We moved into our 16th season in charge of Atalanta having not only won a 10th successive Serie A title, but also gone an entire league season unbeaten and become the greatest manager of all time by lifting the Euro Cup.
With this success in mind, I felt that changes were needed and decided to give several of our exciting young players a major opportunity. And that meant a few big-name players were going to be moving on.
The first was our main striker throughout most of the save, Cosimo Marco Da Graca – and, as it happens, our final remaining real player (as in, not a regen). Cosimo, who was now Atalanta’s all-time leading appearance record holder and our all-time leading goalscorer, had tailed off in the previous couple of seasons and wanted more than £100,000 a week to stay – so I decided it was time to move on for the 31-year-old. He joined Sampdoria on a free transfer after 265 league goals in 411 appearances – a true legend in my eyes, despite only being a club Icon.
The main two sales came with my decision to move on our two first-choice wingers, Edward Mensah and Godwin Okechukwu. Weirdly, both ended up moving to Manchester City – despite offers from Spain as well as the other English clubs – for a knock-down total of £128 million. That hands opportunities to 19-year-old right-winger George Aliyu, 21-year-old left-winger Alexander Zeller and 18-year-old academy product Filippo Febbrasio.
Holding midfielder Onur Erdugan moved to FC Bayern for £9.5 million, attacker Bjorn Ziegler went to Hamburg for £5.25 million and midfielder Benjamin Majanovic – who put his name in our records book with five goals in a match against Fiorentina the previous season – joined Everton for £5.75 million. These, and a few other sales, saw us bring in a total of £173 million over the summer.
This is indicative of what’s made us by far the most prolific producers of talent in Italy (and highly likely in the world). We have developed 129 players at clubs in the top European leagues, to which the nearest competitor is AS Roma’s 37.
We also had a busy summer of incomings, with 13 players joining the club. Two are particularly exciting and will step straight into the first-team, 18-year-old left-back Bruno Cesar and 17-year-old Ghanaian midfielder Daniel Opoku.
A strong start
We came into the new campaign on a streak of 41 league matches without defeat. And we kept the run going on the opening day with a fine 4-0 thumping of Cagliari, in which we were 2-0 up inside three minutes thanks to Timmi Uldbjerg and Matteo Giacalone.
That was followed by a tricky visit to AC Milan, but we got off to a great start through Da Graca’s replacement Bjorn Amler. Milan equalised just after time, then Zeller put us ahead again only for the hosts to draw level again with 15 minutes to go. But, three minutes later, Zeller grabbed his second to seal a 3-2 win. That was followed by another 4-0 home win, this time over Novara.
More silverware then followed as we defeated Liverpool to win our fourth European Super Cup. A bizarre match saw both sides hugely depleted by international call-ups, including seven of our regular starting eleven. We took a first-half lead through Zeller then forward Kai Nennhuber doubled the lead just after half-time, and we held on despite a late consolation.
We were back in league action with a visit to AS Roma and grabbed another narrow win, this time 2-1 through goals from Aliyu and Amler. Goals at this point were becoming hard to come by as a 0-0 draw with Napoli was followed up by two consecutive 1-0 wins over Genoa and Fiorentina – against whom we’d scored 16 goals in their previous season in Serie A.
But the goals soon began to flow again as a 3-0 win over Chievo was followed up by a 6-1 win at Spezia. Gabriele D’Alessandro poked us ahead in first-half injury-time, which opened the floodgates for a flurry of goals from Febbrasio, Aliyu, Juan Carlos Marin, Lionel Hazquard and Antonio Carlos.
That sent us into a clash with Inter Milan – who’d had a terrible start to the season – in fine form, and it showed as we dominated and won 3-1. Uldbjerg and Giacalone put us 2-0 ahead in the first half an hour and Febbrasio added a third before a last-minute consolation.
A 2-0 win over Cremonese was followed by a very impressive 8-1 thumping of Lazio, in which Uldbjerg had one of his obligatory world-class performances. The club captain scored twice and laid on three assists in a game in which Amler bagged a hat-trick and Zeller also scored a brace. We had 46 shots, Lazio had 1 – and surprise, surprise they scored it.
Uldbjerg was again on the scoresheet in a 3-1 win at Torino, then we dished out another heavy defeat with a 5-0 victory at Empoli. Giacalone opened the scoring with a penalty, then a second-half brace from Amler was followed by goals from Amler and Marin.
A nine-game winning streak was ended with a 1-1 draw at home to our nearest challengers Juventus, then we faced Da Graca for the first time as we drew 0-0 at Sampdoria. And we rounded the year out with a 3-1 win over Pescara through another Amler brace, which took him to 16 goals in all competitions, and Giacalone’s 12 of the season.
Uldbjerg’s form saw him come third in the Footballer of the Year Award in January 2034.
Back in Champions Cup contention
Having missed out on the latter stages of the Champions Cup last season, our chances of avoiding the same plight again weren’t looking too great at the half-way point of the group stages.
That’s because we opened up with a 1-0 defeat at home to Manchester United, then drew 1-1 in Benfica before somehow managing to draw 4-4 at home to Dinamo Zagreb – in which we scored in the 8th and 89th minutes to rescue a point.
But a 2-1 win in Croatia then a much-improved performance to draw 1-1 at United meant fate was in our own hands as we entertained Benfica. And the boys duly delivered with goals from Amler, an Uldbjerg penalty then a goal from Zeller sending us through to the knockout rounds in second place.
We also secured a place in the Italian Cup Semi-Finals for the first time in many years as a second eleven defeated Bologna 1-0 then saw off Genoa on penalties after a 0-0 draw. And we’ll face Inter in the two-legged semi.
Join us next time to discover if we can take our unbeaten league streak beyond the current 59 matches, with Inter’s 62 match Serie A record, set in February 2023, well within our sights.