In a 110-year history, Atalanta have never managed to get their hands on the Scudetto. They came closest in 1948.
Victory over Crotone on Saturday evening would lift Atalanta up to fourth position in Serie A, one place higher than they have ever finished a season. While that might not last, the fifth spot that the Orobici managed in 1947-48 can never be struck from the record books.
Italian football, throughout its history, carries a number of similiarities, its stories told by the same tellers and often its trophies lifted by the same teams. So it was in the 1940s. Those were the days of Il Grande Torino, with the Granata of Valentino Mazzola dominating the way their city rivals do today.
With little chance of glory, there was little indication that Atalanta were heading for something special either; they had shaken off their pre-war yoyo tendencies, and finishes around 9th spot were becoming routine.
Ivo Fiorentini arrived as coach of the side in November 1947, beginning a cycle that began to prove critical. His team began to take shape over the next year, and the Orobici began to become more formidable at their Stadio Comunale home. Only Torino and Inter claimed both points from Bergamo after Fiorentini’s arrival, and Torino took points off everyone.
The summer of 1948 saw an overhaul, particularly of La Dea’s attack. Juventus claimed the services of Mihaly Kincses and Francesco Cergoli, who had combined for 18 of Atalanta’s 40 goals that season, and sent them back Mario Astorri and Julius Korostolev in their place.
Those two had combined for 32 goals for the Bianconeri, but Korostolev refused to play out wide, and with Giampiero Boniperti growing in importance for the Bianconeri, there was no space for Astorri either.
The stage was set.
In the first game of the season, at home to Bari, the two new forwards both opened their account, but it was a bubble that was to burst quickly. Tough games against Bologna and Juventus both brought defeat and after just four games, the Bianconeri had raced five points ahead of Atalanta.
It was to get worse before it got better. Unable to gain any sort of momentum as while Fiorentini’s side’s home form remained impressive, they could not get going away from Bergamo. Weather forced the abandonment of the first of four home games, beginning with bottom side Lucchese on December 7, a game that was made up the following week while Italy – with 8 Torino players – were beating Czechoslovakia 3-0 in Bari.
As the rest of Serie A was involved in glamourous friendlies against the likes of Vienna and Stockholm, Atalanta began to find their feet. Lucchese were 2-1 down when the first meeting was called off, but they were blown away in the rematch.
A 5-0 drubbing set Fiorentini’s side on their way, before Champions Elect Torino came to visit the following week. Ably demonstrating their ability on both sides of the ball, a staunch and nervous defensive display saw another victory, this time by a single 1-0 margin. In the new year, Napoli and the Vicenza both left the Comunale empty handed.
Within the space of just four games, Atalanta had leapt from 18th to 7th. Even from such a lofty position, the leaders looked a long way away. Further victories against Bologna and Fiorentina ensured that La Dea did not fall away, and a first point taken off Juventus since 1942, but the best were just too good in the end.
They could not improve their away form, an issue that almost certainly prevented a more consistent challenge, though this was not a time for teams to win away from home. Just three teams racked up more than four away wins all season, and they ended up as the top three.
By contrast, three teams remained unbeaten at home; Torino, who won 19 and drew just 1 of their home fixtures, Triestina, who won 15 and drew five, and Atalanta who won 14 and drew six.
In truth, the Orobici’s performance was footnote in Serie A’s story of the year, notable more for what it brought about – a trading relationship with Juventus that brought Stefano Angeleri to Bergamo in 1949 and defeats of Torino, Milan, Bologna and Inter – than La Dea themselves.
Perhaps the achievements of Sergio Manente, Giacomo Mari and their colleagues paled in comparison to Torino but, for Atalanta, they remain a high watermark. In that, this season is so important; the echoes of history shout loud in Bergamo. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side may not be able to silence them, but they may yet holler back.
Despite this stellar season, there remains a poignant truth about Atalanta. While they are known as the ‘Queen of the Provinces’, the club is named for a virgin goddess and even if this season ends up rewarding them with a fourth placed finish, they will still not have broken that particular spell.