In their 108 year history, Atalanta have only won one trophy of note, the Coppa Italia. Still, La Dea’s youth ranks have produced some stellar players over the years and this achievement merits an in-depth look at the best Atalanta descendants. Few clubs in Italy bring through players to their first team from their youth academy quite as often as Atalanta.
They are famed on the peninsula for their ability to, time and time again, produce wonderfully gifted footballers and nurturing them until they are ready to move on to pastures new. A club which has never won the Scudetto, and only ever claimed one Coppa Italia triumph and lifted the Serie B trophy on a handful of occasions, La Dea take great pride in their seemingly endless ability to bring through talented youngsters.
Given that they are continuously faced by clubs with far larger resources, the fact that Atalanta not only compete well at a national youth level but have actually registered a number of important wins in their history is perhaps the biggest proof of the quality of work that they do. Perhaps the big difference that Atalanta have with the rest of Italian clubs’ is, as much as possible, they try recruit locally. Of course there have been recruits from other parts of the world but those are just a few exceptions. Instead Atalanta go for local boys with the main reason again being cultural: these players have less of a hard time to integrate and settle in, making their footballing education run all the smoother.
Some of the biggest names in Italian football history began their career at this famous academy from Bergamo. These names include Gaetano Scirea, Roberto Donadoni among others. The first stars to come out of the academy were Piero Gardoni, Franco Nodari and Alfredo Pesenti and the legendary Alessio Domenghini. Most of these players were a part of the Atalanta youth team that won the Campeonato Ragazzi in 1949. Domeghini formed a partnership with the iconic Luigi Riva for the Azzurri in the early 1970s.
The next set of stars to come out of the “La Masia” of Italy were Gaetano Scirea and Antonio Cabrini both of whom are considered one of the greatest players to ever grace the beautiful game. Gaetano Scirea came through the Atalanta youth ranks, spending three years with the senior before being plucked by Juventus at 21. Along with the ruthless Claudio Gentile, Scirea would form arguably the greatest centerback duo of all time.
Guarded by Dino Zoff in goal, Scirea and Gentile along with Cucuredu and the brilliant left back Antonio Cabrini, Italy went on a historic run without conceding a goal and ended up as the champions of 1982 FIFA World Cup. Antonio Cabrini is another product of the Atalanta youth system. He was a part of the Atalanta senior team for a year before he joined Juventus. Cabrini is regarded as one of the greatest Italian defenders of all time and was known for his technical and defensive prowess.
The period after the 1982 World Cup saw the emergence of AC Milan who would go on to become footballing superpowers under Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti. One of the most important players of the AC Milan team of Arrigo Sacchi was the iconic Roberto Donadoni. Roberto Donadoni was a winger, known for his pace, work rate, technical abilities and versatility. Donadoni began his career with Atalanta, and he later became an important part of the dominant A.C. Milan team of the late 1980s and early 1990s, achieving notable domestic and international success during his time with the club.
In his later career, he was also one of the pioneers of Major League Soccer, where he played two seasons for the NY/NJ MetroStars. The 1990s saw the emergence of Alessio Tacchinardi who would become a key part of Juventus team of the 1990s. He was a hard-working and tenacious player, with the mentality of a warrior, he was predominantly known for his excellent positioning, reading of the game, anticipation, and tactical intelligence. Tacchinardi’s name is in the walls of the club’s new stadium, Juventus Stadium which includes the names of 50 other Juventus legends.
The 2000s saw the emergence of Riccado Montolivo and many players of the Italian squad for the 2016 European Championship had come through the Atalanta youth system. It is no doubt that Atalanta boast the best youth academy in Italy. With all the corruption that has engulfed Italian football in recent years, it really is a breath of fresh air to see Atalanta going against the norm and continually blooding in players from their youth academy.
Almost all the young stars of the 2016-17 season have been sold to big clubs. Emmanuel Latte, Filipe Melegoni, Christian Capone, Alessandro Bastoni and Bryan Cabezas are the most exciting prospects at the club. All the players aforementioned have the potential to make it big. With Atalanta’s current production line in full flow, the club continue to supply their youngsters to the bigger sides, whilst bringing in the necessary funds in order to compete.
THE YOUTH SYSTEM
The Atalanta youth system consists of four men’s teams that participate in separate national leagues (Primavera, Allievi Nazionali A and B, and Giovanissimi Nazionali) and two that participate at a regional level (Giovanissimi Regionali A and B).
In late 1930s Giuseppe Ciatto came up with the idea of creating a youth Academy for the club mainly for the locals so that they can test their skills and improve their game. He felt it would help the club in the long run for which they are still reaping the benefit nearly 70 years later. In the late 1950s Luigi Tentorio felt the need to start investing more systematically in youth: he decided to create a real youth sector, with its own independent structure from the first team. The youth sector was entrusted to Giuseppe Brolis, who created a partnership with various clubs in the Veneto and Friuli regions, building a network of scouts and young coaches.
Atalanta4S midfielder from Ivory Coast Franck Kessie (R) and defender Andrea Conti from Italy vie with AC Milan midfielder from Italy Giacomo Bonaventura (C) during the Serie A football match AC Milan vs Atalanta at San Siro Stadium in Milan on December 17, 2016. / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
A crucial step in the history of the Bergamo youth sector took place in the early 1990s when the president Antonio Percassi implemented a new investment policy, especially at the youth level. He managed to convince Fermo Favini to leave Como and entrusted him with the responsibility of the youth sector. The Atalanta youth system not only continued to increase the production of players for the first team, but began to win several honours in the most important national leagues. From 1991 to 2014, the various youth teams have won 17 national titles. Mino Favini has been the head of the academy for more than a decade now,
SCOUTING AND LINKS WITH OTHER TEAMS
Atalanta are the biggest football club for the Bergamo Lombardy region. This has helped them create links with many local clubs across the region. The clubs are helped financially by Atalanta and Atalanta also gives them a chance to loan the youngsters from the Atalanta youth system. The clubs inform Atalanta when an exciting prospect comes around and Atalanta does the needful. It is a mutual relationship where the top clubs offer something at the grassroots level ensuring that they have a wider pool of young talents.
Perhaps the big difference hat Atalanta have with the rest is that, as much as possible, they try recruit locally but there have been exceptions. The club’s scouts extensively in the local region because only a player from the local region would really know what it means to play for the club, represent the Atalanta shirt. He would also have in depth knowledge of the club’s values and principles earlier. The club also has scouting in other parts of Italy and world but it prefers to keep things local more. The club has links with many clubs all of whom are mentioned below.
Ascoli; Avellino; Aglianese; CalcioChese; Forli; Pedona; Piacenza; Grumeliese; Meda; Pontisola; Gragnano; Varesina; FeralpiSaio; Virtus Bergamo; Gragnano
The coach has a huge responsibility thrust upon him. He not only also has to grind out results but also develop players. The club’s facilities and the quality of coaching are very essential to this. Atalanta believes that the coaches, just like the players need to have the Atalanta spirit in them. Technique and creativity are the most important aspects of coaching at the club.
With this in mind, Atalanta are cautious when selecting the youth coaches, preferring candidates who have gone knowledge of the club – those who truly understand the meaning of the academy and its significance. Cesare Prandelli, for example, who spent two stints at the club as a player and seven years as youth team coach before taking steps in the pro game, is a very good example of this policy adopted by the Atalanta hierarchy. This ensures the presence of people who have gone through the experience themselves. Youth coaches Valter Bonacina and Sergio Porrini made more than 100 appearances for the club.
Some clubs focus on developing their brightest prospects more leaving the others behind while some clubs put their focus on the team results, looking to boost their profile by winning at youth level but without achieving the ultimate goal of any youth system which is that of seeing any talent progress making it big. But at Atalanta every youth player is considered equally important.
The development of each player is monitored carefully and they are slowly given first team opportunities. Atalanta also recruit players who were deemed not good enough for the other clubs. The club treats all players equally. The progress of each individual who enters their system is tracked with coaches setting goals for each one which are then communicated and agree by the players. This ensures that everyone knows what they have to work on and where they need to improve.
Atalanta have proven themselves by churning out players in regular intervals. Amidst a footballing world that has become engulfed in money and commercialization, Atalanta prove to be a breath of fresh air with their recruitment and youth policy while also maintaining a sustainable model of running a football club. They are a great club to look up to for a middle of the table clubs who can try emulating them by adopting their approach.
It also goes without saying that implementing such an approach needs implementation of such principles from the roots and does not take place over night. The Atalanta way of doing things is a result of years of hard work and planning and the club is reaping the benefits of such methods. And in turn, so are the other clubs.