Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024

Ornella Desirée Bellia: Head of Professional Football, FIFA

Ornella Desirée Bellia is a notable figure in the football industry, currently serving as the Head of Professional Football at FIFA. With an impressive academic background, extensive experience in Sports Law, and fluency in multiple languages, Ornella has carved out a successful career path driven by her hard work, passion, and skill set.

In a recent Jobs in Football interview, Ornella provided valuable insights into her experiences in the football industry, from navigating through a male-dominated environment to balancing her full-time position while also lecturing aspiring students. This interview offers a fantastic glimpse into the life of a professional working at the highest level of football.

How the Journey Began

Ornella’s journey in the football industry began more than a decade ago at Calcio Catania, her hometown football club. At the time, the Head Coach was none other than Diego Simeone, current Head Coach of Atletico Madrid. While initially hired as a lawyer, Ornella found herself involved in various aspects of the club’s operations, including marketing, communications, negotiations, and more. In those days, the football industry had fewer employees, and smaller clubs like Calcio Catania required individuals to wear multiple hats. Ornella’s official title was Head of Legal Affairs, but she was essentially managing a myriad of responsibilities.


A Change in Career Focus

Although Ornella’s initial foray into the football industry was through a legal role, her true passion lay elsewhere. Studying law was a strategic choice to avoid dealing with numbers, but over time, Ornella’s interests shifted. After pursuing an MBA at the Real Madrid University, her love for numbers and finance blossomed. Ornella’s area of expertise and interest evolved beyond legal matters, leading her to explore new horizons in the football industry.

A Role in Education

Since 2016, Ornella has been a lecturer and professor at LaLiga Business School. This role allows her to share knowledge and experiences while learning from her students. Ornella’s approach goes beyond teaching sports law and financial aspects in football; she provides practical advice on pursuing a career in the industry and building a good reputation. Ornella encourages her students to dream big, work hard, and persevere in the face of challenges. Her generosity in sharing her failures and personal experiences adds depth to her lectures, resonating with students who may be uncertain about their own futures.


The Path to FIFA

Before assuming her current role as the Head of Professional Football for FIFA, Ornella served as a judge on the FIFA Players’ Status Sub-Committee. In this capacity, she reviewed applications and oversaw international transfers of minor players. However, upon joining FIFA as an employee, Ornella had to relinquish her position as a judge due to the requirement for independence. Despite the challenge, the experience provided Ornella with invaluable insight into the complex world of player transfers.

Career Highlights

With a plethora of experiences under her belt, Ornella cherishes every job she has held throughout her career. However, her current role at FIFA as the Head of Professional Football stands out as a highlight. It allows her to make a positive impact in an industry often resistant to change and progress.

The Joys and Challenges of the Role

When asked about the most enjoyable aspect of her current role, Ornella reveals her passion for managing relationships between stakeholders and developing projects that contribute to the professionalization of football worldwide. Bringing impactful projects to life within a large organization can be challenging, but the rewards are immense. Ornella’s dedication to FIFA’s vision of creating a sustainable football ecosystem, where clubs from all around the world can compete at the highest level, fuels her passion for project development.


On the other hand, Ornella acknowledges the difficulties she faces as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Negotiating with stakeholders who often have divergent interests requires skill and perseverance. Ornella recounts instances where her opinions were belittled or dismissed due to her gender. However, she believes in leveraging these challenges as opportunities for personal growth and aims to inspire other women in the industry to pursue their dreams.

Promoting Women in Football

Ornella emphasizes the importance of promoting and championing women in football. She acknowledges the scarcity of women in the industry and the challenges they face in stepping forward. Ornella believes that women bring creativity and fresh perspectives to the field, which is why it’s crucial to create more opportunities for them. However, the imbalance is evident in the example of the Diploma in Club Management, where a significant effort was required to attract female applicants. Ornella encourages women not to underestimate their capabilities and seize opportunities in the football industry.

Overcoming Personal Challenges

Ornella has faced personal challenges throughout her career. The attitude of certain individuals and the “old mentality” prevalent in Italian football forced her to walk away from her job at Calcio Catania. However, she soon realized she had allowed others to negatively impact her career and took charge of her own future. Ornella’s resilience shone through, even in the face of a cancer diagnosis. She managed to find solace in her professional life, pushing herself harder during treatment. Today, Ornella has learned to prioritize her well-being and strike a better work-life balance.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Like every industry, football has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Ornella found herself faced with unexpected challenges as negotiations took place to find solutions for the various problems brought about by the suspension of football competitions. Despite the difficulties, the unexpected downtime provided Ornella the opportunity to conceive and develop projects that aim to enhance the football landscape.

The Pursuit of Knowledge

Ornella’s thirst for knowledge remains unquenched. She thoroughly enjoys studying and continues to educate herself for professional growth. As someone who now appreciates numbers and finance, Ornella plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Finance to further develop her expertise in the financial and economic aspects of football.


Advice for Aspiring Football Professionals

Ornella offers valuable advice to those seeking careers in the football industry. She emphasizes the importance of pursuing a Master’s degree, as it not only provides knowledge but also facilitates networking opportunities. Learning multiple languages is another crucial aspect, given football’s global nature. Ornella’s personal experience with Spanish and Portuguese has proven advantageous in building connections and establishing meaningful conversations within the industry. Above all, Ornella advises aspiring professionals to believe in themselves, work hard, persevere, and be generous with their time and knowledge.

Ornella’s journey in football exemplifies the significance of passion, determination, and empathy. Her achievements as a woman in a leadership role inspire not only aspiring professionals but also the wider football community. As someone who continues to make positive strides in the industry, Ornella Desirée Bellia represents the future of football, where competence and merit transcend gender.

Interviewer: Sascha Gustard-Brown

Sascha Gustard-Brown possesses extensive experience in Supporter Engagement, having held prominent positions at Luton Town Football Club and West Ham United. Currently engaged in small supporter engagement projects and freelance writing in football, Sascha brings a unique perspective to the field.