Nobody can wake up the city of Bergamo from their Champions League dream – Atalanta’s historic win against Valencia at the San Siro will remain forever etched in the club’s history.
The 4-1 victory is one of the most beautiful stories in this season’s Champions League. Their run to this point of the competition is like a fairytale, and currently there’s no sign of it stopping.
Last night, there were a number of shops closed in Bergamo, outlets donned club scarves and flags and many children did not go to school as they made the 31-mile trip to Milan.
Atalanta stunned Valencia in the Champions League on Wednesday, winning 4-1 in Milan
Around 40,000 supporters travelled to the San Siro from Bergamo to cheer on their team
Even the mayor of the city Giorgio Gori, former collaborator with Silvio Berlusconi in Italian media company Mediaset, supported kids skipping their academic studies, as he allowed his own son to attend the game.
He published a photo on Instagram saying: ‘Edoardo [his son] will be absent from school for historical and cultural reasons this afternoon. He will help his father in a page in the history of Bergamo. COME ON ATALANTA!’
Atalanta have been playing their European fixtures in the San Siro this season because the Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo is not considered suitable for UEFA competitions, with its capacity a mere 21,300.
Bergamo mayor Giorgio Gori posted on Instagram a note to explain why his son skipped school
The Serie A minnows have never experienced a significant run in Europe. In fact, it was unsurprisingly Atalanta’s first game in the Champions League knockout-stages, for a club which is accustomed all too well with the heartache of relegation to Serie B.
This season though, Atalanta is definitely a candidate to emulate Ajax’s eye-catching run to last season’s semi-finals.
The two clubs share similarities. Both did not have hefty European ambitions at the beginning of the campaign, and both coaches (Erik ten Hag and Gian Piero Gasperini) have a similar philosophy: aggression, intensity and maintaining possession.
Atalanta play in a way which encapsulates everything Gasperini stands for. The 62-year-old has transformed Josip Ilicic into a complete player, while he has given striker Papu Gomez more responsibility in the side, allowing him to flourish.
Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini has already pulled off a remarkable feat with his side
He also plays a 3-5-2 formation, and is the only Italian coach to be successful in Europe with this formation as he capitalises on the strengths of his players’: tactical acumen and impressive fitness levels.
After December’s last-16 draw, Valencia thought they could easily overcome their Italian opponents, and were excited that they had avoided a European super-club.
But Atalanta are the frontrunners for qualification now.
It is difficult to imagine a sudden collapse in the second-leg, after they displayed such domination at the San Siro.
Atalanta forward Papu Gomez didn’t score on Wednesday but was instrumental in the victory
Within all of this, it should not be overlooked that while Atalanta play in the San Siro, both Milan sides have failed to reach the Champions League knockout-stages.
AC Milan failed to reach Europe’s premier competition this season completely after violating UEFA’s financial fair play regulations, while Inter were knocked out in the group-stages and will now play in the Europa League.
This makes Atalanta’s story all the more unique, especially when compared to the economic value of both Milan clubs.
Atalanta fans hold up their scarves during the 4-1 win at the home of both Milan clubs
The club’s transfer policy has also been a feature of their success. They tend to bring in new players at a low price, then making a hefty profit when they depart the club for pastures new.
Roberto Gagliardini in 2017 and Franck Kessie and Gianluca Mancini last summer have been sold to Inter, AC Milan and Roma respectively, and are just three of the sales which have enriched and strengthened the club economically.
But, above all else, it is astonishing that Atalanta made it to the last-16 in the first place.
They started the group-stages with three consecutive defeats, against Dinamo Zagreb, Shakhtar Donetsk and Manchester City.
Atalanta beat Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in Ukraine on match day six to qualify from their group
They were seemingly destined for bottom-spot in Group C, but managed to scrape through, with seven points from their remaining three games enough for second-place.
Should they progress to the quarter-finals, as now expected, the reward wouldn’t just be grand economically, with £5.8million expected to be gained, but would be just reward for a group of hard-working players all pulling in the same direction.
This small club from Bergamo, after Wednesday’s pummeling of Valencia, have got one giant foot in a Champions League quarter-final in April.