- 18-year-old Dalila Ippolito is the first Argentinian woman to play in Italy
- She is also the first female player from her country to have a stadium named after her
- The midfielder spoke to FIFA.com about her footballing future and national team hopes
Dalila Ippolito was in quarantine at home when she received a WhatsApp notification from her agent asking her if she was free for a chat. The Argentinian midfielder had been looking over offers from abroad, so the message did not surprise her. The video call that followed, however, was not quite so predictable.
Agent: “Hi there, I’ll get right to the point: Juventus, in Italy, want to sign you. Are you ready?”
Ippolito: “Come on, don’t mess around. Just tell me what you’re after…”
The discussion, which included the finer points of the deal and the plans that the club had for her, lasted 20 minutes. After hanging up, she yelled “Juventus want me!” to anyone who would listen in Villa Lugano, the Buenos Aires neighbourhood in which she first kicked a ball through the streets at the age of six.
“In my mind I was definitely thinking about making the jump over to Europe, but not to such a big club straight away,” Ippolito told FIFA.com via Zoom, maté (a tea-like infusion popular in South America) in hand. “Suddenly I was on a plane wondering what I was doing!”
Ippolito made her Serie A Femminile debut last weekend, coming off the bench in the opening round of 2020/21 matches. While she appears to have taken it all in her stride, she is quick to negate that suggestion. “Don’t you believe it!” she exclaimed. “I still haven’t got my head around it – I’ve been struggling to take it in.”
Clearly, the same verve and impish skill that La Enana (‘The Dwarf’) regularly demonstrates in her playmaker role on the pitch tend to carry across to the words she chooses.
“I’ve always said that I’m still learning about the women’s game,” explained the precocious South American. “Up until the Women’s World Cup, I had no idea what football was like in Europe, how much the girls got paid, what it meant to make a living from the sport – that’s my dream. But look where I am now; it shows that these things can happen!”
For one so young, Ippolito speaks eloquently about her early beginnings, and the turning point in her burgeoning career.
“I didn’t have a lack of opportunities like some people do,” she said. “I was able to play from a very young age, in fact. At first it was just with boys, sure, but when I was 13 I joined River Plate and that all changed.”
By the age of 17, Ippolito had already made her first-team club debut, and she was training with Argentina’s U-20 squad when she was called up to the senior set-up ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.
The inclusion of the young attacking midfielder in Carlos Borrello’s 23-player squad was a major surprise, but it proved to be a judicious decision. She did not see any playing time until the third and final group match, when she came off the bench with 20 minutes to go, and with Argentina trailing Scotland 3-0. It was then that everything changed.
Although she only had a brief opportunity to shine, the Buenos Aires native still had time to demonstrate her significant potential, constantly demanding the ball and taking on the responsibility of setting up chances for her team-mates, which she did with aplomb for Milagros Menendez, who scored the goal that launched a famous Albiceleste comeback.
“I tried to just play nice and loose, like I used to do back home with my friends – I really enjoyed it,” the impact substitute told FIFA.com after the 3-3 draw.
Over a year later, she recalled, laughing: “That’s what happened, but I never imagined what would come next.”
What subsequently occurred was a transfer to UAI Urquiza and a series of fine performances in the Copa Libertadores Femenina, which kept Ippolito in the spotlight. So much so that her very first club, Jovenes Deportistas de Lugano, renamed their stadium ‘Dalila Ippolito’, making her the first female Argentinian footballer to have such an honour bestowed upon her.
“Everything that has happened to women’s football in Argentina since the World Cup is impressive, and the renaming was a real milestone for all of us who are pushing for equality,” explained Ippolito. “But the fact that it’s where I started off makes it very special indeed.”
The new Juventus recruit quickly noticed differences in the way the game is played in Italy. “It’s quicker and more physical. Every training session feels like a match – everyone gives 100 per cent, and I like that. Mind you, I’ve got bruises all over!”
As she expected, the level of competition in Turin is much higher. “Here there are several Italian internationals, and alongside Serie A, we’re also going to be playing in the Women’s Champions League. That kind of competition will always help build up my experience, like at the World Cup.”
And what about La Albiceleste? “I never stop thinking about the national team,” she said. “If what happened to me happens to the rest of us, then that will surely help us to catch up with the major footballing powers.”
In addition, the fact that CONMEBOL will gain additional qualifying slots for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which will be the first to include 32 teams, fills her with enthusiasm. “I’m really excited about that, and the idea of winning a Copa America too,” she said. “We’re working more effectively and we’re growing as a team. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.”
Ippolito is aware that she is likely to play an increasingly important role on the international scene, but she also strikes a cautionary note: “Experience adds up, but sometimes it can be a burden. You have to know when to control it and when to pass it on to the team. I hope to play an important role.”
Similarly, she accepts that she has become something of a role model in Argentina. “It’s significant because of my age, but also because all the players I looked up to were always men,” she said.
“I wanted to play alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Now I get hundreds of messages on social media from girls who want to be like me, and that brings with it a certain responsibility. I have to present a good image, while remaining true to myself. I hope to be able to do that.”
What she brought with her to prevent homesickness. “Maté, my PlayStation and my stereo speaker along with all my music, from cumbia to reggaeton. No, I haven’t brought a musician into the dressing room yet!” (laughs)
Which team she plays with on the PlayStation. “Barcelona, because of Messi, but also PSG and now Juventus, but I’m still getting used to that. I want Juventus Women on there!”
Why she opted for jersey No5. “I was offered less traditional options like 17, 99, and 27. I knew that Zidane wore No5, but I also liked it because it’s an iconic jersey number in Argentina.”
Meeting Cristiano Ronaldo. “I’m not obsessed about it, but I’d like to meet him. Besides, I met Messi before the Women’s World Cup. I’d be able to say that I’d come face-to-face with the two best players of this era.”