Three minutes. That’s all it took for Atalanta’s Champions League dream to unravel against Paris Saint-Germain. Heartbreakingly for the Italian side, those 180 seconds arrived at the end of a pulsating encounter against their profoundly more wealthy opponents.
This was never more evident than in the 60th minute, when the French side called upon the services of superstar Kylian Mbappe – their €180m signing – from the bench to rescue the game for the Parisians. Such is the disparity in wealth between the two sides that Mbappe’s transfer from Monaco three years ago is just a fraction under the entirety of Atalanta’s €188m club revenue.
And rescue the match Mbappe did. His introduction completely swung the balance of the game; the 21-year-old’s lightening pace tormenting the fatigued Atalanta backline.
Notwithstanding the end result, Atalanta’s fairytale story captured the hearts and minds of the football neutral: a provincial side punching massively above their station, playing swashbuckling football whilst forced to play games at San Siro and, furthermore, a team who had lost their opening three group stage games before turning it around and qualifying for the knockout rounds. Had they hung on for several more minutes, they would’ve been the first debutants since Villarreal in 2006 to reach the final four. La Dea were the team the Champions League needed
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side grew into the competition; their opening 4-0 defeat by Dinamo Zagreb served a warning to the leap in quality of Europe’s premier competition compared to domestic football. Yet slowly they got to grips with it, and their run to the last eight this season will only strengthen the team’s understanding of what’s needed for another deep run in next season’s tournament.
On a financial level, this season has been an outstanding success for the club. Atalanta’s wage bill for this season was – by tournament standards – a meagre pittance, at €36m. They sit in 13th position in the wage bill rankings in Italy. Their run to the quarter final will see the club stand to pocket €57.7m. Financially, the club are in rude health, and are in a position to reject offers for star players that they deem insufficient.
Furthermore, a third place Serie A finish has guaranteed them another foray into the Champions League money pit. Should they contrive to lose every one of their six games, they’d still be in line to make somewhere between €25-30m.
A critical issue for next season will be not just in retaining the core elements of their squad, but playing Champions League games at home in the newly christened Gewiss Stadium. Speaking to Sky Sport Italia in the aftermath of last night’s defeat, club CEO Luca Percassi was hopeful the stadium would meet UEFA requirements.
“We are working to make this happen. The city deserves it, as do all of the fans,” said Percassi. “We have moved around in recent years, playing in Sassuolo and Milan, but now we want to play European games at home. On September 7th and 8th there will be an inspection by UEFA, and we are confident.”
Should UEFA grant Atalanta a home license, playing in their intimate-but-rambunctious stadium will be no easy feat for visiting European sides.
Despite last night’s emotional rollercoaster of a game, the future is undoubtedly bright for La Dea. With another season in the Champions League and renovation work on their stadium due to be completed within a year, there is a real chance now for the club to steal a march on their domestic rivals and become a permanent fixture within the top four in Serie A.
With Juve’s decade of dominance showing vulnerability, with cracks now appearing within that well-oiled black and white machine, which for the longest time seemed invincible, a proper tilt at the Scudetto next season wouldn’t be out of the question.
A year from now, we could be celebrating Atalanta as Serie A champions. And what a joy it would be.
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