Papu Gomez’s marriage with Atalanta ended in a rather acrimonious way. His relationship with Gian Piero Gasperini fell apart after the Argentinean reportedly refused orders in their Champions League home game against FC Midtjylland back in November.
The 32-year-old played the last one of his 252 games with La Da on December 16 against Juventus.
Only a few months ago, nobody could predict such a scenario, let alone Gomez’s Atalanta exit.
He and his teammates united the city and Italy when the country was brought to its knees by COVID19. Bergamo was one of the worst hit cities and arguably the Argentinean’s creative abilities glued La Dea into a unit after the lockdown.
It was a season where Juventus had been knocked out of the Champions League at hands of Lyon. Napoli had suffered the same fate against Barcelona, while Inter couldn’t get past the group stages. Italian sides other than Juve haven’t been exceptional in the Champions League since Milan’s downfall and Atalanta emerged as a beacon of hope in difficult times.
With that backdrop, La Dea came out as a team that captured the imagination of many across the footballing world, as everyone looked at the journey that they have charted over the years. They looked at the stories of their individual players, some of whom were picked from anonymity.
They looked at La Dea’s rise from Serie B to the Champions League and applauded their high-risk, high reward playing style under a coach who had faced tough times at a more heralded club in Inter. All in all, it was the perfect dream for an underdog.
Amidst all this, Gomez defined Gian Piero Gasperini’s men in many ways. His trademark drop of a shoulder, his ability to drift past players and create chances and his tendency to make football look very enjoyable all caught the eye of just about everyone.
He wasn’t just the gum that stuck Atalanta together, he had become an emblem of the city despite being Argentine by nationality. That is an achievement in itself.
Over the years, Atalanta’s approach and progress to the higher echelons of the European game had made the club look like a global force and with that, came more recognition.
Considering Gomez’s own rise from Catania and Metalist, everything about him and his club struck a chord with the masses.
There was a human and a tactical connection with the club and Gomez became a vital part of it because of his importance to the team and his flamboyant approach to the game.
It brought more global appeal to the Serie A and Italian football and interest in Calcio over the last seven years has never been as high as it has been around this time. There are certainly other reasons for that, but Atalanta’s multifold connection with the general footballing crowd sets them apart from others.
They have pioneered the approach towards breaking this stereotype that Calcio is still synonymous with Catenaccio and Gomez has been central to that with all that he showed with his former club.
He offered the marketability in his playing style which might even stand out at Sevilla in era where the idea of ‘modern-day football’ is seen as a product that sells.
The Argentinean was arguably one of the best players in the league in Serie A last season, even though Paulo Dybala took home the MVP of the season accolade. As much as Josip Ilicic enjoyed an enthralling campaign, it was Gomez’s ability to switch flanks, link the play together and play others in that helped the Slovenian and Duvan Zapata.
However, a case can be made of the fact that La Dea’s ultra-attacking system made Gomez look like a better player than he can be at another club. He was perfect for Atalanta, but their playing style was also ideal to enhance his characteristics.
Gasperini’s side seem to have already found the antidote to Gomez’s exit in a revived Josip Ilicic, in the promising Ruslan Malinovs'kyj and in the newcomer Aleksej Mirančuk, who scored a winner against Lazio earlier this week, allowing La Dea to qualify for the Coppa Italia semi-finals. The Nerazzurri even have a better record without the Argentinean star on the pitch.
That being said, Serie A fans enjoyed themselves watching Papu Gomez play and it is no coincidence Milan, Inter, Roma and even Juventus supporters had been loud on social media, asking their clubs to sign the unhappy Argentinean in January.
Instead, it will be Sevilla and La Liga fans who are going to be entertained by the enlightening moves of the 32-year-old who marked an era in Italian football and will be missed by Serie A fans while Atalanta seem to have already moved on.