Thursday November 24 2016
Amazing Atalanta

Atalanta’s success is a lesson to other Serie A clubs that they should think twice before changing Coach, writes Richard Thomas.

On the evening of September 21, Atalanta’s players trudged off the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia pitch with jeers ringing in their ears. A late goal by Ilija Nestorovski meant Gian Piero Gasperini’s team had suffered a 1-0 home defeat to fellow strugglers Palermo, a fourth loss in their opening five Serie A matches.

The vultures appeared to be circling in Bergamo, with rumours that the 58-year-old Coach was set to be sacked by club President Antonio Percassi. A trip to newly-promoted Crotone the following Monday was billed as Gasperini’s last chance to save his job.

That this was the situation merely two months ago just goes to show how quickly circumstances can change in football, particularly for tacticians. Since winning that all-important game against Crotone, Atalanta have gone on the sort of run that many believed only Juventus were capable of in Italian football.

Seven wins and a draw in their last eight League matches, including victories over Napoli, Inter and Roma, represent an astonishing reversal of fortunes for La Dea. It is a sequence of results that has transformed the Lombardy side from possible relegation candidates into European hopefuls – and the ‘dumbstruck’ Gasperini from a dead man walking into a potential Panchina D’Oro contender.

Of course, the season is still young and with difficult away games against Juve and Milan on the horizon, most will be expecting Atalanta’s form to tail off in the not too distant future. However, securing five consecutive victories is not a fluke and it is hard not to be impressed by the way Gasperini is extracting the most from the resources available to him.

In an age where big money rules and young players with potential are overlooked in favour of a pursuit of instant success, it is refreshing to see the experienced tactician rewarded for putting his faith in so many of Atalanta’s academy graduates.

Midfielder Roberto Gagliardini was playing on loan in Serie B last season, but such is the impression he has made since becoming a first team regular under Gasperini that he recently received a call-up to Giampiero Ventura’s Italy squad.

22-year-old centre-back Mattia Caldara, another who spent 2015-16 in the second tier, has shone at the heart of Atalanta’s three-man defence and even contributed three goals to aid his team’s cause. Andrea Conti has excelled at right wing-back, while Marco D’Alessandro, Andrea Petagna and Leonardo Spinazzola are other Italians under the age of 26 to have featured regularly and performed well.

Complementing these home-grown starlets, Gasperini’s decision to promote Ivorian teenager Franck Kessié into the first team now appears a masterstroke. The 19-year-old has been one of the undoubted success stories of the campaign so far, with his goals and all-action midfield performances reportedly attracting the interest of leading clubs around Europe.

Deploying a settled but attacking 3-4-1-2 formation, the ex-Genoa and Inter boss encourages his players to be bold and has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to risk defeat in order to try to force victory. A case in point was his decision to bring on creative midfielder D’Alessandro for defender Andrea Masiello early in the second half with Atalanta 1-0 down to Roma last Sunday. Such a move may have backfired against a team of the Giallorossi’s quality and resulted in a heavy loss, but instead it proved the catalyst for the game to be turned on its head.

The comeback provided a fitting testament to the positive, no-fear mentality that Gasperini has instilled in Bergamo. The scary thing for Atalanta fans is how close they came to potentially never seeing their Coach’s work bear fruit. Who is to say that had they failed to beat Crotone, a new man wouldn’t have come in and opted for caution over continuing to allow the likes of Kessié, Gagliardini and Conti the time to develop? Instead of San Siro, would Caldara have been playing at Spezia come January?

It goes to show that Coaches need time if they are to fully implement their vision. Just look at Sassuolo, who did fire Eusebio Di Francesco during his maiden Serie A season only to quickly realise the error of their ways and build a Europa League side around his vision.

Immediate success is desirable of course, but Gasperini’s turnaround at Atalanta shows that sometimes it is worth suffering in the short-term in order to be rewarded later on. President Percassi had the patience to allow this to happen…just.

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Have your say...
I've always enjoyed Atalanta play, more so their youth team. But it's a pity they are serving only as a gateway for their talents to move to bigger clubs. It's high time they shunned their small club mentality and aimed higher, spending to keep talents and getting into Europe. Otherwise it's only mid-table mediocrity. And no talent wants that...
on the 27th November, 2016 at 4:26pm
Teams like Atlanta, Etc... must keep their project going, promoting young talented Italian players and develop their skills in order for Juventus and only Juventus buy the best of Italian players from middle table Atlanta in which such players will experience action in UCL and have a great chance to be called for mighty Azzurri. It is the ultimate game master plan. The technical support from brilliant coaches such as Max Allegri will enhance the young players performance.
on the 25th November, 2016 at 11:08am
Atalanta, Milan and Torino using young Italians and all doing well. Coincidence? I don't think so. Sassuolo is another one. Hopefully when Berardi returns they regain their early season form.

It's a shame that teams such as Inter, Roma and even Juventus now, are refusing to give their countrymen a chance.
on the 25th November, 2016 at 2:09am
i would question why the management are willing to sell the likes baselli and bonnaventura for relatively small sums of money. what is the point of having such a great academy of the club doesn't financially benefit from it nor impress on the field.

BTW what is happening to paloschi he seemed tailor made for alatanta yet petenga is making more of the opportunity
on the 24th November, 2016 at 7:10pm
Trusting the Atalanta academy should be a pre-requisite for any coach joining them.

Having given Italian football the likes of Montolivo, Pazzini, Baselli, Zappacosta, Gabbiadini, Sportiello and Bonaventura in the recent past why should the likes of Caldara, Grassi, Conti and Kessie not deliver.

Long may it continue....
on the 24th November, 2016 at 5:44pm

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