Gasperini: “We were the best, now we aim to be the strongest”


Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini talked through his sides heroic Europa League victory, explaining what he hopes to remain with the club and achieve even more. La Dea were 3-0 winners against massive favourites Bayer Leverkusen, putting on a scintillating display in Dublin, with Ademola Lookman scoring a hat-trick. Speaking with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Gasperini recounted the evening, while also looking ahead to the new campaign in Bergamo:

Did you sleep the night before Dublin?

“I always sleep the night before, never the night after.”

Did you feel that the unbeaten team was beatable?

“I knew we could cause them problems. I studied many Bayer Leverkusen games. They’re not used to being pressed like we do. We had the right characteristics to disrupt their play. Although, against such teams, you always anticipate conceding goals.”

Yet, in the key matches against Liverpool, Marseille, and Bayer, you conceded zero goals.

“We defended well. This team is more powerful and solid than in the past, thanks to the arrivals of Kolasinac and Hien.”

Europe has celebrated the beauty of your football.

“That has always been my goal: achieving results through beautiful play with technical players. I’ve always believed that playing well gives you a better chance of winning. Many think that beauty hinders results, which is an absurd cliché. I’ve achieved results at Crotone, Genoa, and Bergamo. Without results, the quality of play isn’t recognized.”

Today, many are inspired by you, though you were once considered outdated.

“More than anything, they didn’t understand what I was doing. In 2006 at Genoa, we were the only team playing with a back three; today, 80% of teams in Europe play this way. Outdated? I was never as innovative as I was then.”

When did you realize that De Ketelaere is a forward?

“Immediately. I’ve always thought that the farther he is from the goal, the more he struggles. Sometimes we still discuss this because he likes to drop back to link up play, but he needs to be a forward, meaning scoring goals or creating them. Fortunately, he still has a lot of potential to develop.”

You’ve improved many good players: what’s the secret?

“The secret is that they are already good. I bring out what they have inside; I can’t transform them or add anything. They become strong if they are strong. The mental work is fundamental. You have to be convincing. If the player is convinced, you’re set. Sometimes it takes months, but then something clicks.”

How did it click with Lookman?

“The most striking example: today he’s a top player, but he wasn’t always. He was talented but inconsistent in games and even in training. I worked on him with the patience of a craftsman. What he’s done in recent weeks shows his maturity: he asks for the ball, participates in the game, connects with teammates.”

At Atalanta, players can take their time, and you rarely make poor signings.

“We’ve made mistakes too, some significant ones, especially with wingers: some extraordinary ones like Conti, Spinazzola, Hateboer, Castagne, and Gosens, and others more disappointing. It happens.”

What kind of season has it been?

“Unimaginable. In the first half of the season, we played a bit more pragmatically, and the technical expression didn’t satisfy me. We experienced ups and downs while trying to improve, but we eventually found consistency. The cup made the difference.”

Now people are asking about the Scudetto…

“We’re 25 points away from the Scudetto, a chasm. The Scudetto is won with over 90 points; we’ve twice reached 78, and this year, we might finish with 72. So far, that’s been our target. Adding 15 points is no small feat, even with fewer defeats. To make the leap and win, you have to incur financial losses, which Atalanta can’t afford. We sell players, and if we sell a Koopmeiners, it’s not easy to find another. Selling doesn’t strengthen us; at best, it lets us start over. The teams that win the Scudetto add to already strong groups, not subtract from them.”


Have you asked the Percassi family to add to the team?

“I’m thinking about how to improve the team. We’ve been excellent, the best, but not the strongest. We can improve in terms of strength. This has to be in line with market availability and the offers we receive, like for Hojlund.”

For you, strengthening means acquiring forwards.

“That’s the main department. If you play 55 matches, you need alternatives, as we saw against Juve without Scamacca. Touré isn’t a center forward. If the defense doesn’t hold, you lose, but the attack wins you matches: if I win 22 games and lose 10, that’s fine by me.”

What kind of Scamacca will Spalletti have?

“A scoring Scamacca, who scores a lot of goals. Luciano will give him additional knowledge. He’s always worked extremely hard; the bad boy reputation is absurd. A key moment was when he freed himself from the immense pressure he was under; every match seemed like he had to prove he was a great player. He never smiled, and he was dark after every mistake. The click? When he didn’t go to the national team, we found the key in those ten days: it wasn’t about goals, but performance and dynamism. The PlayStation? I don’t control that…”

As a backup to Scamacca?

“A young player to develop would be ideal. But today, young players are very expensive.”

Keeping both Koopmeiners and Ederson: more hope or more utopia?

“I’d call it hope, but I’m not sure. Atalanta has already rejected substantial offers for Koopmeiners, even in January. Playing in the Champions League is gratifying, and players are happy to come here, but the salary cap that Atalanta rightly maintains can be an obstacle.”

Did you expect Ederson to be this good?

“I thought he was an attacking midfielder, and he started last season in that role, as he did at Salernitana. Then I noticed his incredible effectiveness in recoveries: he’s a doberman. If you run, he’ll catch you.”

Will Koopmeiners become a holding midfielder?

“He can do it. He has also played as a central defender, but limiting him would be a waste: he has aerobic power for box-to-box play and a shooting ability that should be utilized.”

The rivalry between Carnesecchi and Musso?

“I thought it could be a problem; it caused conflict with the club. There are occasional conflicts; the most serious was the redemption of Demiral, which I felt was an affront. It won’t depend on me anymore but on Musso, who has always behaved well and helped Carnesecchi. I don’t believe the goalkeeper has to be just one person, but I only keep content players. For me, it can work going forward.”

Were you close to leaving?

“I’ve never been in a contract year, so I couldn’t decide alone: I always had to talk to Preziosi or Percassi. I sensed some fatigue, and the president seemed willing to let me go; he said so. But then the season took a glorious turn, and he changed his tune: let’s keep going.”

Next year, you’ll be the veteran of Serie A.

“I’ve told Ranieri in every way possible: don’t do anything stupid… And I shamelessly support Ancelotti: Real-Atalanta in the European Super Cup is a dream.”

Many of your former players are now coaches and look up to you.

“I’ve always tried to improve players and make them captains, instilling a strong team spirit. Like De Roon, Djimsiti, Freuler… Captains become coaches.”

Is there still time for an experience abroad?

“No, I won’t go abroad anymore. I had an opportunity this year, a nice one in England. But I love Italy too much; from Monday to Saturday abroad is tough. And I’ll always be tied to Bergamo, though perhaps not as a coach.”

What about managing a national team?

“I don’t think I have the right qualities for that.”

Is Thiago Motta, one of your former players, ready for Juventus?

“He’s done an extraordinary job and shown something new, particularly in organizing the play out from high pressing. He knows football very well; even as a player, he was like a professor, not fast in pace but in thought. You’d watch him and say, ‘I’d do this,’ and he’d do it. He had Guardiola and Mourinho, played at Paris Saint-Germain, and today can mix all these cultures.”

The upcoming season: has Inter already won?

“They’re ahead, they’re the strongest. But Juventus, Milan, and Napoli are always in a position to raise their level with the right additions. They are not as far off as the last standings suggested, and when I face them, I still feel they have something extra. Atalanta’s task is to always aim to overtake someone higher up who has problems: we can finish third for the fourth time, and twice we’ve missed out on second place on the final day. It means we’ve been the best, not the strongest.”

Gasperini, can Bergamo rest assured you’ll stay for a long time?

“I haven’t renewed my contract with Atalanta yet because, for me, it’s more important to understand if we’re at a starting point or an endpoint. If we want to achieve more in the coming seasons and if Atalanta still sees me as a reference point, that’s great. If there’s a project for the next two to three years, I’m interested. A temporary, precarious situation doesn’t serve me; I’d rather let my contract run out and say goodbye. But we’ll resolve the 2026 or 2027 issue. With me, the Percassi family has always been extremely generous. The urgency now is to build the strongest team.”


Serie A obsessive.