Long live Gian Piero Gasperini: Europa League triumph only enriches Gasp’s already-legendary status at Atalanta

After securing the 2023/24 Europa League for Atalanta, Gian Piero Gasperini firmly cemented his place as the greatest coach in their history and one of Italy's very best.

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Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini ended their six-decade wait for major silverware and lifted the club’s first European trophy as his team brushed aside Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League final in Dublin. and reinforced his status as the greatest coach in the club’s history.

A hat-trick from Ademola Lookman at the Aviva Stadium to overcome their German – and previously invincible – opponents perfectly encapsulated how the 66-year-old coach has put his trust in youth and players previously tossed aside by other clubs to transform the Nerazzurri’s fortunes since his 2016 arrival.

Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman celebrates. [@Atalanta_BC]

Did Gasperini need a trophy to cement his Atalanta legacy?

When Gasperini joined Atalanta eight years ago, the club had spent five seasons battling relegation and few supporters expected the Italian to have them fighting at the other end of the Serie A table, as had been the case during some short-lived success with Genoa, as the Grifone qualified for Europe in 2008/09.

However, at the end of his first campaign in Bergamo, La Dea sat fourth in the standings with 27 more points than the previous year and a club-record points total. That first season showed the first signs that they were going to be one of the most entertaining teams in Italy under his stewardship, and they returned to Europe after a 26-year absence.

Almost overnight, European qualification became routine and Gasperini twice recorded record-breaking points hauls of 78, and a hat-trick of third-place finishes.

The 2019/20 season saw them come within two goals of hitting a century in Serie A and those are the memories that fans will cherish forever, but trophies are what those in the future will use to attach significance to a coach’s time at a club.

Therefore, their Europa League triumph is probably more important when supporters of the future research his period with La Dea, but gives the current generation of fans a reference point for just how big an influence Gasperini has had on their club.

Leverkusen Atalanta Europa League
Bayer Leverkusen’s Jeremie Frimpong and Atalanta’s Matteo Ruggeri battle for the ball. [@bayer04fussball]

Record-ending Atalanta do it again in Dublin

While it might not have felt like it at the time, Gasperini masterminding the end of the 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions of Sporting CP at the Round of 16 stage was a sign of things to come for Atalanta. Considering that the future Portuguese champions would not lose another game this term, it also suggested that a La Dea some consider lacking the quality of previous Gasperini incarnations could still mix it with Europe’s very best.

In the quarter-finals, the Nerazzurri achieved the even more spectacular feat of overcoming a Liverpool team challenging for the Premier League title, stunning Anfield with a historic 3-0 win, ending another lengthy unbeaten home run of 34 games.

Scamacca Liverpool Atalanta Europa League
Atalanta’s Gianluca Scamacca shrugs in celebration. [@Atalanta_BC]

So, a Bayer Leverkusen side within two games of an invincible campaign across all competitions and on a 51-match unbeaten run should have brought no fear, and that showed in the attacking formation Gasperini opted for in Dublin.

Within 25 minutes, Atalanta, and more specifically Lookman, had the German’s 51-game unbeaten run hanging by a thread by racing into a 2-0 lead that seemed engineered to avoid the last-gasp collapse that so many of the Bundesliga club’s previous victims in the competition have suffered en route to the final.

Europe proves fourth time lucky for Gasperini

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini and Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso. [@bayer04fussball]

While Gasperini has received much praise for his ability to have Atalanta punching above their weight in Serie A during his eight years in Bergamo, and his employers will have welcomed the additional revenue European qualification brings, there is nothing like leaving a stadium with a gold medal around your neck. The veteran tactician had seemed destined to be the bridesmaid, but never the bride.

Although their German opponents had the tag of ‘Neverkusen’ before lifting the Bundesliga title this term, despite winning the Europa League in its previous incarnation as the UEFA Cup in 1988, it was La Dea who had suffered more recent and regular cup final heartache.

Three years after his arrival, Gasperini and Atalanta were beaten finalists as Lazio claimed the 2018/19 Coppa Italia, and again two years later against Juventus. When they met the Bianconeri in this season’s final the week before heading to Ireland, the Nerazzurri were probably favourites for the first time, but the Old Lady ground out a 1-0 win.

Gian Piero Gasperini celebrates leading Atalanta into Europe again for 2023/24. (@Atalanta_BC)

Against German champions, though, Gasperini to his attacking principles and was finally rewarded with the first trophy of his coaching career, as his team put in one of the greatest-ever European final performances.

Even before Dublin, there was never any risk in Bergamo that Gasperini would be forgotten for what he has given to Atalanta and the city. Now, though, it has been confirmed that his legacy will be marked far away from the Northern Italian city. Lunga vita a Gasperini.

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