Italy’s Serie A is known as one of Europe’s big 5 leagues, along with the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga. One of the things the country is most famous for is its football as well as its passionate fans. Rossella Marrai-Ricco’s Italian family were all football fans and so it played a large part in family life. Having started a blog about the sport at only 17 years old, she now freelances for many publications; is Head of Social Media, Editor and Feature writer for Soccer Laduma; as well as covering Italian football for her own website ‘Calcio in Heels’. I spoke to her about interviewing the sport’s greats, freelancing and trying to break into a male-dominated industry.
Growing up in an Italian household, football was a huge part of Rossella and her family’s life. Whether it was watching Serie A or playing herself, there was no end to the football culture during her childhood. “I grew up playing football with my brother in the streets before then going on to watch it religiously. Football was always on the TV and that is where my passion stemmed from,” she told me. Despite this strong interest, Marrai-Ricco hadn’t intended to work in the sports industry until she started a football blog at the age of 17. “I realised I was quite good at writing about my football musings. The site gained a lot of traction and that is when I decided to move to study English and Communications in the hope of pursing my career in football journalism. It was, of course, not without its struggles but after breaking into the industry, it has been very rewarding,” she said. Although sport may not have been the aim as a child, media certainly was. Whilst at Primary School, Rossella created a school magazine which she and some friends wrote and sold to their peers, with her saying: “the writing passion has always been in me from a very young age. I am lucky I have been able to combine my two passions together.”
After her football blog began to gain attention both nationally and internationally, Marrai-Ricco started freelancing for Football Italia, before being employed by a South African publication fulltime. “My passion for Italian football was evident on the blog and after it grabbed their (Football Italia’s) attention, they approached me to write some preview pieces and translate interviews to form news stories. It later evolved into doing exclusive interviews for them,” she explained. Currently she is the Head of Social Media, Editor and Feature writer for SA-based Soccer Laduma. These three roles may all be connected, however the skill set and responsibilities that are needed and come with the jobs can vary greatly. “It’s so different and all-encompassing at the same time. Social Media requires in-the-now reaction posts that are quirky, punchy and stimulate some form of engagement from the reader. It requires copious hours of studying your audience, understanding what they like and all while creating exciting content. As an editor, I oversee certain sections on the website. This involves managing a team who have different ideas and wish to express themselves differently. Outside of the management role of it, I oversee the production of the work in my respective department. This means that all content that goes out needs to be interesting, relatable to our audience and must evoke some sort of an emotion. On the feature writing side, this is area gives me the opportunity to take off my editorial and managerial hat and write. My first love is feature writing. I am in a fortune position where I have free reign to write about whatever I would like to. This predominately involves in depth features or interviews on European football,” Rossella explained.
With Marrai-Ricco freelancing and writing for several different publications, it allows her to explore different themes and approach her writing in different ways depending on the particular site/magazine. “Writing for South African publications doesn’t always allow me to write about my main football passion – Italian football. So, writing for a publication like Football Italia allows me to express and write about Italian football, where with Soccer Laduma and Kick Off, I have to focus on South African football and Europe’s big giants. Also, it’s always great to be versatile in the industry,” she described. If this wasn’t enough, Rossella also runs her own website ‘Calcio in Heels’. The blog was named Curva Sud when it was formed which stemmed from her love of AC Milan, however, since she has re-named it to cover all Italian football. “I was only writing about AC Milan, but after deciding to broaden it, I transformed it into ‘Calcio in Heels’. This was about two years ago, and it basically caters for all areas of my work. The name stems from the fact that I am a woman in the football media industry, writing about, predominantly, Italian Football or Calcio,” Marrai-Ricco told me.
As a feature writer and interviewer, Rossella has had the opportunity to talk to and profile many different people within the football world. Speaking of her most memorable interviews, she said: “there have been so many. I think speaking to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, as an African and a female in such a high-ranking position in the game, topped my list. I also had a very fun interview with Marcel Desailly. He is not like your normal footballers; he joked around, called me nicknames and was very honest in conveying his opinions. And finally, chatting to Gianluca Lapadula and Kwadwo Asamoah at Milanello and Vinovo respectively. I’ve also interviewed the likes of Luis Figo, Carles Puyol, Roberto Mancini – each one has been special in its own way and I have been so lucky to interview them.” Moments such as these have also been the best experiences from her career so far, as well as seeing the impact of her work on the brand she is writing for. “Being able to interview football players you grew up idolising and watching, being able to travel and attend games, and seeing your career progress. Also, it’s so satisfying to see the brand of the publication you work for grow because of your small contribution to it,” Rossella explained.
Although well respected in her area of work, Marrai-Ricco has found it hard as a woman in the industry. When trying to make her name, she found it difficult to be heard. “Being a female in the industry is very difficult, and it made it exceptionally difficult to break into the South African football media industry, too. Your voice isn’t always heard in meetings, few take you seriously and you have to work double hard to prove you are there for the love of the game and to produce good content rather than anything else. Unfortunately, there are still too few women in the football media. I am currently the only female editorial head at Soccer Laduma and Kick Off, and it’s been a long and hard-fought battle,” she told me.
Rossella Marrai-Ricco grew up in a passionate Italian household who held football in high regard. With the sport having been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, there was never really any other area she wanted to work in. Having found it difficult to break into the media, her passion shone through, leading Football Italia to take notice. Speaking of the advice she would give to those in a similar position she was, Rossella said: “never give up, be versatile and never stop learning. Many journalists limit themselves to one aspect of the media industry, but my advice would be to broaden your horizons and cross-pollinate across multiple platforms.”
photo credits: Rossella Marrai-Ricco