The Aussie ‘salesman’ leading Juventus to historic heights

After claiming the treble with Juventus Women, former A-Leagues Championship-winning head coach Joe Montemurro chats to KEEPUP’s Sacha Pisani about the historic achievement and the role of Australian football in his success.

Joe Montemurro is still coming to terms with the magnitude of the season that just went by.

Never in the history of Juventus Women’s team had they completed the treble. There were doubles, but never a sweep of domestic honours. Not to mention a run to the Champions League quarter-finals.

An Australian changed that in 2021-22.

In his first season at the helm, Montemurro led Juventus to Serie A, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana titles.

“If I were to be blatantly honest, it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” former Melbourne City boss Montemurro told KEEPUP. “It’s sort of sitting there.

“I’m not sure how well I take accolades, trophies and that stuff. I think I get so embroiled and overawed by the day-to-day, making sure everything is right, you don’t actually have time to think about it.

“It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s probably more for external people and media to outline the achievements. It’s interesting. Maybe there was an expectation, maybe because the team itself and what they achieved.

“The pressure was on from day one from my perspective to go one better than what had been brilliantly done in the previous years. It sounds fantastic but I think it still has to land.”

Mission accomplished in Turin

Of Italian background, last June’s appointment was a dream for Montemurro but it came with expectations.

Montemurro was headhunted by Juve, having led the revival of Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, ending their title drought in 2018-19. The Aussie also delivered a Women’s League Cup to the proud London club.

He boasted a 76% win rate during his Arsenal spell from the 2017-18 to the 2020-21 season in the WSL – the second-highest rate of any coach in that time (minimum five games).

Montemurro’s Arsenal scored more goals (211), had a higher shooting accuracy (57%) and had more possession (63%) than any other team in the WSL between the 2017-18 and 2020-21 seasons.

One year ago, he walked into a Juventus team fresh off winning a fourth consecutive Scudetto and third straight double under the leadership of Rita Guarino.

But the mission was clear for Montemurro in Turin: maintain their domestic dominance, while laying the groundwork in Europe.

Could Juve – in an Italian league set to go professional next season – compete with the European juggernauts in the Women’s Champions League – Wolfsburg? Lyon? Chelsea?

Juve set a benchmark after becoming the first Italian team to reach the knockout phase of the Women’s Champions League. They pipped 2020-21 runners-up Chelsea to the quarter-finals.

Eventual champions and record eight-time winners Lyon ended Juve’s run in the quarters, though they did become the first ever team to beat the French giants in a Champions League first-leg knock-out tie.

“Juventus, it’s all about winning, trophies and being dominant as a brand and a football club,” Montemurro said.

“The gauge was going to be Europe. Is the game in Italy, is Juventus good enough to compete with the better teams in Europe? It was going to give us a good gage because of the format of the Champions League.

“It was going to tell us a bit more of a truth because one game, one situation and you’re out in the old historic way of the Champions League. Now you have six games and have to plan with your domestic situation.

“Lets be brutally honest, the Italian women’s league doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the WSL, the Bundesliga or Ligue 1, it doesn’t have the image that probably the top three or four leagues have.

“The pressure was on from day one because domestically they had one everything. Rita Guarino the coach before me did a fantastic job.”

Transforming Juve through his methodology

“Ultimately I’m just a salesman,” Montemurro said.

“I’m selling a product to the players and staff, and saying ‘okay we’re going to play football this way and this is how we’re going to do it, we’re going to play this way because it will lead to this’.

“When you have everyone buying into that football culture, it unites everyone.”

And he sold his vision.

Montemurro came in and changed the way Juventus played, introducing a more “proactive” way of football. He wanted his team to dominate with the ball while encouraging more risk taking. It went away from the the patient and structured approach in Turin.

It worked for Montemurro.

“They [Juve] didn’t have the means to bring in top players economically, so the team was very much formed on brilliant characters,” Montemurro said of the family culture at Juve.

“Characters who wanted to be there, to work as a unit, the privileges of being at a top club and never losing sight of that. The beauty of this job is we don’t have the top superstars, the big-name players.

“You hear interviews of coaches and people, ‘we need to spend more money on players’. Well, where are the other aspects, which are probably even more important – being training culture, team culture, coaching – where do they fit in that landscape?

“I need to be a better coach because I don’t probably have the quality of problem solvers that I had at Arsenal so we have to be a bit clever in how we put the team on the park.

“It really just confirmed having an idea of football, a methodology of how you train and a group who buy into the way you want to play.”

Spearheading Juve’s evolution, Montemurro’s methods and success have gone down well in the north of Italy, where chairman Andrea Agnelli is desperate to make up for lost time as women’s football soars to new heights.

Barcelona Women broke their own world record when 91,648 fans attended the opening leg of the team’s Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg at Camp Nou.

“I never forget this one quote when speaking with president Mr Agnelli earlier in the year,” Montemurro recalled. “He said to me: ‘One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my 12-year tenure so far was not starting a women’s team earlier’.

“He thinks he missed the boat of that European ability to challenge with the top ones. That probably tells you a lot. They’ve totally realised the importance of the team, not just football but a culturally mentality in Italy of female sport.

“I think they realise that in terms of the rewards they’re getting. Not so much in trophies and winning games, but from a social media and even an economic ability to bring in commercial sponsors. They’re seeing the importance of the women’s team being part of the fabric.”

‘I was able to explore and be curious’: Australia’s role in his success

Montemurro’s trophy cabinet is growing rapidly.

A pair of A-League Women Championships (2016 and 2017), plus the Women’s Super League (2019) and Women’s League Cup (2018) during his time in charge of Arsenal, to go with his 2021-22 haul.

It all started in Australia for Montemurro, where he has left a legacy.

Montemurro, who took his first steps in senior coaching with Victorian state league club George Cross in 2006, delivered back-to-back ALW Championships to Melbourne City while also working as an assistant to the men’s outfit.

He created history in 2015-16 after City went through the entire women’s campaign without dropping a point.

Montemurro had a 77% win rate as head coach of City across the 2015-16 and 2016-17 A-League Women seasons – the highest win rate of any coach in that time.

He has been able to translate that success on the European stage.

“The beauty of Australian football in my growth and situation, no one was telling me you have to do it this way or that way,” Montemurro said. “The beauty of it I was able to explore and be curious.

“There was room to try things and room to fail. What that led to was a real clear understanding of how I wanted my teams to play and how I wanted things done. Through all that growth, experimentation, through all that ability to even make mistakes, I was able to get to a clear vision of principles.

“Australia was very important in the growth. I take Italy as an example, they’re very clear in tactics, defensive tactics and structures. I think sometimes what it does, you’re thrown into pressure situations where results are important straight away and all of a sudden, you’re locked into this way of playing.

“Growth is a little more difficult because the pressure is on from day one. Where there probably wasn’t as much clarity in the way we wanted to do things, which isn’t a bad thing. The room to experiment, to be curious, try, fail, try, succeed gave me a clear understanding of how I wanted things done.

“They’re the bases I’ve brought to Melbourne City, Arsenal and Juventus.”