Finding inspiring stories in modern football can be tough. With the money in the sport, the challenge for the underdog is greater than ever before.
We can cling on to certain achievements to make us believe that anything’s possible, such as Leicester winning the Premier League in England. But the reality is those moments are becoming increasingly rare.
That’s certainly the case in Italian football, where Juventus have won nine league titles in a row. Their grip on the top spot is no longer as tight as it was, with Inter Milan currently favourites in the latest soccer betting to win the Scudetto. So it wouldn’t be a miracle if the team backed by Chinese billions came out on top.
Despite all of that, there is still a remarkable story in Italy, but it’s one that has been normalised in recent years due to their incredible consistency. Of course, we are talking about the rise of Atalanta.
Traditionally a club that made little impact in Italian football, the Bergamo outfit were playing in Serie B as recently as 2011. Five bottom half finishes followed before the hierarchy turned to Gian Piero Gasperini in 2016, and it’s a decision that has paid off spectacularly.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 2, 2016
Even though he has worked with a bottom half budget in the past four years, Gasperini has delivered incredible results. They came 4th in his first season in charge, which brought the honour of European football to the city for the first time in almost 20 years. That was surprising, but more was to come. A 7th place finish would follow, whilst La Dea have recorded consecutive 3rd place finishes in the past two seasons.
In truth, it’s a minor miracle, when you consider they don’t have the resources to compare with Juve, Inter, AC Milan, Napoli, Roma, Lazio, and a few more. Yet, the most pleasing aspect of Atalanta’s rise is that it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
They have established themselves as an elite club by playing progressive football, with Gasperini’s adventurous 3-4-3 formation attracting plaudits from across Europe. It has made them the team to watch on the continent, especially after scoring a remarkable 98 league goals last season.
Whilst Gasperini is the main man behind the rise, the club’s recruitment has been spot on as well. They have invested in young, talented players, and the coach’s reputation for developing individuals, as well as stylish football, means they are a hugely attractive option.
The squad at Stadio di Bergamo is not an ageing one. Key players, such as Berat Djimsiti, Robin Gosens, Marten de Roon, Remo Freuler, and Duvan Zapata are all in their peak years. Meanwhile, the new recruits have generally been aged between 20-25, meaning they will progress into influential figures in the next few years. With more revenue than ever before due to Champions League participation, that will allow the club to steadily build and close the financial gap.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 25, 2021
A sad moment for all who have followed Atalanta’s journey was the departure of Papu Gomez. The creative Argentinian was the talisman for this team, but a row with Gasperini meant a sale was needed for the good of the club. But even that hasn’t impacted results, as they continue to play free-flowing, exciting football and getting victories.
The ultimate aim for Gasperini and the team will be to ensure they deliver trophies to add to the single Coppa Italia that the club have in their entire history. However, even if the silverware doesn’t arrive, although it does feel inevitable at some point, the bigger achievement is the fact that Atalanta are now a major force in Italian football. Given their lack of financial might in comparison to the competition, it’s a miracle, but it’s one that we have got used to by now, and one that won’t be ending any time soon.