As the women’s game continues to grow in the UK, there are also great strides being made across the continent as well. In Italy, it is no different with Juventus, Roma, AC Milan and Inter Milan having all founded women’s teams in the past two years.
Taking on those giants of Italian football is Millie Chandarana. The 22-year-old defender secured a contract with Serie A side UPC Tavagnacco. The club won the Coppa Italia in back to back years towards the start of the last decade and offered Chandarana her first shot at professional football at the start of this season.
Heading to Italy had meant a change in plans but being offered the chance to realise the dream of becoming a professional was too much for the defender to turn down.
Growing up, Chandarana spent time in the academy of her local team Manchester United before spending two years with Blackburn Rovers. Her upbringing in high level academies saw her fit in well at Loughborough University as she played for the university’s first team whilst studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Science at the prestigious institution.
Following university, the defender made 8 appearances for Loughborough Foxes in the third-tier of English football. The move to Tavagnacco came in July last year and since then she has played 14 times in the top flight of women’s football in Italy. This season has also brought a first professional goal, with the former Blackburn player notching against Juventus.
The move to Italy wasn’t the 22-year-old’s first experience of working abroad though, having previously spent summers working in Spain and the UAE.
This season has been a tricky one for Tavagnacco amongst the increasing budgets of their rivals following increased involvement from the men’s teams in the country. However, after 14 games they are just two points away from safety in the 12 team league.
I caught up with Millie to see how life is going abroad.
English Players Abroad: How did the move to Italy come about and what tempted you to make the move?
Millie Chandarana: I have always wanted to play football professionally from being very young. As I came to the end of my undergraduate degree everyone was looking for jobs and the next step and I knew in the back of my mind the only thing I wanted to do was play football.
I originally planned to do a masters in kinesiology in America for two years alongside playing football but then someone found this team for me. It was lucky how it came about really but I feel I was ready for an opportunity like this to play professional football and couldn’t turn it down.
EPA: How have you found living abroad? Has it been easy to settle in?
MC: I’m not going to lie, at first it was difficult for me to settle not only into the culture of being a full time professional but also the Italian culture and language. The language was the biggest difficulty for me along but as time has passed I have realised it’s such a blessing to be surrounded by a new way of life, new culture, new people. I have really settled here now thanks to my team and the staff.
EPA: Are there any differences to the style of play in Italy compared to back home?
MC: Yes there are differences to the tactical side of the game, which I am learning about everyday. I have come into a team where the speed of play was already quicker than my previous clubs but which has also developed dramatically in the last six months and our speed and physicality in the game has become so much greater.
EPA: How would assess how this season has gone so far and what are you goals for the season?
MC: We have had a rocky first half of the season as I think many external factors have influenced us, one of them being the language barrier as there are now six foreign players. But I think we have gelled really well together over the last two months and we are starting to see improvements and a better understanding of each other. I am really looking forward to see what we can do in this next half of the season and have really big hopes for what we are trying to achieve
EPA: Finally, would you recommend playing in Italy to other players?
I would definitely recommend playing football abroad somewhere in the world. It gives you something different, a new chance, a new culture to add to the growth of yourself as a person. Italy is amazing now I have settled and the growth in women’s football has been massive over such a short period of time and I think it will continue to become bigger and bigger over the next few years. It’s nice to see such professionalism run through the Serie A league and it can only get bigger from here I reckon.