Andrea Conti, Mattia Caldara, Roberto Gagliardini, Leonardo Spinazzola, Gianluca Mancini… The list could go on. A lot of players have passed through Atalanta during Gian Piero Gasperini‘s time in Bergamo only to move on and find that the grass isn’t always greener.
The former Genoa boss has worked wonders with La Dea, both with the club as a whole but, perhaps more impressively, with individuals. A number of players have moved on to earn bigger salaries at more esteemed clubs, but very few have left and managed to maintain the same level of performance on a personal level.
Gasperini transforms his players into something more than anybody before or after him can. At times it takes longer with some than others, but more often than not he gets there.
Jose Luis Palomino has proven to be Gasperini’s latest masterpiece in 2021/22. The Argentine defender has been a rare model of consistency in an otherwise chaotic defensive unit at the Gewiss Stadium, whereas in previous seasons the only consistency he offered was to put fans’ hearts in their mouths on a weekly basis.
Since joining from Ludogorets in 2017, Palomino has gone on to play 173 times for the Nerazzurri. For most of those he was the loosest of canons in a three-man defence, with Berat Djimsiti and even Rafael Toloi having to clean up around the Argentine. That the Brazil-born Italy international has had to be a cool head around him perhaps shows just how wild Palomino’s performances have, at times, been.
But 2021/22 has seen a new version of the No.6 and his improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed in Bergamo. Nobody has been more surprised by his development than those who watch La Dea each week. On Saturday, as Atalanta came from behind to record a comprehensive 5-2 win over Spezia, the Curva Nord at the Gewiss Stadium bellowed out his name, to the tune that Gasperini’s is usually sung.
He repaid that show of affection in his next outing, scoring an uncharacteristic but gorgeous strike into the top corner as Atalanta took the lead for the second time in their 3-3 draw away to Young Boys.
In Switzerland, even beyond the goal he scored, Palomino again demonstrated his growth.
Atalanta player ratings vs Young Boys: Palomino repays the fans’ faith #UCL https://t.co/dn855p8Y91 pic.twitter.com/eb9LzNvljB
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) November 23, 2021
Atalanta might have conceded three, but Palomino couldn’t be faulted for any of them, with questions instead hanging over the usually reliable Marten de Roon for the second, while the third was a shot thumped into Juan Musso’s top corner from the edge of the box.
There’s a body of evidence that shows Gasperini improves the players he works with when given time, and goalscoring defenders have been something of a specialty of his with Atalanta. Caldara, Conti, and Mancini have already been that before moving on.
Now, when Atalanta need him more than ever due to their persistent injury problems, Palomino looks as though he could well be Gasperini’s latest masterstroke.