Atalanta: The Beloved Blue and Black of Bergamo

On a warm Dublin evening, Berat Djimsiti lived the dream of many a Bergamaschi by lifting the UEFA Cup aloft. When the Swiss national joined La Dea back in the 2015/16 season on a free transfer from FC Zürich, they were fighting relegation. They went on to achieve a mid-table finish that season, placing 13th.

The club would build on that with eight consecutive seasons in the top half of the table, reaching as high as third in three consecutive seasons between 2019 and 2021. And now, they have their moment in the sun – they are Europa League champions.

A Dance in Dublin

The result was anything but expected, as Atalanta’s opponents on the night was a Bayer Leverkusen side that had been the most impressive team in all of Europe this season. Leverkusen came into the game on the back of an incredible 50 games unbeaten, needing only two more wins to go an entire season undefeated in all competitions.

Even when journeyman winger Ademola Lookman scored a hattrick, there was always a sense that this Leverkusen side was not yet done. After all, they have scored an impressive 17 times after the 90th minute this season.

However, it was not to be for Xabi Alonso’s men. The night firmly belonged to Gasparini’s charges. It was redemption, going a long way to wash away the pain of the three defeats in Coppa Italia finals under Gasperini. It was a difficult road, with the Italian outfit having to see off Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and French side Marseille, as well as Leverkusen, but they took to their task with vigour.

Their pressing game throughout the tournament was a joy to behold. They simply showed more desire and dominated more glamorous and equipped opponents along the way.

The Men of the Hour

It was fitting that the hero in the final was Lookman, a player who had been around the block with spells at Leicester, Fulham, Leipzig, Everton and Charlton. The Nigerian adds his name to an exclusive list of players that have scored a hattrick in European finals, one that includes the likes of Ferenc Puskás, Alfredo Di Stefano and Pierino Prati. That is not bad company to be in.

Lookman is a long way off reaching the heights that those gilded players have reached, but he will forever have his place in the history book and will no doubt make for a great pub quiz question in a few years.

This is a club that gives people a second chance, a down-to-earth meritocracy of a club. Even their manager Gasperini had never picked up a piece of silverware before Wednesday night. This achievement was even more impressive, taking into consideration that Atalanta only spent €211m to purchase all the players in the current team. Somehow, they still have only the eighth highest wage bill in Serie A.

Beloved of Bergamo

What makes this story even more special is that Atalanta has a strong community ethos. This was evident even in the trophy lift, as Berat Djimsiti opted to do it together with Marten de Roon and Rafael Tolói. Showing the togetherness that radiates through the club, this was one of the feel-good stories of the season.

With Atalanta, the special feeling does not stop on the field. One can imagine that for a young kid growing up in Bergamo, the temptation would be to support one of the glamour clubs from the nearby city of Milan. To keep the fan base loyal, club president Antonio Percassi came up with the “Neonati Atalantini project,” where every single baby born in Bergamo is presented with an Atalanta shirt at the hospital, a spectacular act of charity in these days of football greed.

The club was named after a heroine in Greek Mythology and its nickname is “La Dea,” meaning “the goddess.” This is very fitting, given that these heroes achieved a truly heavenly feat.

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