That night at Anfield has elevated significance now. Papu Gomez, Atalanta captain, inspired La Dea to one of the most memorable nights in the club’s 113-year history, dominating English champions Liverpool to claim a 2-0 win that set them up nicely to progress from a difficult Champions League group.
It was the kind of performance that, in more normal times, might have seen him receive applause even from home supporters had they been in attendance. Now we know that it was the last dance for Papu and Atalanta, but the very idea of that being the case at the time would have been impossible to foresee.
The Argentine spoke this season about his desire to see out his career with Atalanta, even saying that he wanted to remain at the club in his post-playing days. When he made his 250th appearance for La Dea against Midtjylland, that path seemed to be the one his career would follow.
“I’ve made my 250th appearance with this shirt, always giving my life for my teammates and the city that I represent,” he said of the occasion.
That night, though, marked the turning point for his time in Bergamo. An argument with Gian Piero Gasperini went too far, and the writing was on the wall for the No.10. He was taken off at half time and things went south fast.
Gomez played again in the decisive game away to Ajax, wherein Atalanta sealed progression to the Champions League’s knockout rounds for the second consecutive year, and he came off the bench away to Juventus moments before Remo Freuler picked up a loose ball in space that was created due to Gomez’s presence to equalise, but that would prove to be his final appearance for the club.
“I never thought that I would leave Bergamo,” Gomez said in an emotional Instagram post on the day his move to Sevilla was confirmed. “I’ve spent weeks trying to find the right words, but I couldn’t say something that I have never wanted to say.”
After thanking his teammates, the club’s fans, the city of Bergamo, Gasperini, and the Percassi family, Gomez concluded by saying his time at Atalanta was “an experience that I’d repeat 1,000 times over,” and that he’d see Bergamo again soon.
However sour the ending was, memories like that of Anfield will be how Gomez’s time at Atalanta will be remembered. He arrived in Bergamo with Atalanta fighting relegation, played his part in steering them away from falling into Serie B, and he left them in the last 16 of the Champions League, having helped them to the quarter-finals in their first-ever season in the competition.
His goal against Everton as the Nerazzurri made their Europa League bow stands out, as does his goal away to Lyon to earn a point in France. He scored directly from a corner against Carpi, nutmegged former teammate Andrea Conti before scoring in a 5-0 humiliation of AC Milan in 2019, and completed the scoring in a 4-1 hammering of Inter in 2018 with a trademark curling shot from the outside the box.
He scored a goal that helped Atalanta survive a relegation battle against Palermo, and another in the game that secured their first-ever Champions League qualification at Sassuolo. There was that goal at the Stadio San Siro against Dinamo Zagreb too, a number against Lazio, others against Roma, Napoli, and one against Fiorentina that booked Atalanta’s place in the 2019 Coppa Italia final.
There were other games too, notably away at Parma, at Lazio, and at Sassuolo, where he stood head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch. In all, there were 59 goals and 71 assists in 252 appearances. The numbers are impressive, but emotions often carry more weight in football, and Papu’s impact on and bond with Bergamo was deeper than even those impressive statistics show.
He was given honorary citizenship in Bergamo for “giving value to Bergamo across Europe with Atalanta, distinguishing himself with sportsmanship and professionalism, and for refusing other offers to stay with Atalanta”.
Gomez had countless opportunities to leave Atalanta. Bigger clubs, in Serie A and abroad, came knocking even before the Bergamaschi had reached the Champions League, and lucrative deals from Saudi Arabia also presented themselves.
He spoke of the additional value that came with taking Atalanta to Europe’s top table, rather than playing in the Champions League with one of the already-established giants.
Just as he never thought he’d leave Atalanta, many of the club’s supporters never expected to see the day that he would wear a shirt other than theirs. Papu Gomez and Atalanta’s story has ended for now, but his legacy of being one of the club’s all-time greats will live long in the memory.