As Atalanta coach Stefano Colantuono signed a new contract until the end of the 2013-14 on Sunday, few would begrudge him for feeling a little smug. Written off by critics as relegation certainties, the coach has led Atalanta to mid-table, gaining plaudits for their style and hard-work.
‘Atalanta didn’t start the campaign in the best psychological conditions, as they were coming off that betting scandal and began from -6. This is why Colantuono is creating a masterpiece with his efforts in Bergamo.’ These were the words of Lecce coach Serse Cosmi before Sunday’s 0-0 draw in Bergamo, words that in reality could have been uttered by anyone within Calcio. Starting six points behind your relegation rivals mentally could have proved insurmountable for many clubs, but Colantuono has insisted that la Dea focus purely on events on the pitch. When news broke of the points deduction in August, the tactician announced ‘Clearly it’s a handicap, but we cannot affect these matters. We can change the table with how we do on the field. I won’t allow it to be an excuse.’
The season so far has been one of defiance and achievement. Without their deduction the Nerazzurri would be as high as 9th, but because of it are in 15th, but still a respectable six points clear of the drop zone. Home clearly is where the heart is as they have only lost at home twice, to Milan and Juventus. Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia is not the most atmospheric stadium in Italy, particularly when empty (just ask co-tenants AlbinoLeffe of Serie B.) But when full, the Curva Nord can provide a hostile environment for any side. The next five home games are Genoa, Roma, Parma, Bologna and Siena. These are games Atalanta will be looking to win, as in contrast to their home form, away from Bergamo has proved slightly more difficult, with three wins thus far. With Udinese, Inter and Napoli all coming up, home form is key to survival.
Colantuono has earned his new contract this season, but the new deal will be in recognition of the hard work done last season to ensure promotion from Serie B as champions. Although some doubt has remained of the legitimacy of the promotion following captain Cristiano Doni’s match-fixing conviction, there is little doubt that Atalanta deserved promotion from the cadetti after finishing nine points clear of third placed Novara. When receiving his new deal, Colantuono would have been the first to recognise the superb structure Atalanta have, a model for smaller clubs within Calcio, with one of the best Sporting Directors in the game as well as arguably the best academy in Italy.
Their Sporting Director is of course former Napoli man Pierpaolo Marino. Marino joined Napoli with the club in Serie C and with his eye for talent quickly rose to Serie A. It was Marino who brought in Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Morgan De Sanctis amongst others, players key to Napoli pushing towards a Scudetto and behind their excellent Champions League campaign so far this season. Upon arrival in Bergamo, Marino was quick to hail his squad’s mentality after the match-fixing allegations, stating: ‘This is the squad that got Atalanta into Serie A and will remain largely intact, with a couple of introductions. When I look at the players, I see men who want to defend the city and the colours.’ Marino emphasized the need for long-term success at the Nerazzurri and wasn’t too active in the January ‘Mercato’, bringing in only one recognised ‘name’ from Serie A, Lazio defender Stendardo, with Carrozza, Cazzola and Rossi all arriving from Serie B and Serie C as squad players as players to build for the future.
Along with the stewardships of Colantuono and Marino, the Bergamo club also posses the best youth academy in Italy, with over 60 players currently playing in Serie A or B. The aim of the academy is to produce three first team players per-season. Right now, the squad has seven first team players who graduated from the famed academy, including two of Calcio’s brightest prospects, attacking midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura and forward Manolo Gabbiadini. Both will possibly be given more game time when the pressure of a relegation battle is lifted. With over 60 players in the Atalanta academy, it’s a clear long-term policy that seems to be missing from too many top-flight Italian teams. Coach Stefano Colantuono is taking the plaudits right now, but the structure of Atalanta BC ensures the coach has all the tools to create the ‘masterpiece’ he desires.