Zucchini and cheese cubes: not exactly what you’d picture as the perfect ‘pregame meal’. But I’ve felt rude enough because I can hardly communicate with people here (‘I no speak English’ are not only the four most used English words in Italy, in most cases also the only ones), so politely I try to finish the meal. Sweat trickles down my spine while I chug the ‘desert’ (tiny plastic cups with actual Italian espresso). From about 5 meters away, I try to make eye contact with an extremely attractive Italian player, and at that moment two thoughts are racing through my mind: ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ and ‘I really should have shaved my legs this morning…’
Off to Milan
This story starts about a week ago, when I was contacted by the PR-man of Milan Ladies, a team that plays in the Italian Serie B. They wondered if I would be interested in coming over and training with them, kind of like a trial. I didn’t really have plans to leave VC Moldavo, but international experience, especially in the form of a short visit to sunny Milan… Hard to resist!
So that’s how I ended up at the lunch table with the local Ladies team, while the looks the pretty Italian player were giving me made me increasingly self-conscious about my pale and stubbled legs.
Those legs were going to have to do the talking, as the old soccer cliché goes, because my words weren’t getting me anywhere since I landed in Italy just hours earlier. The players tried their very best, and wanted to know everything about that crazy Dutch person that was flying in just to train with them once, but the talking was done more with gestures than through the use of the English language. Either way, I was having a great time, even though the sweat droplets had just reached my butt crack and the espresso was the only thing keeping me awake after a sleepless night. I realised how surreal this whole experience was. Not even four years ago I played my last match at Holland’s lowest amateur level, and here I was in Milan, training with a foreign team that was considering adding me to their squad. I think ‘surreal’ doesn’t even cover the feelings I was having.
The training itself was basically a 90-minute slow death. Not only had I played a match just the night before, and as I mentioned, hadn’t been able to sleep afterwards, there was also the temperature. I suddenly remembered why I love Sweden so much. The thermometer read 35 degrees Celcius (95ºF), but running on the burning rubber of the Italian turf it felt more like I was playing soccer in Qatar. The training staff tried to help by emptying water bottles over our heads, but for me that didn’t even help anymore. After the last exercise of the day, a 3000 meter (1.8 mile) run, I dramatically collapsed on the pitch and could do nothing but hope that I wouldn’t faint.
The rest of the trip also turned into quite the adventure. The Airbnb adress I had booked turned out to be at a middle-aged man’s house, who displayed cigarette packages like trophies in the extra bedroom I would be sleeping in. He also didn’t speak more than five words (literally!) of English, but he was quite capable to use one of those to express his disagreement when I made a move to lock ‘my’ bedroom: No, no, no! Okay. I had put all my stuff back in my suitcase and placed it by the bed, in case I had to make a run for it in the middle of the night should he enter my room to try and kill me. Fortunately, everything turned out fine. I’m still alive.
The next morning, another problem presented itself. The taxi the club had arranged for me never showed up, so getting to the airport in time was becoming a bigger challenge by the minute. By chance, the only person in Milan who speaks English more than decently just happened to be watering the plants next to the appartment building I had just exited. Apparently, he had started to pity the sad little Dutch girl that had been standing on the sidewalk with her suitcase for the last hour and a half, only moving every now and then to stay in the shadow. He gave me some extremely specific instructions about which trains I should take and where I had to transfer, and I repeated the names like a mantra while I half-walked, half-ran my way through the Italian train and subway system. Because of all the chaos I had not eaten since the afternoon before, and when I finally arrived at the airport and started eating my panini and fruit salad in true cavewoman fashion I reveiced quite a few disapproving looks from the family at the next table. But honestly, I couldn’t care less if I was giving their kids the worst possible example of good table manners at that moment. That lukewarm sandwich with chewy ham and old lettuce was the best thing I had eaten in weeks.
While I’m writing this, very old school with pen and paper, the Boeing 737 I’m on is preparing to touch down in Amsterdam. I’m exhausted, sweaty, and the hair on my legs is itchy against the inside of my track pants. But oh my, what an amazing experience this was.
They say ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’, but for me, the last 24 hours has been a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until you’re 1000 kilometers away from it’. Training in Milan was great, but it also made me realise how much I have to lose. That’s why, this Monday, I’m more motivated than ever to get back on track on my road to the World Cup. Grazie Milan, grazie Italia. Now it’s time to be ‘that Dutchie’ in a group of Belgian players again. I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂