Gian Piero Gasperini is accepting animated. Atalanta’s administrator is talking about how he motivates players. He describes how he generally puts up letters in the alteration allowance and one of the best recent, he says, was from Michael Jordan: “Twenty-six times, I accept been trusted with the final attempt and I missed. I’ve bootless over and over and over afresh in my life. And this is why I succeed.”
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Gasperini pauses and says: “But the best one is about the wolf pack.” The wolf pack? “I acquaint a account of a wolf backpack in the alteration room. There are wolves at the front, some in the average and one at the back. The ones up advanced can set the clip in the beginning. The abutting wolves are the strongest, they are the ones who charge assure anybody if they are attacked. The ones in the centre are consistently protected.
“Then there are addition bristles able ones added aback to assure an advance from there. The aftermost one is the bang-up and he ensures no one is larboard behind. He keeps anybody affiliated and is consistently able to run everywhere; to assure the accomplished group. The bulletin is that a baton doesn’t aloof break up front; he takes affliction of the aggregation and this is what I appetite from my players.”
It is an abnormal bulletin to accelerate a accumulation of highly-paid professionals but it is working. What Gasperini wants from his players, he gets. Afore coronavirus struck, Atalanta were accepting the best division in their 113-year-old history. They are one of four teams through to the Champions Alliance quarter-finals – with Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Atlético Madrid – and on advance to authorize for abutting season’s competition.
Then there are the goals. They accept denticulate the best in Italy aback the alpha of aftermost season. This advance there accept been 70 in 25 alliance games. Three times they accept denticulate seven – adjoin Udinese, Torino and Lecce. Two of those amateur were away. Milan and Parma were baffled 5-0.
Atalanta are, artlessly put, one of the best absorbing teams in the world. How has Gasperini done it? “To accord you an abstraction I will use a Chinese adage from 500 BC [from the Art of War]: ‘Defending makes you invincible, but if you appetite to win, you charge attack.’ This sums up the spirit and mentality I appetite my aggregation to have. But there’s article abroad that is important too: the character you actualize in a aggregation charge consistently be reinforced. You charge abound and improve, day by day, because if you do not improve, you are done. Those who stop, they accept lost.”
Gasperini is adamant in his demands, not clashing Jürgen Klopp. Training is barbarous and some players accept not enjoyed it. Christian Vieri already said that Gasperini “will abort you in training” but Atalanta’s administrator says: “During training, my players charge to struggle; those who aren’t acclimated to alive adamantine alarm me. But from the struggle, victories are born. If you don’t run in training afresh you don’t run during the game. Then, of advance it is important to accept fun in training too because from that comes the appearance of comedy and the quality.”
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Gasperini has created a arresting aggregation from an abnormal set of players. The captain is the arresting Papu Gómez, a 32-year-old Argentinian who abutting from Metalist Kharkiv for £4m in 2014. Addition key forward, Josip Ilicic, is additionally 32 and accustomed from Fiorentina for £5m in 2017.
The above Aston Villa goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, above Middlesbrough midfielder Marten de Roon and Mario Pasalic, a Croat who belongs to Chelsea but has begin a home in Bergamo on his fifth accommodation abroad from the London club aback abutting in 2014, are added key components. Robin Gosens accustomed from Eredivisie ancillary Heracles for beneath than £1m, yet is one of Europe’s best approved left-backs now while Bergamo-born Mattia Caldara is aback at Atalanta afterwards spells at Juventus and Milan and has been outstanding at centre-back.
These players are in the best anatomy of their lives, but why? “There is a secret,” the 62-year-old Gasperini says. “When you ability the ability all-important to accept that adamantine assignment leads to results, you no best feel tired. Let’s not lose clue of the actuality that footballers don’t alternation as adamantine as added athletes, area the training is boxy and intense. My players charge anticipate of that and go at it harder. We never had the agency for big investments, so we had to acquisition adolescent players in Europe with the aforementioned philosophy: able to acclimate to our appearance of play, acceptable mentality, offensive-minded and accommodating to assignment hard. Those who accept in that is one of us, those who are abashed leave.”
Gómez already said Gasperini trains players so adamantine that a bout feels like a day off. “With Papu we are talking about an amazing amateur who had not accomplished his abeyant because he never accomplished well,” Gasperini says. “When he started training bigger he aloft his akin to become one of the best in Europe. He ashen time because training makes you into a champion: he consistently had accumulated to become one.
“Ilicic is addition one. We acclimated to alarm him ‘Josip the Grandma’ because he was aloof activity about actuality nice to everyone. We had to argue him to access his efforts at training. He was missing that brainy footfall but already he afflicted his mindset we chock-full calling him grandma, now we alarm him ‘The Professor’. He realised that every training affair is fun and from that accommodation he was reborn.”
Life has not consistently been aboveboard for Gasperini. Afterwards a appropriate arena career, which started at Juventus’ adolescence teams and included 59 Serie A appearances for Pescara, he abutting Juve’s apprenticeship setup, attractive afterwards their under-14s, under-17s and the Primavera squads (under-20s). Successful spells at Genoa becoming him the appellation “Gasperson” with a nod to Sir Alex Ferguson because of the team’s style.
However, in 2011, aback accustomed his adventitious at a big club, Inter, it went angrily wrong. He lasted beneath than three months, accepting bootless to win a game, sacked afterwards a demoralising defeat by answer Novara. As fate would accept it though, his adjournment led to one of his favourite moments in football.
“I had aloof been sacked at Inter because I didn’t accept the aforementioned eyes as the management. Afresh I accustomed a admirable message: Pep Guardiola capital to accommodated me and he arrive me to watch his training sessions at Barcelona. It was a actual boxy moment in my career and to see how an amazing administrator like Guardiola backward abutting to me at that time, it tells you the blazon of actuality he is. He fabricated me actual happy.”
Even at Atalanta, Gasperini initially had problems. At the alpha of the 2016-17 division the anew appointed administrator absent four of his aboriginal bristles alliance games. There was afresh allocution of the sack aback he threw attention to the wind and gave several adolescent players a adventitious adjoin Napoli, one of the best teams at the time. Atalanta won 1-0 and accept not looked back.
“I absitively to go bottomward this path,” he says. “I’ll accomplish it until the end with my ideas; I’m accessible to accident accumulated because I accept in it. We started Mattia Caldara, Roberto Gagliardini, Andrea Petagna and Andrea Conti and added adolescent players with alone a few Serie A amateur amid them. We won with a absurd achievement that no one forgets about aback that was the alpha of the growth. The alpha for the actual Atalanta way.
“I had the abstraction to comedy youngsters appropriate away. In Italy, Bergamo is advised a actual important abode for work, industry and productivity. I capital to accept a activity angry to adolescent players, finer aloft in the Atalanta academy, which is exceptional. For too continued the courage of the aggregation was too old so I approved to abstain assignment with a altered method: to accept abounding aplomb in the adolescent players, advance them and prioritise affection football.”
Tactically, Gasperini rarely deviates from 3-5-2/3-4-3, although there is a lot added positional circling now. His high-pressing bold is abnormal for the Italian league. He wants players to attending for amplitude and has alike told them that watching the adjudicator can help: “Finding amplitude is axiological for a amateur so I told them: ‘Look at the referee, he’s never actuality marked, he’s consistently in an ideal position to see the game!’ Papu, in particular, has taken on this admonition and it has absolutely helped him.”
His wife, Cristina, has said that he sometimes wakes in the night and grabs his computers and starts autograph notes. “Yes,” he says and laughs. “With my computer at night or with my blackboard I’m consistently belief for solutions for the abutting bold and alone aback I accept they will assignment will we alpha training.”
In Italy, Gasperini has consistently been apparent as the man with the three centre-backs. It has about authentic him. He has been criticised by some for afraid by approach associated with catenaccio. “I’m appreciative of this, because I appropriate the three-man defence abounding years ago aback I was apprenticeship in Juventus’ adolescence system. Aback afresh I was told it was too defensive. I accepted it was the opposite: the three defenders participate in the run of play, they are accomplished to be complex offensively.
“The accumulation doesn’t matter, but rather with how abounding players do you advance or defend. If I had to sum up my arresting aesthetics in one byword it would be that I don’t accept and I will never accept in the abstraction of cat-and-mouse for your adversary to accomplish a mistake: I anticipate you charge try to abduct the brawl to attack.”
Atalanta accomplished fourth in 2016-17, seventh the afterward advance and third aftermost division to authorize for the Champions Alliance accumulation stage. They started by accident 4-0 at Dinamo Zagreb, 2-1 at home to Shakhtar Donetsk and 5-1 at Manchester Burghal but accomplished the aftermost 16 by cartoon adjoin Burghal and acceptable their two actual games. “I consistently acquaint my players: we never lose, we either win or learn,” Gasperini says.
Guardiola has said arena adjoin Gasperini’s Atalanta is like “going to the dentist”. The Italian approves: “That is my objective: actualize a aggregation that would accomplish any adversary struggle. Those who comedy adjoin us charge run a lot and be bothered. I anticipate the dentist metaphor, it is perfect.”
Valencia were baffled 8-4 on accumulated in the Champions Alliance aftermost 16. And afresh accumulated stopped. Gasperini remembers abiding to Bergamo from the additional leg in Spain. “It acquainted like we were in a country broken afar by war. Accumulated happened so quickly: aloof a few canicule afore there was no activity of what could happen. I bethink aback we accustomed in Valencia, we begin a burghal abounding with bodies adulatory in the streets or alfresco the stadium, while in Bergamo there were the aboriginal break the bearings was critical. Aback we came aback to Bergamo we realised how abundant had afflicted in aloof two days. We went from bliss to abhorrence in the amount of 48 hours.”
Gasperini is disturbing to acquisition the words to call the accomplished two months in Bergamo. “This has been article extraordinary, ambiguous with words. Bergamo has been at the centre of this abominable coronavirus. It hit our burghal acutely and acquired so abounding deaths … I’ll never balloon the sirens we heard in the centre of Bergamo for the blow of my life.”
When matches resume Gasperini knows what he will acquaint his team. “I will put the affecting aspect right, advanced and centre. These players accept a abundant band with Bergamo: the burghal and the fans. I will allocution emotionally and my affect will be this: Bergamo suffered a lot, this is our moment to accomplish them smile again.”
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