08/13/2020 - 11:22
The man who unleashed the last celebration has already hung up his boots and is the sports director of Racing. Diego Milito scored two goals that magical night at the Santiago Bernabéu when José Mourinho's Inter shouted Champions of the Champions against Bayern Munich. Since that final, in May 2010, no Italian team has managed to lift the Orejona . And neither can it be Atalanta, who on the hour let go of an incredible victory in the quarterfinals against PSG. Italy will have to keep waiting to have a great joy again.
Juve could not against Barcelona in 2015 or against Real Madrid two years later. The Vecchia Signora , who holds nine local leagues to the thread, the most important club trophy in the world you find elusive since 1996 when then beat River in Japan. Milan's last time was in 2007 when they later fell to Boca de Bianchi at the Intercontinental.
The giants were already on the road. And the one who raised the Italian flag was the humble Atalanta, in his first time in the Champions League, in a dream built on solid foundations but that have nothing to do with the old foundations of Italian football. "The whole country will encourage us, we will be a kind of selection", had said in the previous Gian Piero Gasperini, the architect of this dream.
The coach and architect of Atalanta, Gian Piero Gasperini. Photo: EFE
If it is about the nation, it is not a good time for the Azzurra team , which was left out in the first round of two of the last three World Cups. In the last one, she did not even manage to get among the 32 classified.
At this point, there was a curious fact about this Atalanta that had become a national representative: no Italian player scored a goal in the season. Neither in Calcio, where he finished third behind Juventus and Inter, nor in the Champions League, where he was very close to getting into the semifinals.
The Atalanta phenomenon
The Croatian Mario Pašalić nailed the only goal with his left foot against the powerful PSG, the Colombian Duvan Zapata pivoted and took the foul play outnumbered, his compatriot Luis Muriel is the spare wheel that jumps from the bench and wins games, the Argentine Papu Gómez is the captain and driver, the Dutch Robin Gosens comes and goes on the left wing and his compatriot Marten de Roon bites in the middle.
In the background, the Swiss Berat Djimsiti and the Brazilian Rafael Tolói take care of the rear; Argentine José Palomino joins, who knew how to start and against PSG entered the complement. The Swiss Remo Freuler is the central midfielder who is responsible for loosening up and helping the Papu build . Of the 11 who took to the pitch in Lisbon, only goalkeeper Marco Sportiello and libero Mattia Caldara were born in Italy.
But beyond the document, Atalanta knew how to build an identity that goes beyond any result.
"If I had to summarize my philosophy in one sentence," Gasperini said in an interview with The Guardian, "it would be that I don't believe and will never believe in the concept of expecting your opponent to make a mistake. The formation does not matter, but with how many players you attack or defend ”.
Palomino sees the yellow after a foul against Neymar. (Photo: Reuters)
Now he says it from his place of redemption at age 62. But when he started his coaching career in the Juventus youth teams, Gasperini was treated as a defensive player and linked to Catenaccio because of his preference to play with three defenders.
In this dream season that just ended, Atalanta's game was summed up in their attack numbers: they scored 98 goals in the 38 games they played in the Italian league. And for more than a month it has not had its main striker, the Slovenian Josip Iličić, the team's scorer in the Champions League with five goals, who traveled to his native country for personal problems.
Papu Gómez, with seven goals and 16 assists, and the Colombians Muriel and Zapata, authors of 18 and 12 goals, respectively, had a lot to do to reach these figures .
"We will never lose, or win or learn. We are here to try to learn, but also to try to win. We are proof that even a team without particular European prestige can do well, reach goals, committing themselves to ideas, the game, the motivations, the passion, the enthusiasm, "said Gasperini in the preview.
And he continued: "These are unlimited resources and they can take you to these levels. People like this. We want to continue to show that even a team like Atalanta can play its role in such an important competition."
Boy he did. With a budget that shows that Neymar's more than 30 million euros per year of salary represent more than what the entire Atalanta squad earns. With a game idea in which no individuality is more important than the team. And Muriel does not pout on the bench, and Papu Gómez leaves his place and Palomino enters because the game asks for more overalls than tailcoats and the line of three is already five in the second half, and Tolói bursts the ball from the area as if it was the last time. And almost enough with that.
Papu Gomez, Atalanta pillar, leaves his place to Malinovskyi, another of the team's great talents. (Photo: EFE)
"It's like going to the dentist," Guardiola praised Gasperini to illustrate what it means to come face to face with a team with the identity of Atalanta.
Soccer determined that the first star in its history will not be able to embroider this season. In a strange definition that allowed him in a match, with his weapons, to sustain the confrontation against teams with much more powerful cartels, he was only a few minutes short. But he had left over to fulfill the primary objective that Gasperini raised when football returned to Italy after a long stop due to the coronavirus: to make a people like Bergamo laugh again, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic on the entire planet. For the lost glory to return to Italian football, however, we will have to keep waiting.