A team that’s always had a soft spot in my heart since the very early days of playing Championship Manager, is Atalanta. Back in 2000, the likes of Fausto Rossini, Fabio Rustico and Cristiano Doni provided the solid base for a CM challenge but, 18 years later, I wanted to see how their new compatriots would stack up in comparison.
It’s safe to say that going into this I wasn’t overly confident. After all, there’s the dominant force that is Juventus, formidable challengers to their throne in Napoli, AS Roma, AC Milan and Inter Milan, then the fairly unknown outfits of Fiorentina and Sampdoria. But I was keen to see what the famed Atalanta youth system would offer me.
Assessing the inherited situation
The first thing I noticed on taking the reigns at Stadio di Bergamo was loan players. Lots of them, both in and, more so, out. We had more than 50 players away from the club on loan.
More pleasingly, the other thing I noticed was plenty of youth talent, with no fewer than eight players with at least 5-star Potential Ability. So while the first season or two (or four) might be a bit of a struggle, the future at Atalanta is most certainly bright.
There was also a distinct lack of transfer funds available, so I decided to sell some of the deadwood, save where we could and rely on what we had for the first campaign. I moved on right-back Timothy Castagne to Marseille for £6 million and Berat Djimsiti to Huddersfield Town for £1.2 million to bring in a little bit of spending money.
The best talents at the club appeared to be talisman Alejandro Gomez, holding midfielder Maarten de Roon, centre midfielders Remo Freuler and Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic, left-back Robin Gosens and former Liverpool centre-back Rafael Toloi.
There was a slight lack in depth up front, with two-year loanee Duvan Zapata and Gambian wonderkid Musa Barrow the only recognised options. But I had faith that they could do the job I was hoping for between them.
I only spent money on youth prospects – bringing in Simone Rabbi from Bologna and Antonio Marin as wing cover from Dinamo. To add to the troops, I addressed a lack of right-back cover by signing Milan youngster Davide Calabria on loan. I also used the loan market to bring in Oliver Torres from Porto as I was intending on deploying him in the hole just behind a single striker.
With a very early European campaign to contend with, beginning with a Euro Cup Best Placed 2nd Qualifying Round (seriously, what is that?) first leg against Beitar Jerusalem. So time was tight to get a squad together, come up with a tactical plan, and get the team gelling.
Join us next time as we walk through the beginning of the Atalanta Avventura, including an intriguing European opportunity and an exciting start to life in Serie A.