Atalanta B.C. – from “lift club” to CL quarter-finalist

November 23, 2020

“The main explanations for our performance success are a systematic game concept, the ability to develop the individual players and the crew treatment at a very high level. We cannot afford to buy world stars like the big clubs as Juventus F.C., A.C. Milan, F.C. Inter, A.S. Roma or S.S. Lazio, but instead find potential top players both in – and not least outside – Italy. In addition, we must develop talented youth players in our academy, which is one of Italy’s absolute best. And we have been very successful in recent seasons. Today we have players from 12 different countries and players such as “Papu” Gomez, Ilicic, Zapata and Hateboer failed to fulfil their potential in other Serie A clubs – it has only really been redeemed here with us”. My good friend Jens Bangsbo is – as always – very precise when, over a double espresso at the restaurant “Cucina” on Mount San Vigilio outside Bergamo, he talks about Atalanta B.C.’s sporting achievements since head coach Gian Piero Gasperini took office in the summer of 2016. Bangsbo is now in his third season at the club, which last season reached the quarter-finals of football’s premier tournament: the Champions League.

Strong combination of theoretical knowledge and applied practice

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Jens Bangsbo played over 350 matches in Denmark’s best football league, including for Kastrup Boldklub, Hvidovre IF, Lyngby Boldklub and Esbjerg fB. He’s a graduate of P.E. and math and has written more than 300 scientific articles and 25 books on football. And not least, he has managed to integrate the physical, technical and tactical elements of the game, both in the daily training and the club’s game concept. Bangsbo has also been associated with the Danish national football team for several periods as physical coach during the final rounds and has been coach and educator of the DBU, UEFA and FIFA. Today, Bangsbo is regarded as one of the world’s most competent experts in physical training in football. And the commitment to Atalanta B.C. is today combined with the job of professor in applied physiology at the Department of Sport Science and Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen.

An offensive and aggressive game concept

It was also as a physical coach that Jens Bangsbo met Gian Piero Gasperini at Juventus F.C. – Italy’s most winning club, both nationally and internationally. At the time, Bangsbo was a consultant for the club under legendary coach Marcello Lippi, while Gasperini served as youth coach at the same club. Gasperini and Bangsbo quickly found each other in conversations about the qualities and challenges of different game concepts. Gasperini has always been a believer in an offensive style of play that demands the individual players, both physically, technically, tactically and mentally. “It is far from coincidental that we have been the highest-scoring Serie A team in the last two seasons. Our formation is typically 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 with offensive, aggressive pressure on the opponent. This means that players have to deliver a very large running syllabus in every single game, whether we play at home or away. The game concept also means that all training sessions take place with very high intensity, which is far from suitable for all players. Football is a team sport, but training must be individualised to achieve the greatest possible impact. Therefore, we very often work with specific technical-tactical training in groups of 3-5 players. With us, players must fulfil the game concept – and not the other way around. Therefore, it also happens relatively often that the club buys players that we sell on relatively quickly or rent out, because they simply cannot honor the kind of football that Atalanta B.C. must achieve results on”, says the 63-year-old Bangsbo.

Physical and mental fatigue “just around the corner”

The offensive game concept of aggressive pressure on opponent and a high defensive line with 3 defenders and short distance between defense and midfield also makes in between Atalanta B.C. vulnerable. Not least against teams who master the counter-game at a high level, such as Liverpool F.C. “We have seen that in the first game of the season many goals have been scored against us, both in Serie A and the Champions League. That’s because our pressure game hasn’t worked quite as well as last season. And then we have made too many personal mistakes – it will be punished about the very best teams”, says Bangsbo. Among the reasons for Atalanta B.C.’s good results over a long period of time is according to Bangsbo that the club has been spared from injuries. “We have only used 14-15 players for almost a year, which is quite unusual in terms of the large number of matches we have played. However, we can now see several negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which extended last season and meant virtually no summer break. Many of our players are now both physically and mentally tired after a very large number of matches. It costs that the players have not been given the break their bodies are used to and need. For that reason, I may be a little concerned about the coming weeks as we have to perform in Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League. The decisive battle for qualification for the eighth-place final in CL will probably be the match against Ajax in Amsterdam”.

Conversations are the key factor to a very strong sense of community

Jens Bangsbo has worked in Italy for several years now, but has also been associated with clubs in both Greece and Turkey. “I love Italy and football – and not least the Italians’ attitude to life. It was a great experience for me and my family to stay here for three years. We felt welcome and Italians are generally open-minded and very passionate about the things that they find important in life. I have also experienced with Italian top coaches such as Lippi, Ancelotti and Gasperini that they are very adept at seeking advice and guidance from the professional experts who are part of their staff. Italian top coaches often have very high charisma, as is the case with Gasperini. And then they have a clear philosophy with the team’s game concept. In addition, I learn these years a great deal from Gian Piero’s crew treatment. He manages, through often long and in-depth conversations, both with the individual players, the team and the staff around the team, to create a very strong sense of community” continues Bangsbo, who has not set a date for the end of his cooperation with Gasperini and Atalanta B.C. “I have learned from a long life in football that things can change in a split second – also in Italy”.

You can read more with Atalanta B.C. on the website: https://www.atalanta.it

You can also read about Jens Bangsbo’s scientific articles and books on football here:

https://nexs.ku.dk/ansatte/?pure=da/persons/jens-bangsbo%2824839560-f889-42a6-9b73-97b69f101548%29.html