A lot has been made out of Atalanta’s youth set up, and in this day in age when most of the footballing world plays either FIFA or Football Manager that is apt, however, one needs to look into the past of the club to see they had a great run in the old UEFA Cup, which was recently rebranded to the Europa League. Before we get into that, let’s get into a little bit of the club’s history.
In many instances in the sport, a new club will come into a town that already has an existing club. In the town of Bergamo, there was a club known as Football Club Bergamo, which was founded by Swiss immigrants in 1904. However, in 1907 Atalanta was founded, out of a division in the sporting clubs of the town (Liverpool grew out of Everton in such a way too).
The new club in Bergamo was named from the female athlete of Greek mythology. The Italian Football Federation, at the time, didn’t think too highly of the club, and wouldn’t recognise them for years, until 1914. This Atalanta side is a merger of Bergamasca and Atalanta, and the first images of the club playing in their colours now are in 1924.
Management in Italy is always a fun and, frankly, mental thing. If you have a bad match or two, there’s potential for you to be replaced by either a legend from the club, or your assistant, only for the need to have that quick success. The manager of this bunch was ex-Cesena defender Pierluigi Frosio, who was part of Cesena’s historic 1972 promotion to Serie A. He was fortunate during his time to have the legendary Argentinian forward, Claugio Caniggia, in his first spell at the club. Caniggia had come from Hellas Verona, and River Plate, which played in his hometown of Buenos Aires. He formed a great partnership with Evair at the top, where Evair, the Brazilian international, scored 14 goals.
The 1990-91 UEFA Cup was noted for being the first time in five years that English clubs could enter European competitions after the Heysel Stadium Disaster. Only runner up Aston Villa would join the party in the UEFA Cup. They won in the first round against Dianmo Zagreb on away goals after drawing 1-1, to advance to the second round proper of the tournament where they met Fenerbahce. The Bergamo side took the Turkish side apart 5-1 to reach the third round against Koln. There they had more resistance, and only went through with a 2-1 win. In the quarter-final, they met their fellow countrymen in Inter Milan, who had a lot of future connections to legends living in the States, where I’m from, in Walter Zenga, Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinnsmann. Sadly, Atlanta lost 2-1, thus ending a magical run. In fact, that season in Serie A, Inter beat Atalanta each time they played and were somewhat of a bogey team for the club.
Inter would go on to beat Roma in the final, and Atalanta wouldn’t play in Europe again until 2017/18. That was after finishing fourth last year ahead of the Milan clubs, and Fiorentina.
Their past success was built on a philosophy of developing and playing their youth and promoting from within, something you rarely see these days in particular, which resulted in Atlanta being the surprise package of the tournament and the producers of a story many purists, in particular, might not know about.
Could we see a side like Atlanta, with their promising homegrown talent, thrive in Europe again in the not too distant future? I certainly hope so.