British pair Natasha Dowie and Christy Grimshaw are preparing for a big week with AC Milan in the club’s quest to win a first trophy in their history.
Milan, currently second in Serie A, take on league leaders Juventus on Sunday before facing city rivals Inter Milan in the semi-finals of the Italian Cup on 14 March.
Speaking to BBC Sport, the pair discuss life in Milan, Italian food, the language barrier and their quest to hunt down Juventus.
Pizza, pasta and Italian lessons
Former England striker Dowie says it has been “an incredible experience” so far in Italy since joining from Melbourne Victory last summer, even though she has not been able to explore Milan fully due to coronavirus restrictions.
“You have the mountains, the lake, incredible food, the fashion and the lifestyle which is pretty special,” she said.
“Everyone knows Italy has such good food. It can be dangerous sometimes! Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that we have to stay in at the moment?
“The pizza, the pasta, the lifestyle and the passion they have for food over here is really what I love. Food for me, apart from football, is my biggest love. I think it’s really special when you can share food with your family and friends. The Italians do that so well – it’s a big event for them.”
Scottish midfielder Grimshaw has also been making the most of Italian food but is missing a few home comforts, having joined from French side Metz in July.
“The pre-match food has always been pasta but it’s much better quality pasta than back home, as you can imagine!” said Grimshaw. “But fish and chips and Sunday roast dinners… I miss them a lot.”
But while both have enjoyed the lifestyle, the language barrier has been “really difficult” says Dowie, who is taking lessons supplied by the club twice a week.
“I’ve played in Norway and Sweden but this has definitely been the most challenging in regards to the communication side of things,” she said. “I’m trying to take it as a positive as you have to make more of an effort to try to connect with the players and the staff.
“It’s tough because a lot of the Italian players want to learn English. Their English is better than my Italian so they tend to speak that to me which means I don’t get to practise Italian as much. It is hard but we are all trying and I think the Italian players can see that.”
Grimshaw added: “Football is kind of its own language. Off the pitch it’s really difficult to try and make those relationships. On the pitch we almost have a mutual understanding of the game.
“It’s a bit of a struggle. We’re getting there though. We have Italian lessons and we try to make jokes. The Italian girls all laugh at us!”
‘We live for this moment’
Just three points separate Milan and Juventus before this weekend’s match and Dowie hopes they can put pressure on the leaders, who have won three back-to-back titles.
“It’s a ‘six-pointer’ this weekend. We all know how important it is. Juventus don’t lose games. Winning becomes a habit and they are very good at it,” said Dowie.
“We have to win. They have a better goal difference as well so hopefully they can slip up a bit throughout the rest of the season or we need to start scoring some more goals.
“Then we have Inter Milan in a semi-final. It’s brilliant. It’s a derby and they are the ones you want to play in.”
Milan, who formed their women’s team in 2018, have presented a new challenge to Juventus but Dowie says the league is now “really competitive” and “took me by surprise” as it prepares to become fully professional next season.
Grimshaw says the style of Italian football has improved her game as she continues to push for a place in the Scotland national team.
“There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes before every game. We focus so much on the tactical and analysis side. I need to add that to my game, so being here is really good for me. I’m really enjoying that,” she added.
“Training has been really good this week. We live for this moment. We’re hoping to win our first trophy this season.
“It would mix things up a lot [if we beat Juventus]. The more I play well and get on the score sheet – especially this weekend – the other stuff will come as a result of that.”