Gian Piero Gasperini is a man that has enjoyed a buoyant career both as a player and as a manager. However, as things stand, his tenure in charge of Atalanta looks likely to be his crowning achievement. It looks thus natural that the manager will wish to protect what, for now, is his.
In spite of the great success and the massive support the team enjoy, relations within the squad seem to be sitting on a veritable powder-keg. Why is this? And, is there anything Gasperini can still do about it?
Gasperini, a Long and Lonely Way to the Top
If Gian Piero Gasperini doesn’t cut the figure as a man quick to compromise is because only he knows the struggles he’s needed to endure throughout his career. As a player, he started as part of Juventus’ famed youth system, but was never given a chance to play for the first team.
Instead, he earned a reputation as a no-nonsense midfielder. Distinctions were few and far between. In fact, he spent much of his career playing for clubs in the lower-tiers of Italian football.
Gasperini’s first forays into management didn’t seem to reveal a more comprehensive vision. He first managed Crotone in Serie C and got the sack soon afterward.
However, he next guided Genoa to promotion to Serie A and qualified them to the Europa League. This may have caused his reputation to ascend for a while, but the job ended in removal – as did his next two spells at Inter and Palermo.
By the time that Gasperini got the chance to manage Atalanta, in his heart of hearts, he must have known one thing. He needed creative control in a vice grip if he was to succeed. Compromising his ideals was not an option.
What’s the Reason for the Dissent Within Atalanta’s Ranks?
Atalanta have rarely played better than they have in recent years. Their free-flowing, attacking football has made them the Serie A favorites of neutral football enthusiasts across the world. They are beloved equally by hipsters and football purists longing for the days when teams tried to outscore each other.
The Bergamo team has performed well beyond expectations, but clearly, all is not right. The first significant warning came in December of 2020. Papu Gómez, the team’s captain and one of the main architects of their goal-scoring success requested an urgent transfer.
The forward and Gasperini suffered a blowout at half-time of Atalanta’s Champions League match against Midtjylland. Gasperini had requested Gomez to track back to help out defenders. The forward allegedly declined, which led the manager to immediately sideline him for the next round of fixtures. Papu Gomez may have been bluffing when requesting his transfer, but his manager was quick to call it. It didn’t take long for the forward to be moved on to Sevilla.
Gasperini, a Man Not Easy to Intimidated
Gasperini is beloved in Bergamo because of the highly attractive football Atalanta tend to play. Despite this, he is not a man on a mission to make friends. In late March 2020, he sparked controversy when he announced that he had been ill with the coronavirus just prior to the team’s Champions League match against Valencia. The fashion in which the club dealt with the issue was criticized, but this did not seem to phase Gasperini.
There were also disturbances when the 62-year-old manager revealed that he had received threats from ultra fans. He then used a press conference opportunity to share the men’s identities and even joked about the issue. Gasperini is not a man to be easily intimidated.
Are Atalanta’s Players Unhappy?
Atalanta’s players must surely realize that the team is performing beyond all expectations. This is not a Golden Goose anyone would want to slay right now. Although they’ve yet to win a trophy, La Dea is the envy of most European teams. Their first leg match against heavyweights Real Madrid showed a team capable of taking on the continents’ elite – even though the double confrontation ended with their elimination from Champions League on Tuesday night.
They are, however, under physical and mental pressure with which most of the players are not wholly familiar. Atalanta play quick attacking football, but at the expense of expelling a lot of energy, something uncharacteristic for a modern football system that prizes defensive rigors and tactical awareness.
Furthermore, the conflict between Gasperini and Papu Gomez may have helped drive a wedge between the manager and his players. It may have gone a long way to show that no player is bigger than the squad. However, it has also revealed that the manager can be ruthless, even if his opponent is the team’s longtime captain.
Is Gasperini Risking His Future at Atalanta?
The uncomfortable truth is that job stability can change from one week to the other in football. There is no such thing as an unshakable position. However, Gasperini’s reputation in Bergamo is just about as good as it can get. Besides, he has learned from previous job experiences and is unwilling to cut corners.
Yes, Gian Piero Gasperini is running a dangerous game. Recently, he substituted Josip Ilicic, another of the team’s most famous players, for not doing enough defensive work. Picking fights with some of the most influential players in the squad can spell trouble.
Still, as good Atalanta’s squad is at the moment, this is not a team that Gasperini has inherited. It is one that, for the most part, he has built with the money brought in by the club’s unexpected run of success.
At the start of 2010, Atalanta was still in Serie B. In 2016, Gasperini took the job as manager, overachieved and qualified the team to the Europa League. In 2021 the team plays some of the most attractive football across the continent.
Gasperini has yet to achieve two things. Firstly, he is yet to win major silverware. This could change soon. Atalanta have shown that they are capable of consistently playing as well as their more famous opponents such as Juventus, Real Madrid, or Napoli.
Secondly, Gasperini has yet to carve out a legacy as a long-running manager of an important club. Having changed the fortunes of Atalanta, this is what he plans to do. Unless he shows his players that nobody is more important than the longtime vision of the organization, they could lose confidence in his vision.
Gian Piero Gasperini may be risking a lot with his current actions. The happiness of his players is vital in ensuring Atalanta maintains its results. Besides, the team’s rivals would be only too happy to snatch up many of the team’s best players, as Sevilla did with Gomez.
At the heart of the matter though Gasperini is a brave manager. No other Italian team play the attacking, flair-based football for which the club is now well-known. The manager’s fearlessness and single-mindedness can lead the club to glory. When and if this happens, the minor scuffles that have occurred along the way will be quickly forgotten.