footballers association, which represents footballers in Italy, highlighted the gulf in “rights” between male and female players in Italy.
“If young people are made more aware, it'll be easier to steer so that their attitude towards women becomes more respectful,” Gaelle Thalmann, goalkeeper with Italian club AGSM Verona and the Swiss national team, said at a recent event, organized by the professional footballers' association, to promote awareness of the women's game.
“Abroad, footballers have real employment contracts, with a minimum wage, and insurance if they get injured.”
Same old problem
Italy's women's national team is also facing difficulties: the team did not qualify from the group stage and only won one game at the UEFA Women's EURO 2017 championships in the Netherlands this summer.
According to the spokesperson for the National Amateur Association, Italy's national team players do not receive central contracts, like England's women's internationals for example, but merely daily expenses.
Italy's women rank 17th in the FIFA Women's World Rankings, behind traditional powerhouses such as Germany, Brazil, Japan and the USA – and not so international powerhouses such as North Korea.
“The team's objective is to try, with time, to reach the heights of the great European teams,” the spokesperson for Italy's women's champions, Fiorentina, told The Local.
It could still be a while before that happens.