26 September 2014
Atalanta (officially Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio) are based not far from Turin in Lombardy, and play in black and blue stripes at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
The 52 seasons they have spent in Serie A are more than any other side from a city that isn’t a regional capital, a figure which has formed the basis of their nickname as the “Regina delle Provinciali” (Queen of the Provinces).
Founded in 1907 by a group of Liceo school students, the youngsters named the club after the huntress from Greek mythology.
The first league campaign they competed in was the 1914/15 Lombardy championship, and following the structural reform of the Italian league they were admitted to Serie B.
After seven consecutive seasons there, the Nerazzurri achieved a historic first promotion to Serie A in 1937, but went straight back down the year after.
The club embarked upon a 10-season spell in the top flight from 1940 onwards, their longest ever run in Serie A to date. It also included their highest ever finish: fifth position in 1948. It was in that year, too, that Giuseppe Casari and Giacomo Mari became the first Atalanta players to receive international call-ups.
The start of the 1960s brought prominent international signings such as Bengt Gustavvson, whose Sweden side lost to Pele’s Brazil in the final of the 1958 World Cup, and the new arrivals spurred Atalanta to their only major success: the 1963 Coppa Italia.
Then followed a series of promotions and relegations as the club struggled to find stability, a difficult period made worse by the death of Daniele Turani, the president who had overseen their recent success. The low point came in a first ever drop down to Serie C in 1981.
But the 1987/88 season brought a real highlight as the Nerazzurri, a small provincial side, enjoyed a stunning run in the Cup Winners’ Cup, with their European adventure eventually coming to an end in the semi-final.
Topping the Serie B table in 2010/11 thanks in part to the good performances of former Bianconero Federico Peluso and current star Simone Padoin, Atalanta sealed their 12th promotion back to the top flight.
Last season saw the Nerazzurri achieve a respectable 11th place finish in which they were only eight points off a Europa League berth.
Atalanta play at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, an oval-shaped ground capable of holding 26, 542 supporters which they share with Lega Pro side Albinoleffe.
At the time of the stadium’s 1928 inauguration, there were swimming pools and tennis courts in place of the two “curve” at either end, and it also had an athletics track until it was removed in 1983.
A giant blue and black flag called the “Bandierù” covers the entire Curva Nord on particularly important matchdays.
Club captain Gianpaolo Bellini has spent his entire career with the Nerazzurri after emerging from the well-reputed youth academy and making his first team debut back in 1998. During his incredible 16-year-spell with the club, the 34-year-old has made over 400 appearances. A rarity among his fellow professionals, Bellini, who can play in central defence or fill in at left back, is one of the last remaining “one club men”.
Twenty-two-year-old goalkeeper Marco Sportiello has established himself as the club’s number one after making his Atalanta debut in December 2013. Having enjoyed a 30 game run-out with Carpi in 2012/13, Sportiello retained to stake a claim for a starting berth and after playing in a Coppa Italia tie with Sassuolo, made his Serie A bow on 12 January 2014 against Catania. The youngster has featured in each of his side’s first four league games this season.
Nicknamed “Il Professore” for his vision of the game and likened to Bianconeri star Andrea Pirlo, Luca Cigarini keeps things ticking at the heart of the Atalanta midfield. Known to be a prolific provider of assists, the 28-year-old came through the youth ranks at Parma before also plying his trade with Napoli and European giants Sevilla in Spain .
Ex-Bianconeri winger Marcelo Estigarribia will prove a menace down the Nerazzurri right. The 27-year-old Paraguayan loves a teasing cross and is adept at dribbling past his marker. Goals are traditionally hard to come by for the man who spent one season in the black and white jersey during 2011/12, but he is already off the mark for this campaign after hitting the first in his side’s 2-1 victory over Cagliari.
Diminutive attacking midfielder Maximiliano Moralez plays the number 10 role at Atalanta. Having joined the club back in 2011, the smallest player in the league (at 5ft 3in) has netted 13 times and notched as many assists in 95 outings. An Argentine international, Moralez is a set-piece specialist and loves to thread the ball through the eye of a needle.
Atalanta’s biggest threat in attack comes in the form of German Denis. The Argentine striker has scored 48 times for the club in all competitions since joining from Udinese on a free transfer in 2012 and has topped his team’s goalscoring charts in each of the last three seasons. The 33-year-old is yet to get off the mark in the current campaign but will be eager to do so up against the reigning champions.
Serie A stalwart Giuseppe Biava has joined on a one-year-deal. Having enjoyed success at Palermo and later Lazio (where he won the Coppa Italia in 2013), the 37-year-old will provide a wealth of experience to a Nerazzurri backline that conceded 51 times last time out.
Centre back Nicolò Cherubin has signed on a two-year loan from Serie B Side Bologna. The 28-year-old had been a mainstay in the Emilia-based side’s defence after enjoying two successful spells with Cittadella in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione.
Left-back Boukary Dramé arrives from Serie A rivals Chievo after spending three years in Verona. The 29-year-old Senegalese international has already slotted in at the back and helped his side to a clean sheet during the opening day stalemate with Hellas.
Bianconeri starlets Leonardo Spinazzola, Valerio Rosseti and Richmond Boakye will all spend the 2014/15 Serie A campaign in Bergamo after signing season-long loans. The trio will hope to impress during their time away from the reigning champions.
Much-travelled Rolando Bianchi arrives at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia on a season-long loan from Serie B side Bologna. The 31-year-old striker’s professional career has a somewhat palindromic feel to it having commenced with Atalanta before moving to Cagliari and Reggina (where he made his name). An unsuccessful spell at Manchester City followed before his form was revitalised at Torino where he occupies 10th place in the all-time scorer list with a total of 77 goals.
Going in the other direction, talented Romanian youngster Constantin Nica will spend the 2014/15 campaign at Cesena on loan. The 21-year-old right-back made his full international debut in August 2013.
Veteran defender Mario Yepes, who arrived on a free transfer from the Rossoneri last season, has departed for Argentine club San Lorenzo after impressing at the World Cup with Colombia.
Finally, shining light Giacomo Bonaventura has joined Milan on a permanent deal. The 25-year-old attacking midfielder scored 19 times in 99 appearances for Atalanta in a six-year spell and left for Filippo Inzaghi’s side on the last day of the summer transfer window.
Atalanta are led by highly-respected coach Stefano Colantuono, an ex-centre back now in his second stint as Nerazzurri boss.
He played all over Italy as a defender, also winning an indoor Futsal Scudetto with BNL Roma midway through a career he finished at Sambenedettese in Marche.
It was there, whilst still a player, that two managerial sackings in quick succession handed him the chance to begin his coaching career.
He won all nine of the games he took charge of at the end of that 2001/2002 season, and Catania then came knocking.
After spending the following year at Perugia, Colantuono first took on the Atalanta job in 2005, leading them to the Serie B title in his debut season and an impressive seventh place in the top flight the year after.
Success evaded him at Palermo and Torino, but he rejoined the Nerazzurri in 2010 and took them back to the top flight they had slipped out of in his absence at the first time of asking.
Coupled with a last-16 run in the Coppa Italia, Colantuono steered his side to an 11th place finish last season and will be looking to use the success as springboard for the 2014/15 campaign.