When Mattia Caldara said farewell to his native Bergamo in 2018 to join Juventus there wouldn’t have been many people expecting that in January 2020 he’d be enjoying a homecoming while also having had a spell at AC Milan.
But that’s exactly the reality for the Bergamasco. He’s rejoined his local club, who are now in an even better position than they were when he left them, and despite injuries condemning him to a quiet 18 months, he’s making a step up by leaving Milan to return home.
Caldara was one of the standouts in Gian Piero Gasperini’s first season at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia and it didn’t take long for Juventus to snap him up.
When the winter window opened just a few months into the 2016/17 season the Bianconeri made their move and tied Caldara down to a future in Turin, though they allowed him to stay put for the rest of the season and the entirety of 2017/18 in order to aid his development.
Nothing changed. Caldara continued to shine in defence and attack, showing maturity and a level-headedness in his duties at the back and great technical prowess with a real eye for goal at the other end.
What he brought to the team was unique and best seen in their 2-0 win away to Napoli in February 2017. The defender swept up at the back and opened the scoring with a header in the first half before Franck Kessie was sent off in the second, leaving Atalanta a man short at the Stadio San Paolo.
In the 70th minute he intercepted on a Napoli attack, dinked the ball over the head of a Partenopei player and set off. He offloaded to Leonardo Spinazzola and kept going forward.
Arriving in the box, Spinazzola returned the ball to Caldara in the air and the defender executed a fine volley past Pepe Reina.
In 54 Serie A appearances for La Dea he scored ten times, guided them into the Europa League, into the knockout rounds through a difficult group stage, ensured they qualified for Europe again and then said his goodbyes.
His final game for the club came in May 2018 at Cagliari, but the week before against Milan was his last in Bergamo and the game wherein European football was all but confirmed again.
Emotions ran high and Caldara spent considerable time beneath the Curva Pisani after the match. The fans sang their appreciation as he greeted them individually through tear-filled eyes.
The Juventus move didn’t exactly go to plan though and the youngster managed just one friendly appearance for the Italian champions before a move to bring Leonardo Bonucci back from Milan was negotiated and Caldara was sent in the other direction along with Gonzalo Higuain.
Having spent most of his early career operating in a back three, Caldara needed some time to acclimatise to the new setup at the Stadio San Siro but injuries meant that luxury was never afforded to him.
He made his debut in the Europa League in September before rupturing his achilles tendon in October which saw him out for a while. After that he returned and started the Coppa Italia semi-final against Lazio only to rupture his anterior cruciate ligament a few days later.
Stefano Pioli’s first training session in charge was Caldara’s first back and while he’s been free of injuries since, he didn’t manage to force his way into the XI.
The last 18 months have been disappointing for the centre-back, but if his level is even almost as high now as it was when he left Atalanta then he’ll bring a lot to their current squad.
Only Alessio Romagnoli could argue the case of being as good as or better than him at Milanello and at Atalanta he could fast become the most reliable of their three-man defence.
Andrea Masiello’s importance is fading as he ages, Rafael Toloi and Jose Luis Palomino have their off moments and Berat Djimsiti has probably the most consistent performer since Caldara departed.
When Caldara left Atalanta he expected his career to progress, while it appeared that La Dea had hit a peak that they couldn’t better.
But his subsequent move to crisis club Milan set him back and Gasperini has since led the Nerazzurri to third in Serie A and the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Caldara hasn’t played a Serie A minute since leaving Bergamo. He’s had one Europa League appearance and one in the Coppa Italia.
Now, his career has been handed its forward step, but it took him taking a step back in time to get it.