Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis is confident that star winger Refiloe Jane has everything it takes to cut it in one of football's toughest leagues.
Last weekend, Jane made history when she became the first South African woman to sign for an Italian side when she joined AC Milan.
“She has everything to succeed in the Italian League, without a shadow of a doubt,” Ellis told the Saturday Star.
“There will always be challenges when joining a new club but I have no doubt that she will succeed.”
Jane, a veteran with over 100 caps for Banyana Banyana, signed a deal, which will see her at the Rossonere for at least one year.
After arriving in the city of Milan last Friday, and having had only one training session, Jane was immediately drafted into the Milan starting line-up against Napoli in a pre-season warm-up match by her new coach Maurizio Ganz. Milan cruised to a 5-0 win.
The former Canberra United (Australia), Vaal University of Technology and Tshwane University of Technology player, has followed in the footsteps of former Bafana Bafana stars David Nyathi, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Mark Fish, Eric Tinkler and Phil Masinga.
The Soweto born footballer is now eagerly awaiting the start of Italian season, with Milan’s opening league fixture coming up this afternoon (sat) when they are away to Roma at Tre Fontane. She will don her favourite number 15 jersey at the Italian giants.
Ellis, who works closely with Jane as head coach of Banyana Banyana, said she was delighted for the winger.
“Words cannot describe the feeling when I heard that she (Refiloe) signed for such a top club in Italy.”
“We all know how well Italy did at the World Cup . To put it mildly I am super excited.”
Ellis says the move hasn’t come as a surprise as she always knew that Jane was destined for a big club.
“We were talking not so long ago.. and I said you deserve to go to a big club in a top league.”
“She has proved her worth and really did well at her previous club, Canberra United in Australia. The dream and goal is always to play at a better club and league. She has worked really hard to realise her dreams and I’m really happy for her.”
“You have no idea what a good footballer she is. She reads the game really well and she is technically good.”
“She is so multifunctional that she can play almost anywhere on the field and do a pretty good job. … except in goals (haha).
“I remember her playing as a fullback in one of the games at the 2012 London Olympics games and she did an outstanding job.”
Ellis believes the Rossonere are getting a gem in the 27-year-old as she is a technically gifted footballer.
“She is a joy to work with and at times does things effortlessly.. most definitely amongst the best to have played for Banyana.”
“She has a great first touch, she has awareness and superb football intelligence, and she is equally comfortable in playing short and long passes and also scores the occasional cracker.”
But while Ellis is confident that Jane will succeed at Milan, she is aware that there are plenty of challenges that come with playing at a major club in Europe.
“There are obviously lots of expectations from everyone in South Africa but she is a focused person and will take it all in her stride and I have no doubt that she will succeed.”
“There is also a language barrier but I suppose many speak English and being a non-Italian player will come with challenges that she has to do more but I think she has already won them over by starting almost immediately in a friendly against Napoli upon her arrival from South Africa. That’s how highly she is regarded by them.”
Former Banyana Banyana manager Vera Pauw, who also worked closely with Jane during her stint in South Africa, believes her move to AC milan is a great step in her career.
“AC Milan would not be at a higher level than her Australian team, because they are developing a higher level of club football now,” said Pauw.
“But Fifi gets closer to the decision makers of the big women’s football clubs in Europe. AC Milan has great plans, so Fifi will be part of a vibrant situation. And who knows where AC Milan will grow too. She can be sure that the whole club is behind the team.”
Pauw, who played at CF Modena in Italy during her time as a footballer, knows Jane has her work cut out in the Italian league.
“The Italian League can be a tough one. The best of playing in Italy I found (when I played there) is that there is always a fantastic bond within the team.”
“But Fifi will have to get used to the different culture. Fifi is very modest in her approach whereas Italians are very extrovert. But this is good for Fifi’s development.
“The key thing is to stay the person you are. Italians respect that. Further, in Italy nothing else counts but the performance. It is great fun outside the pitch but the only thing important is performing during those 2x45 min.”
Pauw, who has managed several women’s football teams, believes Jane is one of the best players she has ever coached.
“Fifi is definitely one of the better players I have coached. I’m lucky, because I have been in many situations where talents like Fifi could make the difference.
“She has a great insight in the game and is very well aware of the football solutions available in difficult situations. She is stable in her performance and is not dependent on others to perform well.”
Former Assistant Technical Director-HOD for women's football at Safa Fran Hilton-Smith, believes Jane move to Italy was well deserved.
“Refiloe is one of our best products. She is an intelligent attacking midfielder and playmaker who can change the pace of the game in a single move.”
“She is able to break through defences and score goals. She is a quick thinker and very skillful, determined with great vision.”
“I always knew she would one day be signed up by a big overseas club.I’m very happy for her because she has contributed a lot to the game in SA.”