Over the last few years, Papu Gomez has become one of the most likable characters in Serie A. From his rise to stardom and his on-pitch brilliance to how defines an equally likable Atalanta team, there are many reasons for fans to love what the Argentine is. In recent days though, another reason to applaud Gomez has been found.
With La Dea undergoing a revolution, having brought in Aleksei Miranchuk and going after Sam Lammers, it would’ve been easy for an aging star like Gomez to move on and pass the baton on to the younger players. Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr were ready to offer him a three-year deal worth €7.5m – much more money than what Papu earns at Bergamo.
For many others out there, it would have been an easy decision to make: play in a lesser-known footballing land and not have the pressures of European football before hanging up your boots while earning a small fortune. But Papu rejecting the offer perhaps says a lot about him. With Atalanta embarking on another transition under Gian Piero Gasperini, Papu still wants to be at the centre of the project, despite some fresher faces coming in.
Gomez understands Atalanta’s system more than anyone else in that team. The manner in which he overloads the wide areas is a vital part of how Gasperini’s side play and if not for his ability to carry the ball into central areas from the wide areas, La Dea’s chance creation would not be as prolific as it is. His ability to pick up positions in wide areas helps other players increase their output, and Robin Gosens had a sensational 2019-20 campaign thanks in part to Papu.
That is how important the 32-year-old is for La Dea. He sets the tone for their approach to the game and a replacement would take a while to understand the organised chaos that Gasperini likes to see his team deploy. Papu understands he is important to Atalanta. And he has the chance now to play in the Champions League again. He wants to have another go at going far in the competition and dazzling a global audience as he did last season.
For many, Papu embodies the spirit of what Atalanta really are as a football club. He, like many others there, were hardly star names in the game before coming to the fore under Gasperini. A lot of them plied their trade at lesser known places and lesser known clubs. Papu was one of the first ones who made the jump to Bergamo when he was at Metalist Kharkiv. He had prior experience of playing in Serie A with Catania and played a fair few games with them in Serie B too. It was an inglorious career that didn't have much spectacular about it.
Since he came to the club in 2014, before many of his teammates, Gomez and Atalanta have come to carry a special value for one another. It'd be overly romantic to call them indispensable but they define each other on the basis of the common rise to prominence, the humble background and the high risk approach to the game – so much so that the Argentine has become an emblem for Bergamo and La Dea.
And maybe, he realises that and that matters more than the money clubs elsewhere can offer. He has a special connection with the city and Bergamo loves him as well. In a world where footballers find it easy to head off to earn money and come back to Europe, Papu has shown that football is about more than how much you earn: it can be about the hearts you win.