Atalanta BC: Gasperini's humble pack of Wolves tearing Europe apartপোস্টটি ৫৪০ বার পঠিত হয়েছে
Back in 2016, on a fine afternoon in Bergamo, Atalanta President Antonio Percassi sat on his front porch in Bergamo. Taking in the lazy and relaxing air of the city he's born and bred, he looked into the distance; knowing it was anything but at ease in his head. His club, Atalanta FC, had just finished 13th. After narrowly escaping relegation the season before, this result, even though it seems an improvement statistically, was anything but such.
Percassi was under a lot of pressure. His last two appointments for the Atalanta hot seat, namely Stefano Colantuono and Edoardo Reja, hadn't exactly borne fruit. 'One last bargain, that's it', Percassi thought to himself. Suffering on the wrong half of the table, that's about as big a gamble he could've played. If only he knew, he'd just played the greatest hand, in gambling language, of his life. One that'd impress even the greatest Blackjack players in the world. One that'd have left him with a hefty sum in his pocket had he been partying in Sin City.
The gamble, in context, Gian Piero Gasperini, wasn't someone you'd necessarily associate as one. A clever appointment, yes, but a gamble? Oh, I don't know. The grey-haired Gasperini joined 'La Dea' and perhaps was assigned his biggest challenge yet. Although, in retrospect, performing well with a team who's greatest achievement in Serie A was being 7th, whose only noteworthy title came in 1962-63, when the club won the Coppa Italia, may not seem that big or tough a task. But Gasperini himself wasn't any noteworthy name, not at least in terms of achievement. Could a regularly below-par team make do with a manager whose CV lacks the golden seal of trophies?
The answer has already been unfolded. Even though the trophies column remains constant for both Gasperini and Atalanta, their names are on everyone's minds and mouths. In fact, you could argue, right now, the hottest prospect from Italy is not Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus, neither it is Antonio Conte or Romelu Lukaku's Inter Milan, but it is Papu Gomez's, Josip Ilicic's Atalanta. It is Atalanta, the club of each and every one of the 120,000 people, who belong to the humble city of Bergamo. The humility of the small city flows through the club's veins, through Gomez's armband and leadership, through Ilicic-Zapata's goals, through De Roon-Freuler's crunching tackles.
Gasperini knew his side can't fight the big boys in terms of finances. He knows one good season from his boys will result in the Real Madrids, the Bayern Munichs coming knocking for them. Hence, he instilled this philosophy of having fun as long as they're here. There's a poster on the wall of the Atalanta dressing room, where you can see a pack of Wolves. In the first row, you can see some, the second row is the one with the most wolves. But at the very end, you can see just one Wolf. It wouldn't take much time for the metaphorists, the hopeless football romantics to label Gasperini as the Wolf at the back, the one that orchestrates everything at Atalanta.
Gasperini says he's put up this poster to make sure his boys play like fearless Wolves. And boy, do they and some! In his very first season, Gasperini shattered the club's record of best finish in Serie A by being 4th; a feat that would've resulted in Atalanta's first Champions League campaign two years earlier than the actual one had UEFA granted four direct entries to the tournament from Italy back then. Even though La Dea took everyone by surprise, there were still some doubters, thinking this was just a one-off, a fluke if you may.
And to some extent, they did feel to be right, when Atalanta finished 7th the following season. But as Jennifer Donnelly once said, 'The wolves in the woods have sharp teeth and long claws, but it's the wolf inside who will tear you apart'. And it seemed Gasperini's men's inner wolf instincts had risen. The next followed what Serie A followers, and certainly, the people of Bergamo would describe as the stuff of fairytale. Atalanta, bolstered by the attacking trident of Zapata-Ilicic-Gomez, finished 3rd as they confirmed their first-ever entrance into the Holy Grail of European football.
A confirmation that sent the small, humble town of Bergamo into ecstasy. People came out of their homes to celebrate this monumental achievement from a club that ranks 14th out of the 20 clubs in Serie A in terms of financial prowess. Atalanta became the pride of the whole city. Even the elderly, who'd scold the young ones for playing outside, rejoiced. Gasperini had achieved what even Percassi himself may not have imagined before appointing him. Going from strength to strength is something you must have in football if you're a David trying to punch above your weight and rubbing shoulders against the Goliaths.
In two years, Gasperini made sure a 5'6" Papu Gomez was in the same bracket as a 6'2" Ronaldo and a 6'3" Lukaku. In this season, Atalanta did something even the most pessimist of fans would find it hard to criticize. They once again finished 3rd, ensuring a second season in the Champions League on the bounce. They scored 98 goals, ranking 3rd in terms of league goals, that too, just behind Manchester City (102) and Bayern Munich (100). They've scored 5+ goals on as many as 6 occasions, including 3 matches where they scored 7. But their biggest achievement this season lied in the tournament they made their debut in.
Lying rock bottom in their group with 0 points after 3 matches and 11 goals conceded, Atalanta needed a miracle. And they did step up. They drew against Manchester City, a feat even Real Madrid failed to replicate. They then beat Shakhtar and Dinamo to reach the last 16. And Gasperini's pack of Wolves let out their ultimate strength against Valencia where they scored 8 goals over 2 legs. And now, they face the biggest challenge. A chance to fight against a team that has a player whose salary is equal to their whole squad's. A team that's had money to splurge the cash whenever they want, something Gasperini's club can only imagine.
Fairytale of the minnows is something every football fan wants to see. Leicester City, Monaco, Ajax did that. But this Atalanta side is something else. Last time I saw a side attack and press this fiercely was Klopp's Dortmund. They played the final in Wembley back in 2013. Atalanta's wildest fantasies lie in Gasperini lifting the coveted cup on 23rd August. But right now, the job in hand is, by no margin, a small one. A team consisting of Neymar, Mbappe. But Atalanta is United, Atalanta is the pack of Wolves. Atalanta is Bergamo. As a neutral, here's to hoping Atalanta takes down the French Royalty. And who knows? May even go all the way, as the wolves howl their way through the night.
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