The Atalanta boys moved into 2027 as two-time World Champions and lurking closely behind the two Milan clubs in Serie A with a couple of games in hand.
More big money sales followed, as contract rebel Sem Mijnheer, who’d been our number one goalkeeper for six seasons, moved to Benfica for £24.5 million – which was a good deal under the circumstances. We then sold club captain Filippo Melegoni, who was our oldest player but had racked up 219 league appearances, to Chinese side Guangzhou for £24.5 million and moved on backup striker Milovan Timotijevic, who didn’t look likely to surpass Da Graca with just 18 months on his contract and had only mustered 13 goals in 50 appearances over four seasons, to Liverpool for a cool £45 million – having joined for just £1 million.
The latter did not go down well with his remaining teammates, with Josha Vagnoman leading a revolt against me.
However, the new year once again began with silverware, as we defeated Inter Milan 3-0 in the Italian Super Cup with goals from Matteo Giacalone, Luis Collazos and Cosimo Marco Da Graca.
We then recorded three straight league victories, only to draw 2-2 at Salernitana then 0-0 at home to AC Milan. That saw us drop five points off leaders Inter Milan, who were in outrageous form yet again – several years after their unbeaten season in 2021/22. But we continued our own strong form with four straight league wins, then a 0-0 draw at home to Juventus was followed by another four straight league wins.
That took us two points clear at the top ahead of a massive away game at Inter, which was basically a title decider. We got off to a great start through an 18th-minute goal from Da Graca then doubled the lead on the hour mark through Antonio Marin – who was off at the end of the season having agreed a deal to join Arsenal at the end of his contract. Inter got a late consolation but we held on to go five points clear of them.
A 3-0 win at home to Spezia, inspired by a Timmi Uldbjerg masterclass, and a subsequent Inter defeat saw us go within a point of a fourth straight Serie A title with three games to go. We went to Cagliari next and another Uldbjerg goal saw us secure a 1-1 draw that delivered the league title again.
The league title was reliant on a 31 match unbeaten run between defeat at Milan in late September and a 2-1 defeat at our affilitate club Cremonese on the final day, for which I put out an entire team of backup players and youngsters.
The latest title win saw me enter the Worldwide Hall of Fame, and was much more of a team effort than previous seasons with none of our attacking players dominating the scoring and assisting stakes.
Having exited the Champions Cup we entered the Euro Cup for the first time since winning it back in 2021/22.
We took on Besiktas in the first round, drawing 1-1 away then goals from Rob Lever and Marin secured an easy aggregate win in the home leg. Next up was Russian side Krasnodar, who raced into a 2-0 lead in Russia only for Amad Diallo Traore to grab a late equaliser. We then bounced back to win 2-0 again at home, with Antonio Carlos’ opener doubled up with a goal for fellow Brazilian Dimba – who’d only broken us goal drought for the club the previous week after a whopping 38 matches.
We took on Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals, and again lost 2-1 in the opening leg with Da Graca sandwiching two goals from their regen striker Alex. The return leg in Madrid was an exciting match that we won 3-2, with a Da Graca brace and Marin goal securing progression on away goals.
Spanish opposition was next up again in the semi-finals, in the form of Valencia, and we once again lost the home leg, this time 1-0. But the return leg once again showed the ridiculous morale that exists within this Atalanta side. Collazos put us ahead after 8 minutes, they responded through an Anthony Martial penalty on half an hour then we moved ahead on away goals through a Marin goal a minute later. In true FM-style an old face came back to haunt us as former striker Ivaylo Aleksandrov put them back in front another four minutes later and we were looking down the barrel of exiting the competition.
But that man Uldbjerg popped up to put us back in front on away goals after 78 minutes, Collazos added his second two minutes later and Da Graca sealed a 5-2 away win with five minutes remaining. That meant a third consecutive European final was to come.
The Euro Cup Final saw us take on familiar foes in AC Milan, who’ve built an interesting team around the likes of Cristian Pavon, Eddy Salcedo and Malcom, with the ever-reliable Gianluigi Donnarumma – still only 28 and nearing 100 Italy caps – in goal.
We put in potentially our worst performance of the season as we succumbed to a 2-0 defeat, with two goals inside the first 20 minutes from Lucas Tousart and Salcedo killing off hopes of another piece of silverware.
A successful club campaign – in which we won the Italian Super Cup, Serie A and the Club World Cup – was followed two weeks later by leading Italy in the International League Finals.
We were up against hosts England in the semi-finals, a team packed full of talent including Callum Hudson-Odoi, Dele Alli – who was still only 31 with 130 caps – and Everton winger Paul Kinlan, who was keeping Jadon Sancho on the bench, as well as Manchester City striker Zac Thomas, who was keeping 34-year-old Harry Kane – of 67 goals in 115 caps fame – on the bench.
I opted for a change of formation with the national side, shifting from 4-1-2-2-1 to 4-2-4, with Da Graca up front alongside Pietro Pellegri – and it rewarded me big time with its first trial in a competitive match. We took an early lead through Federico Chiesa and saw off some England pressure to seal a 3-0 win through a Da Graca brace – with Pellegri claiming man of the match for his two assists and four key passes.
That took us into the Final, where we took on the might of France, who had the two Dembele’s, Ousmane (who joined Manchester United for £80 million in 2023) and Moussa (now at Spurs), supported by Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, who’s still world-class at 34. We struggled up against their strong defensive outfit and were unlucky to lose 1-0 through a Kingsley Coman goal.
France are a decent side, but the attacking talent in our side should really have had enough to threaten them – but France were International League champions.
Next time, we’ll look to rebuild on the departures of several long-serving Atalanta players as we go in search of a fifth successive Scudetto.