«La bella momenti della vita» – about the values of life and football

November 2, 2020

Most Italians have a particular passion for art, design, fashion, gastronomy, wine and … football. For generations of Italians, this has given precisely the beauty and meaning of life: “La bella momenti della vita”, as the life-revelers of the boot country say with enthusiasm and glow in the voices. During these weeks I also enjoy life in and around Bergamo, which just six months ago was the epicentre in Europe of the COVID-19 pandemic. From my apartment in Bergamo’s old town, I have a view of the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital, where doctors and nurses fought 24 hours a day to save lives. The images of military trucks driving coffins from the city’s hospital to the crematory are still to be found on my retina. Lombardy, Italy’s largest and richest region with a population of 10 million, was hit very hard by the covid-19 pandemic, with more than 70% of all cases of infection in Italy taking place here. And Bergamo in particular, which has a population of 120,000 inhabitants, reported more than 100 deaths a day for several weeks on the front pages of the world’s media. Slowly but surely, through curfews and very strict restrictions, health authorities manage to bring the situation under control, but everyday life will never be the same as before the outbreak and deadly force of the COVID-19 pandemic, either in Bergamo, Lombardy or other regions of Italy. Yes – maybe not in the whole world either.

Northern and Southern Italy are two different worlds

There is a big difference between prosperity, living conditions and mentality in Northern and Southern Italy. Rome has always been the capital of Italy and not least the country’s political and religious centre of Western civilization, partly as the capital of the Roman Empire and partly as the home of the Holy See. It was mainly industrialisation at the end of the last century that created great income and wealth disparities between the South and the North in Italy. Today, Northern Italy is rich, industrially well developed and dominated by private companies, while Southern Italy is poor, highly dependent on agriculture and with very high unemployment in several regions. Therefore, it is no coincidence that most, richest and most winning football clubs, both nationally and internationally, are located in Northern Italy. More than 3/4 of the Serie A clubs come from Northern Italy and only S.S.C. Napoli have historically been able to challenge the clubs in Northern Italy.

“The old lady” that no one gets close to

The biggest among Italian clubs is Juventus F.C. from Turin, which has won no less than 37 national Championships. Or more than twice as many as the two Milan clubs – A.C. Milan and F.C. Inter – both of which have won 18 national Championships. “The Old Lady,” the club’s nickname, has won the national Championship for the past nine seasons and there is no indication that any other club can prevent Juventus F.C. with world stars such as Bonucci, Chiellini, Ronaldo and Dybala winning the 10th Championship in a row when the bottom line is to be made up for spring 2021. In addition, Juventus F.C. have won two Champions League titles and three Europa League titles in recent decades. The national and international success of the Turin club has long been a thorn in the side of all tifosi in Milan – Italy’s second largest city with more than 1.3 million inhabitants. And now the two traditional clubs are being squeezed from a completely unexpected edge: Atalanta B.C. from Bergamo.

From “lift club” to Champions League quarter-finalist

Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio, founded in 1907 by a group of high school students, has played in Serie A for 58 seasons but never won the national Championship. And until a few seasons ago it was a “lift club” between Serie A and Serie B. But with the recruitment of Gian Piero Gasperini in the summer of 2016, a new era began for the club, which has also had well-known Danish national team players such as Jørgen Leschly Sørensen (1949-1953) and Flemming Nielsen (1961-1964) among the profiles of the club. It was with Flemming Nielsen on the team that Atalanta B.C. won the “Coppa Italia” in 1963 – the Italian Cup. Gasparini introduced a highly offensive and aggressive style of play with little Argentine Alejandro “Papu” Gomez as the focal point of midfield as well as Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata from Colombia and Slovenian Josip Ilicic as hyper-dangerous strikers. The results were also absent, with the club becoming No 4 in the 2016-17 season and trailing No 3 in the past two seasons. And last season, the team scored as many as 98 goals, the highest number of goals in Serie A since 1948. With the top positions in Serie A Atalanta B.C. has also gained access to the Champions League group stage, thereby also securing a very substantial injection of capital for the purchase of players from the “top international shelf”. In terms of results, the debut in the Champions League in the 2019-2020 season also surpassed everything and everyone’s expectations, with only a few seconds separating the club from a place in the CL semi-final.

“Gli Azzurri” – the pride of the nation

Italy’s strong passion for football includes not only club football, but definitely the national team “Gli Azzurri” – the azure ones – who have won the World Championship four times (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006) – second only to Brazil with 5 World Championships (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002). Somewhat surprisingly, Italy, where the goalkeeping legend and captain 42-year-old Gianluigi Buffon will play national no. 177 in a few weeks, have won only one European Championship, namely on home soil in 1968. Italy has often emerged as a nation with many political conflicts and conflicts between the individual regions of the North and South. Despite these conflicts and contradictions, the national football team has always been a national pride across the age, gender, political persuasions and economic hapitus.

The beautiful moments of life

On Tuesday night, Atalanta B.C. will meet one of the world’s best club teams: the national champions of England and the 2018-2019 CL-Champions from Liverpool F.C. in the CL group stage. And next Sunday there will be a special match at the “Gewiss Stadium” when F.C. Inter from Milan – presumably with Christian Eriksen as the substitute – will visit Bergamo. Unfortunately, due to the risk of infection, it is not possible, either for me or other spectators, to be physically present in the stadium. So I must instead follow the matches “live on TV” at one of the local bars. On the other hand, it is still allowed to enjoy a good dinner with wine from the Valcalepio district at “Ristorante Il Ducale”, visit the art gallery “Accademia Carrara” and buy a pair of shoes and new pants in one of the many fashion stores at “Via XX Settember”. A “peasant from Jutland” has also learned that life can consist of “beautiful moments”.

In my next blog I will tell you a little about the background to Atalanta B.C.’s sporting achievements in recent years with my good friend – and today assistant coach of Atalanta B.C. – Jens Bangsbo as the main source. 

You can get more information about Serie A here: http://www.legaseriea.it/en

In addition, the book by Jesper Ralberg & Mikael Sørensen: “Calcio Italiano – Culture, Politics and Economics” (2013) can be recommended.