After recording the best-ever finish in Atalanta’s history, expectations increased heading into the 2020-21 campaign. Indeed, the board bumped our lowest possible expectation for the season from ‘mid-table finish’ up to ‘top-half finish.’
Another summer of outgoings preceded the campaign, with 26 players exiting the club either on permanent transfers, being released or on loan. And among those exits was a whole load of money.
Big money sales
Central midfielder Remo Freuler was sold to AS Monaco for a decent fee of £14 million, backup forward Marco Carraro went to Pescara for £4.3 million, a few other backup players left for around £1 million, then penalty-taking goalkeeper Etrit Berisha attracted the interest of Inter Milan and got unhappy so we moved him on for £12.5 million – which I thought was very good for a 31-year-old.
But then the big money suddently rolled in. 21-year-old striker Musa Barrow, who’d scored 38 goals in 83 appearances in the first two seasons, had long been courted by Paris Saint Germain – and eventually that pressure told and we sold him for a club record £44.5 million.
Then, on deadline day, young forward / left-winger Christian Capone, who had popped up 3 league goals at an average rating of 6.71, caught the interest of Roma. They offered around £15 million, and I managed negotiate them up to a whopping £35 million. Cash in the bank for a player with decent potential but who I didn’t fully believe had what it took.
In total, we brought in around £120 million during the Summer Transfer Window.
These sales had left the squad looking rather threadbare, with no real striker, no goalkeeper and a bit light in midfield. But we continued our methodology of placing trust in youth, promoting from within where required but with several reinforcements.
We signed a backup rightback in 18-year-old regen Abalo Saibou for £4.8 million from Hannover, then a whole host of youth prospects who were only at a level to go into the reserves – and most of which immediately went out on loan. I’m particularly excited about two young Brazilian midfield prospects, Karioca and Bruno. While we also snapped up the next Gareth Bale, in Jay Griffiths for £97,000 from Wrexham.
But three big loan signings were secured to bolster the squad, in goalkeeper Alex Meret and striker Gabriel Barbosa – who I call Gabi Barboso, and is a bit of a hero of mine courtesy of a Newcastle United save from long ago – then the addition of young winger Reiss Nelson from Arsenal.
A strong start to Serie A
The 2020-21 campaign got off to a flying start, with four wins from our first five matches – including Barboso scoring in both of his first two games for the club, and Nelson and Antonio Marin scoring in an important 2-1 home win over AC Milan.
We also got a great start in our first ever Champions League campaign, with a win over Lokomotiv Moskow and a 4-1 hammering of Schalke thanks to a Nelson hat-trick.
A 1-0 defeat at Cagliari followed, but inspired us onto a scintillating run of 12 Serie A games undefeated, which included a 2-1 win over Inter thanks to a Saibou goal that would eventually earn him runner-up in the Goal of the Season, then an incredible 5-1 hammering of Juventus through another Nelson hat-trick.
The strong run shuddered to a halt with a 3-0 defeat at Lazio, but we did go into Christmas in third place in the league – only behind Inter and Juventus. We also managed to qualify from our Champions League group, coming home in second behind Monaco.
Next time, we’ll explore how far this side can go in the Champions League and whether the young Atalanta boys can possibly challenge the big-spending Inter and Juve in a title race.