Moving into the second decade of life at Atalanta there wasn’t much left to achieve – other than becoming the greatest manager of all time of course! But, there was also the ongoing chance to discover and grow the latest wonderkids coming into the club and through our ranks.
The extent to which we’ve produced youth over a decade in Bergamo is proven by our absolute domination of home-grown talent playing for clubs in the major European leagues. We have 92, the closest to that is Roma’s 38.
Sad player sales
We had our usual summer clearout, in which we let 34 players go and brought in over £100 million in transfer deals – briefly pushing our bank balance over the £600 million mark for the first time. And that saw two bonafide legends depart the club.
The biggest outgoing saw long-serving full-back Josha Vagnoman, still the club’s record signing at £24.5 million, depart the club for a profit. After racking up 258 league appearances, Josha joined Juventus – who haven’t finished in the top three for six seasons – for £35.5 million. He had been outgrown by young left-back Alberto Pfandler and world-class right-back Antonio Carlos so he wasn’t going to get regular game time and only had one year on his contract.
We also moved on versatile midfielder and Atalanta youth product Alessandro Cortinovis after 238 league games. I loved Corti but he couldn’t get into our team ahead of the incredible Matteo Giacalone and Timmi Uldbjerg and was beginning to get unhappy about, so I let him go to Napoli for a decent £18.5 million.
Other major outgoings saw backup right-back Stefan Trajkovski, now 22 and not progressing, move to Derby County for £9 million. We also had to offload a few non-EU players that weren’t going to make it into the first-team and we weren’t able to register under Serie A rules. That saw midfielder Marco Cuello and Franco Gonzalez join Valencia for £14.25 million and £9 million respectively, Robson Luis move to Bayer Leverkusen for £3 million, Sebastiano Houben move to Fortuna Dusseldorf for £8.5 million.
We signed a new batch of youngsters in their place, none of which were ready for the first-team, with the outgoing players being replaced by a few players stepping up from our youth ranks fresh from loan moves.
Going into the new season I left my role as Italy manager – having just won the European Championships – then briefly flirted with being France manager but got bored of it after two friendly matches, so swiftly quit to focus on domestic football.
Legendary coaching staff
Behind the scenes, Lionel Messi made the step up from Under 18s Manager to become a Coach, and in his place came another retired legend of the game – Neymar. The Brazilian retired that summer at the age of 36 having stayed with Paris Saint-Germain for the full 10 years of the save, eventually accumulating 270 goals in 566 league games and 93 goals in 161 caps for Brazil.
That means we now have Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robinho, Marek Hamsik, Teddy Sheringham, Carlos Valderrama, Dries Mertens, Antonio Di Natale, Sergey Semak, Pepe, Goran Pandev, Gianfranco Zola and David Ospina across our staff.
Going gets tougher
Early on in the season I was in two minds what tactic to use. We’d promoted several exciting young wingers, who I wanted to use, and I wanted to try and play attacking midfielder Rob Lever – which suggested the best option might be a 4-2-3-1. But, I didn’t really trust it when we played it. That saw us trial returns to our tried and tested 4-1-2-2-1 and 4-4-2 Diamond.
We started the season well, with a 4-1 win at new boys Crotone thanks to a Luis Collazos brace and goals from record scorer Cosimo Marco Da Graca and centre-back Jeroen Velder who’d just stepped up from the Under 20s squad. That was followed up with a 2-0 win at home to Juventus then a 6-0 hammering of Pescara and a brilliant 5-1 win at Sampdoria, in which Uldbjerg and Da Graca both scored twice.
We continued the winning streak to five games with a win at Fiorentina, but then a tricky spell followed with three consecutive draws against Lazio, Bologna and Napoli followed by a defeat at Genoa.
That little sticky patchy was long forgotten with another 6-0 win, this time over Palermo with Lever and Da Graca both bagging twice. A vital 0-0 draw at Inter followed, then a 5-1 over Spal with Alex Dongmo and young midfielder Akson Djalo both scoring twice.
That sparked a run of eight straight victories to bring 2028 to a close, which saw us put a tricky spell long behind us by returning to the top of Serie A going into the new year.
The Champions Cup saw us once again drawn with Arsenal – who we beat in the semis in 2026 then played in the group stages a season later – as well as Marseille and Galatasaray.
We started well with 2-0 wins at Marseille then a 3-0 home defeat of Galatasaray, in which Dongmo scored twice and there was a first goal for the club for exciting 19-year-old left-winger Godwin Okechukwu.
Two games against Arsenal followed, losing 1-0 away then winning the return 2-0 thanks to a Da Graca brace.
A 0-0 draw at home to Marseille meant we needed to get something from a tricky trip to Turkey, and we managed it thanks to a solitary goal through French centre-back Wesley Dondon.
Join us next time as we move into 2029 looking to continue our fine form in both league and European competitions.