Katie Zelem: From living in Italy playing for Juventus to Juan Mata judging her cooking

Manchester United Women’s captain Katie Zelem speaks exclusively to The Guardian on playing for Juventus and Juan Mata judging her cooking.

The daughter of Alan Zelem, a former Macclesfield Town goalkeeper and niece of Peter Zelem, a former Wolves and Burnley defender.

Zelem joined Juventus from Liverpool and struggled with the language barrier.

“I signed on the Wednesday and was immediately told: ‘We’ve booked you on a flight to Turin tomorrow,” Zelem told The Guardian. “I said I couldn’t do it. I needed time to pack, I had to buy new clothes and I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to my family and my friends.

“In the end I pushed it back a bit – but only as far as the Saturday and I still didn’t manage to clear all my stuff out of the house where I lived in Liverpool.”

The culture shock wasn’t easy at first.

“Turin’s not a touristy place like Rome or Milan and I soon realised no one in the airport spoke English,” she added. “The full extent of my Italian ran from ‘ciao’ so nothing was straightforward. For the first week I thought: ‘Wow, what have I done.’ Nobody in the shops understood me and doing the basics was very difficult.”

To make matters even worse, Zelem’s manager at Juventus only had little English.

“Rita [Guarino, Juventus manager] hardly spoke any English but the firls in the team were brilliant and really helped me in training. I had Italian lessons, although for the first two months it was extremely difficult and I only understood individual words.

“By the time I left the following May though it was a lot easier and I could generally follow conversations. My spoken Italian wasn’t brilliant – and it certainly needs brushing up now! – but I usually got by.”

Casey Stoney has been worried about the mental harm of the pandemic, so they have been carrying out tasks to stay focused and relaxed in their current surroundings.

“Casey’s unbelievable at team building and bonding,” Zelem continued. “During lockdowns we’ve done a lot on Zoom; we’ve had things like ‘food Friday’ where we all cooked a meal from a different country each week and videoed it. There were special judges and, on Spanish night, Casey got Juan Mata to choose the winner. Cooking’s not really my thing but I did a lot better when we had a skills competition involving kicking balls into black rubbish bins.”

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