Football is an industry, and the differences in turnovers between top clubs and the so-called 'provincials' are increasingly evident.
Yet Atalanta, week after week - and now season after season - is showing us that it is possible to compete at the highest levels without massive budgets. "I've never seen a bunch of money scoring a goal" said Johann Cruyff, summing up the Ajax’s philosophy. It’s hard to disagree with him, even when the management of many clubs, more or less important, might need some further clarifications on the matter.
Four consecutive exercises for the profit, a team scoring plenty of goals on a regular base, making fun and recording excellent sporting results. Atalanta, which has breathed ups and downs between Italy’s Serie A and Serie B until the early 2010s, is now enrolling for the second consecutive year in the Champions League (and is still in the running during this absurd 2020).
The result of a football idea, and the courage to apply it - without any doubt - but also a vision that has planted its roots back in time, representing today the most shining (if not unique) real example of programming in the Italian Serie A.
Let's leave fairy tales and miracles aside. Rome was not built in a day - and judging from the 126 million liabilities and 280 million of debt, neither the AS Roma team can be.
MODERNITY IS A NEVER-ENDING PATH
Today's Atalanta team reinterprets the Dutch total football school in a modern way. Gasperini's method is founded on the concept of ‘one on one’, where the movements of the department, and between departments, are well-coordinated and synchronized. Strikers are the first defenders, and defenders are the primary attackers. The chaps from Gasperini are trained to run short, but in the correct direction: we are not talking of kilometres travelled, but of intensity, the team's leadership and quality of the work done. Conceiving a vision, making sure that everyone knows it and make it their own: this is the legacy of Atalanta (and the one of all companies that work).
SCOUTING AND TRAINING: THE WINNING STRATEGY
For every self-respecting system, you need the right guides. There are few (and often expensive) efficient human resources in every context. For this reason, driven organizations - and this is true in sport as well as in any other context - have to begin from an effective scouting activity.
Talent must be sought starting from ideas, which then need to be protected and supported. Finding quality is never easy, but if you don't know what you are looking for, it becomes almost impossible.
Programming costs time and effort but pays dividends in the long run. It also brings some capital gains, a term very dear to many executives of the moment, even if often associated to fibs of inflated cards and external evaluations, finding an explanation only in the accounting books.
In Bergamo, the capital gains are the consequence of the technical project and the work done to train a talented athlete, but still to be invented. The opposite of Italian DNA, of 'everything and now'. A slap in the face of assumptions that have hindered the growth of our young people for years.
WHAT WE SAW AT THE 'BEPPE VIOLA'
In our professional path, we had the privilege of observing Atalanta's model closely in Arco, in the three years following the Beppe Viola Trophy, the most important U17 football tournament in Italy. The youngsters from Bergamo won the title three times in the last five years and six times in the previous fifteen years, but we are still talking about the tip of the iceberg.
Few schemes, many interpretations: Atalanta’s play is not mechanics applied to football. At 'Beppe Viola' we did not see a team harnessed to a tactical motif. On the contrary, players are free from predefined schemes, moving the head before the legs took their step, capable of reading a defence and attacking it accordingly. Preparatory work for the leap among professionals: after shining in 2017 in Arco, Kulusevski has already reimbursed the company coffers for € 44 million. Numbers are checking out.
We could speak of Atalanta as the success of those who believe and invest in youngsters, and it is undoubtedly true. However, we like to think that the Dea (the team’s nickname, that translates as ‘Goddess’) phenomenon generated from an idea (of football and management) to which the company of President Percassi committed without hesitation or second thoughts, even during days when avoiding relegation was the most pressing ambition, without twisting its guidance when crossings and results were struggling to arrive.
Therefore, we think Atalanta has a lot to teach. Not only in sports, but also in the business world. A great lesson to believe in the strength of ideas, and also of optimism: a precious commodity in these times.