History of Atalanta B.C.
The history of Atalanta B.C. covers over 110 years of Italian football club Atalanta B.C., commonly referred to as Atalanta (or its nicknames, La Dea, the Orobici, and the Nerazzurri), from its founding in 1907 to the present day.
Atalanta was founded in 1907 by Liceo Classico Paolo Sarpi students in Bergamo and was named after the Greek mythological athlete of the same name. The club merged with another club also based in Bergamo in 1920, adopting its current name (Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio) and colors (black and blue) after this merger. Atalanta spent much of the 1920s and 1930s in the second division, reaching Serie A, the top flight, for the first time in 1937. The club then enjoyed nearly three decades in Serie A (1940–1969), only missing out in 1958–59. In the following years, the club experienced more movements between the top two divisions, even spending one season (1981–82) in the third division. This pattern continued into the 1990s and 2000s, though the club also participated in several UEFA competitions during this period. Atalanta was most recently in Serie B, the second division, in 2010–11; the club has been in Serie A for ten consecutive seasons since then. Between 2017 and 2021, the club enjoyed its best ever league finishes and participated in the UEFA Champions League.
As of 2021[update], Atalanta has spent a total of 60 seasons in Serie A, 28 seasons in Serie B (winning it five times), and only one in Serie C. Atalanta has spent the most seasons in the top flight of any Italian club not based in a regional capital; because of these consistent performances, as well as Serie B titles and performances in continental competitions, the club is sometimes called the Regina delle provinciali ("queen of the provincial clubs"). However, the club has never won the Scudetto, and only has won one major trophy: the Coppa Italia in 1963. In continental competitions, Atalanta's best performances were a run to the semi-finals of the 1987–88 European Cup Winners' Cup (while the club was in Serie B), the quarter-finals of the 1990–91 UEFA Cup, and the quarter-finals of the 2019–20 UEFA Champions League.
Early years (1900–1920)
At the turn of the 20th century, the main sporting associations in Bergamo were the Società Bergamasca di Ginnastica e Scherma (also called simply Bergamasca), founded in 1878, and the Giovane Orobia, founded in 1901. These were both located in the Città Alta (the historic "high city", situated at the base of the Bergamo Alps, which begin immediately north of the city), where they were less accessible to residents of the Città Bassa ("low city"; borgo). The origins of the modern club can be traced back to a split from the Giovane Orobia with the intent of creating a sports club in the Borgo.
The first football association based in Bergamo was called Foot Ball Club Bergamo, founded by Swiss emigrants on 15 October 1904. It participated in regional championships (organized by the Italian Football Federation) until it was disbanded in 1911; its remnants were absorbed into rival club Bergamasca, which would establish a football sector in 1913.
The club was founded on 17 October 1907 by Liceo Classico Paolo Sarpi students Eugenio Urio, Giulio and Ferruccio Amati, Alessandro Forlini, and Giovanni Roberti. A day later, they unanimously agreed to name the club Atalanta after the female athlete of the same name from Greek mythology, giving rise to the name Società Bergamasca di Ginnastica e Sports Atletici Atalanta. The new club immediately established a football sector, though it would not be recognized by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) until 1914. Prior to this recognition and inauguration of a playing field, the club only played friendly matches; these were played first at the Piazza d'Armi and later in the Campo di Marte in the city center. The club's first playing field was then established on the Via Maglio del Lotto in Bergamo, near the railway connecting Bergamo to Milan. It measured 90×45 meters and had a seated capacity of 1000 spectators.
Football director and haberdasher Pietro Carimanti strongly pushed for the club's recognition by the FIGC. During this time, the club wore a black and white kit. There also were active sectors in other sports such as gymnastics, fencing, cycling, and swimming. Three athletes from Atalanta participated in the Olympic Games: Guido Calvi and 1911 Italian 5000-meter champion Alfonso Orlando participated in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, while Costante Lussana, also an Italian 5000-meter champion, participated in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp.
Following recognition from the FIGC, the club participated in the 1914–15 Promozione, then the second-highest level of the Italian football league system. In its first competitive season, the club finished second in its group and finished fourth in the final round.
During the suspension of official sporting events following the outbreak of World War I, which Italy entered in 1915, Atalanta took part in several friendly tournaments. Because the first-team players had gone into battle, they were contested by youth players. These included the Coppa Lissone, in which host club Pro Lissone defeated Atalanta 2–1 in the final, the 1916 Coppa Lombardia, and the 1916–17 Coppa Legnano. Later during the war, the club was forced to sell the land containing its field amid economic problems. On 11 November 1918, a week after the war ended, former footballer Antonio Festa (who, before the war, played for Bergamasca), founded the Circolo Studentesco (Student Circle) to rejuvenate enthusiasm towards football in the city.
At the beginning of 1919, Atalanta resumed its pre-war activities, though with a depleted squad containing only eleven players (two goalkeepers and nine outfield players). To field a complete team, goalkeeper Francesco Aragano volunteered to fill the vacancy in central midfield.
However, Atalanta faced a more important problem: following the loss of the Maglio del Lotto field, the club was temporarily without a field to play competitive matches. As a solution, entrepreneur and philanthropist Betty Ambiveri sold the "Clementina" field, an older venue in Seriate that hosted sporting events such as cycling, to the club. The new field was inaugurated as the Atalanta Stadium, and hosted 14,000 spectators in its first match against La Dominante of Genoa.
The club then prepared to challenge for admission to the Prima Categoria, the top tier of the Italian football league system. However, the Italian Football Federation announced that it would only allow one club from Bergamo to participate in the 1919–20 Prima Categoria. Both Atalanta and Bergamasca were eligible to participate, though a strong rivalry existed between the two clubs. This rivalry quickly precluded any cooperation or agreement, necessitating a competitive playoff to decide the fate of the two Bergamo clubs. The playoff match was held on 5 October 1919 in Brescia; Atalanta won the match 2–0. Atalanta went on to finish third in Lombardy Group B, securing a place in the next season's Prima Categoria.
In February 1920, a merger between the two Bergamo clubs nevertheless occurred after an assembly; the new club was named Atalanta Bergamasca di Ginnastica e Scherma 1907, shortened to Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio. The merger was completed on 4 April 1920 and Enrico Luchsinger became the new club's first president. The colors of the new team were also decided following the merger: the black and white of Atalanta and the blue and white of Bergamasca were combined into a blue and black (nerazzurri) kit. The club retains the name and colors resulting from this merger to the present day.
Between the wars and Serie A debut (1920–1940)
In the first season after the merger, Atalanta finished fourth in Lombardy Group E. The next season, Atalanta finished third in the group won by Cremonese in the FIGC championship (there were two top-level championships that season following the formation of the secessionist Italian Football Confederation (CCI); the CCI dissolved a year later). At the end of the 1921–22 season, Atalanta played its first match against a foreign team, a 2–2 draw in a friendly against Swiss club Aarau.
In the 1922–23 season, Atalanta won its group in the Seconda Divisione, though the club was not promoted due to the FIGC restructuring the league system. Despite this, the club received a cup from the Regional Committee for its group victory and advanced to the national finals, where it lost over two legs to Carpi (0–0 at home, 2–0 away). After another third-place finish in its Seconda Divisione group, Atalanta finished third-to-last in the 1924–25 Seconda Divisione and risked relegation, saved only following a double playoff against Trevigliese and Canottieri Lecco.
In 1925, Cesare Lovati was hired as the club's first true professional coach. The club also welcomed its first foreign players at this time, Hungarian center-forward Gedeon Eugen Lukács and mezzala Jeno Hauser. Lukács scored 13 goals in 20 games that season and finished top scorer of the club, while Hauser scored 7 goals in 19 games. The club finished third in its group, three points behind group winners Biellese.
At the end of the season, in 1926, the FIGC changed its rules to only allow one foreign player per squad instead of two. This prompted the club to keep Lukács (sending Hauser back to Hungary) for the next Prima Divisione season. (This was the same level on the pyramid as the Seconda Divisione, where the previously-named top-flight Prima Divisione was renamed Divisione Nazionale.) In the 1926–27 Prima Divisione, Lukács scored 20 goals in 18 games including five in a 6–0 home win against Monfalconese, which remains the most goals scored by a single Atalanta player in a match. This helped the club finish second in its group with 26 points, only one point behind group winners Pro Patria.
The club hired Hungarian coach Imre Payer, its first foreign coach, in 1927 to try to challenge for promotion to the top flight. However, this appointment required the departure of Lukács, as only one foreigner was allowed in the club in any position per the FIGC rules. Despite his departure, the club was able to achieve good results, winning its group with 30 points in 18 matches. By winning its group, Atalanta qualified for the national second division finals against Bari, Biellese, and Pistoiese. Atalanta lost all three away games (respectively 1–0, 2–1, and 3–2), but won all three home games (respectively 6–0, 3–1, and 3–2). Bari was eliminated from the playoffs following losses to Biellese and Pistoiese, though the remaining three teams were tied, requiring a second round of playoffs. Biellese subsequently withdrew, thereby forfeiting its matches; the Prima Divisione winner would therefore be decided in a single playoff match on neutral ground between Atalanta and Pistoiese. Atalanta won this match 3–0, winning the Prima Divisione (its first second division triumph) and promotion to the top flight.
In 1928, a new stadium was built for the club on the Viale Margherita (now the Viale Giulio Cesare), in the Borgo Santa Caterina neighborhood; Atalanta plays its home matches at this stadium to the present day. The new stadium was much larger than the Clementina stadium, with a capacity of 12,000 spectators, and also included a running track. The stadium was originally named after fascist hero Mario Brumana; this was common naming practice in fascist Italy. On 1 November 1928, the new stadium hosted its first unofficial match, in which Atalanta defeated Triestina 4–2. As Prime Minister Benito Mussolini desired a more lavish opening, the official opening match was played almost two months later on 23 December 1928 against La Dominante Genova, in front of over 14,000 spectators. Atalanta won this match 2–0.
During the 1928–29 season, youth goalkeeper Carlo Ceresoli made his top-flight debut at age 18 under new coach Aldo Cevenini. He made his first appearance in a 3–0 away loss to Roma. After several more years in Bergamo, he would move to Inter Milan, and win the 1938 FIFA World Cup with the Italian national team. At the end of the season, however, Atalanta did not finish among the top eight teams in its group and was not admitted to Serie A, the new single-group Italian top flight contested by 16 teams, for the 1929–30 season. Atalanta instead was admitted to the 1929–30 edition of the new second tier, Serie B.
Hungarian player-manager József Viola was in charge for the next few seasons. The club almost reached promotion to Serie A several times, coming closest with a sixth-place finish in 1931, five points behind promoted Bari and Fiorentina. During these years, there were several noted players: Vittorio Casati, who has the most appearances of any Atalanta player in Serie B (202); Francesco Simonetti, future assistant coach; and Luigi Tentorio, who would hold various management positions at the club as well as Italian national team head coach in the two decades following World War II.
At the end of the 1931–32 season, the club faced economic problems and almost failed to register for the championship. This necessitated the sale of Carlo Ceresoli to Inter for 100,000 lire. The club's struggles continued after this sale, though; the club only escaped relegation to the third tier after the FIGC expanded Serie B to include more teams in 1933 (no teams were relegated from Serie B at the end of that season).
The club finished in the middle of Serie B for the next few seasons, also winning a Coppa Disciplina in the 1935–36 season. In the 1936–37 season, under the guidance of new coach Ottavio Barbieri, Atalanta achieved its first historic promotion to Serie A with a second-place finish in Serie B.
Atalanta made its Serie A debut on 12 September 1937 in a 0–0 away draw against Genoa. A week later, the club played its first home game against Juventus at the Brumana stadium in front of over 15,000 spectators, losing 1–0. Despite initial enthusiasm, the club would only win four matches throughout the season, all of them at home. This led the club to a second-to-last-place finish (ahead of only Fiorentina) and relegation to Serie B. Although this relegation led to the sale of midfielder Giuseppe Bonomi to Roma for 120,000 lire, the team of this period also featured midfielder Severo Cominelli, Atalanta's second highest scorer (behind only Cristiano Doni) with 62 career goals for the club.
Following this relegation, it did not take long for Atalanta to return to the top flight. The club only narrowly missed promotion in 1939 because of an inferior goal quotient to Venezia, with whom Atalanta was tied for second place. The next season, president Nardo Bertoncini appointed new coach Ivo Fiorentini. Atalanta went on to finish first in the 1939–40 Serie B and achieve promotion to Serie A; this triumph came without a single defeat at home and 25 goals in 31 appearances from striker Giovanni Gaddoni, the most by an Atalanta player in a single league season.
Serie A consistency and Coppa Italia (1940–1971)
Upon returning to the top flight in the 1940–41 season, Atalanta defeated reigning champions Bologna en route to a sixth-place finish. Atalanta continued in Serie A under Hungarian coach János Nehadoma until the league was suspended because of World War II in 1943. Despite the sales of several key players, Nehadoma's team achieved a thirteenth-place finish in 1942 and a ninth-place finish in 1943, the latter campaign featuring standout victories against Torino (1–0), against Milan at San Siro (0–1), and against reigning champions Roma (2–1).
Italy was split in two parts after the fall of the fascist regime in 1943, rendering a national championship impossible. Nevertheless, a regional championship was held in Northern Italy, the Campionato Alta Italia, in which Atalanta participated but did not reach the final stage.
After the war ended, Lombardy senator Daniele Turani invested in the club to repair financial losses during the war. Atalanta finished mid-table in its first post-war season (1945–46), during which two-time world champion Giuseppe Meazza played for the club. As fascism no longer existed in Italy after the end of the war, the stadium was renamed as the Stadio Comunale ("City Stadium"). Upon reopening of borders in Europe, the club was once again able to recruit foreign players; Hungarian midfielder Mihály Kincses and attacker Sándor Olajkár played for Atalanta during the 1946–47 season, the former scoring 9 goals in 21 appearances and the latter making 7 appearances without scoring.
Over the next few years, the club played consistently in the top flight and achieved some good results against metropolitan teams, earning a reputation as the provinciale terribile (terrible provincial team). These included four victories in eight matches between 1945 and 1949 against the Grande Torino, the Torino team that won the Scudetto each of these years. In the 1947–48 Serie A, Atalanta achieved a fifth-place finish under coach Ivo Fiorentini (who returned for a second spell at the club). This campaign included victories over the Grande Torino, Milan, Bologna, and Inter (0–3 at San Siro), and was the club's highest league finish until 2017.
The following season proved to be much harder for Atalanta. Fiorentini resigned in March 1949 after the team obtained three points in seven matches and was replaced by Carlo Carcano. following this managerial change, the club only secured Serie A safety on the final matchday with a 2–0 away win against Livorno.
For the 1949–50 season, Giovanni Varglien was appointed as the club's new coach. He implemented changes to the squad and system following controversy and doubts from the previous season. Cominelli left the team after 261 matches and 62 goals, moving to SPAL at age 34. Midfielder Giacomo Mari left for Juventus; his replacement, Stefano Angeleri, arrived at Atalanta from Juventus. The FIGC also revised its rules to allow three foreigners per squad. This allowed the club to sign Danish forwards Jørgen Sørensen and Karl Hansen, in addition to already-present Swedish midfielder Bertil Nordahl.
Under Varglien, Atalanta was at the top of the Serie A table after the first two matches, the first of which was a 6–2 away win against Bologna featuring a hat-trick by Hansen. Although the club dropped to eighth place following a drop of the form by the end of the season, scoring 40 points in total, the club scored 66 goals during the campaign, then the record for a single season. Three players scored over ten goals: Hansen (18), Sørensen (17), and forward Emilio Caprile (14).
In the early 1950s, the club continued to perform consistently in Serie A and launched the careers of young players such as Battista Rota, Giulio Corsini, and Gaudenzio Bernasconi, the last of whom was named among the revelations of the 1953–54 season. In summer 1954, the club sold Rota to Bologna (though he would return in 1961) and appointed Luigi Bonizzoni as the new coach. The 1954–55 season saw Atalanta struggle in offense. The team escaped relegation thanks to 16 goals from Danish midfielder Poul Rasmussen—who arrived in 1952 to replace Swedish forward Hasse Jeppson after a then-world record 105-million lire sale to Napoli—as well as defensive solidity. With only 38 goals conceded, Atalanta had the second-best defense in Serie A, behind only champions Milan.
In 1955, Atalanta featured in the first football match broadcast on RAI, a 2–0 home win over Triestina on 15 October. Two years later (1957–58), the club was at the bottom of the standings for most of the season, only escaping the relegation zone on the final matchday with an away win against Padova. Despite securing Serie A safety on the field, the club was accused of match fixing and was subsequently relegated by the FIGC, while Padova defender Giovanni Azzini, who was allegedly involved in this incident, received a lifetime ban from football. Atalanta unsuccessfully appealed this verdict in July 1958, confirming its relegation for the 1958–59 season, though the club secured a return to Serie A by winning Serie B for the second time in its history under the guidance of Austrian coach Karl Adamek (who arrived midway through the previous season). In November 1959, after the club already won promotion on the field, it was revealed that the allegations of match fixing were false: the club received an amnesty and Azzini's ban was reduced to two years.
Several important foreign players arrived in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Argentine forward and midfielder Humberto Maschio, Danish midfielder Flemming Nielsen, and Swedish national team captain Bengt Gustavsson. Atalanta also made its first appearances in European competitions during this time, featuring for the first time in the Coppa dell'Amicizia (Friendship Cup, contested by various Italian and French clubs) in 1959, before also participating in the 1960 and 1961 editions. The club reached the semi-finals of the 1961–62 Mitropa Cup, where it was eliminated (3–2 on aggregate) by Hungarian club Vasas. Additionally, the club participated in the Coppa delle Alpi, losing the final of the latter to Juventus 3–2 on 26 June 1963.
Following a sixth-place league finish in 1961–62, and concurrently with an eighth-place league finish in 1962–63, Atalanta won its first major trophy, the 1962–63 Coppa Italia. The 1962–63 team was guided by coach Paolo Tabanelli and captain Piero Gardoni, who grew up at the club and played ten years for the senior team as a full-back. En route to the final, Atalanta defeated Como in the first round (4–2, after extra time), then Catania (2–1), Padova (2–0), and Bari (1–0). The final was played against Torino at San Siro on 2 June 1963; Atalanta won 3–1 thanks to a hat-trick by striker Angelo Domenghini. As of 2020[update], this remains the senior team's only major trophy. At the end of the 1962–63 season, Tabanelli's contract was unexpectedly not renewed despite the Coppa Italia victory; he was replaced by Carlo Quario.
By winning the Coppa Italia, Atalanta qualified for the 1963–64 European Cup Winners' Cup; this was the club's first appearance in a major UEFA competition. However, the club was eliminated in the first round by Portuguese club Sporting CP; after a 3–3 draw on aggregate, Sporting CP won 3–1 in extra time during a playoff in which Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Pizzaballa was injured, leaving the team with one man less.
On 2 February 1964, Atalanta lost 1–7 at home against Fiorentina; this was the club's worst ever home defeat. This result outraged the fans, requiring police intervention to prevent violence between them and the players. Quario's tactical choices were also questioned, causing him to be sacked after the match and replaced by Carlo Ceseroli. The club would eventually finish in the middle of the standings, but the season was marred by Turani's death on 25 April 1964. Attilio Vincentini, who was nominated by ex-coach Luigi Tentorio, replaced him as president that summer. Tentorio left club management (and the world of football altogether) in 1966 when all football clubs were made into joint-stock companies, for he fundamentally disagreed with this idea. Later in the 1960s, Atalanta participated in a few continental (though not UEFA) competitions: the Intertoto Cup (then also known as the Coppa Piano Karl Rappan) in 1966–67 and the Mitropa Cup in 1967–68 and 1968–69. Atalanta played in Serie A until 1969, when it was relegated after ten consecutive seasons in the top flight. After this relegation, Giacomo Baracchi was made president, though he would be replaced as president after just one year by Achille Bortolotti, who had already been a partial shareholder for several years.
The next season was a transitionary one; the club went through three different coaches—Corrado Viciani, Renato Gei, and Battista Rota—and only avoided relegation to Serie C (the third tier) on the final matchday, finishing one point above the relegation zone. Results improved during the next season under new coach Giulio Corsini, who amalgamated many youth players in the squad including Gaetano Scirea, Adelio Moro, Giuseppe Doldi, and Giovanni Vavassori, and lead the team to promotion at the end of the season.
Up and down the leagues and European football (1971–1990)
Upon returning to Serie A, Atalanta finished comfortably in tenth place in 1972, but was relegated in 1973 after just two years back in the top flight. The club was relegated on the final matchday on goal difference, missing the possibility to secure safety by accumulating additional points in the final three matches. This time, the club spent four years in Serie B, and did not return to Serie A until 1977. Battista Rota led the club to promotion via the promotion playoffs against Cagliari and Pescara at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. During these seasons, the club boasted players such as Antonio Cabrini (who moved to Juventus in 1976 and would win the 1982 FIFA World Cup with Italy), Pietro Fanna, and Ezio Bertuzzo (the latter two essential to Atalanta's promotion in 1977). In 1978, the club secured Serie A safety, though was relegated in 1979, again due to inferior goal difference.
After Atalanta was relegated in 1979 and failed to obtain promotion in 1980, Bortolotti passed the presidency to his son Cesare. The club experienced a difficult start to the 1980–81 season, in which several well-known Serie A clubs such as Milan and Lazio also participated in Serie B as punishment for involvement in a match-fixing scandal. The presence of Serie A regulars and a long sequence of poor results saw Atalanta fall towards the bottom of the Serie B table and led to the dismissal of coach Bruno Bolchi in January 1981. Giulio Corsini was then re-appointed as his replacement, but the club's results did not improve and it was relegated to Serie C1 for the first time in its history. This was a major setback for the club and a shock for the fans, for it was the first time the club would play outside the top two tiers, and it marked the end of an era. Many changes from the bench to corporate management ensued that summer, among them the appointment of Ottavio Bianchi as coach for the 1981–82 Serie C1 campaign. Owing to its history and corporate solidity, the media considered the club a heavy favorite for promotion. Bianchi himself commented at the start of the campaign that "everyone knows that we are the favorites and therefore they will face us as in Serie A they face Juventus". Under this new management, Atalanta demonstrated its strength and obtained many positive results, winning promotion to Serie B after just one season. The club won group A with 49 points, losing only twice and having the best defense in Serie C1. Atalanta spent the next two seasons in Serie B, finishing eighth in the 1982–83 tournament (after which Bianchi was replaced by Nedo Sonetti) and winning the 1983–84 tournament to return to Serie A, having been absent for the better part of a decade. That season, Marco Pacione and Mario Magrin finished among the top scorers of Serie B, respectively with 15 and 13 goals. Also in 1984, midfielder and Sweden international Glenn Strömberg arrived at the club, where he would remain for eight years and win the Guldbollen—an award given to the best male Swedish footballer each year—in 1985.
Atalanta remained in Serie A until 1987, when it was relegated on the final matchday. Despite having been relegated, the club reached its second Coppa Italia final, beating Parma and Cremonese en route to the final. However, it lost over two legs (4–0 on aggregate) to Napoli, who also won the league that season. As Napoli qualified for the European Cup with its league triumph, the Cup Winners' Cup spot was passed to Atalanta. This was thus the club's second appearance in the competition and its second in UEFA competitions following its debut in the 1963–64 edition.
The 1987–88 season was a turning point for the club. Under coach Emiliano Mondonico, Atalanta secured promotion to Serie A at the end of the season despite initial pessimism, a double commitment, and a close promotion race near the end of the season; the club finished fourth, just one point clear in the final promotion spot. In the Cup Winners' Cup, the club reached the semi-finals despite playing in Serie B. Though the club lost its first match away 2–1 to Welsh club Merthyr Tydfil, a result that the Italian sports media considered an upset and a setback, Atalanta recovered with a 2–0 home win in the return leg. The club then defeated Greek club OFI Crete (2–1 on aggregate) before knocking out Sporting SC (3–1 on aggregate) in the quarter-finals in a rematch of their 1963 encounter. In the semi-finals, Atalanta was eliminated by Belgian club K.V. Mechelen, who won both legs 2–1 and went on to win the competition. This run to the semi-finals was the best performance in a UEFA competition by a club not playing in its country's top flight league.
Upon returning to Serie A, Strömberg became team captain and Brazilian forward Evair arrived at the club; in its first season after being promoted, Atalanta finished sixth in Serie A in 1989 and qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time in its history. On its debut, however, the club was eliminated by Russian club Spartak Moscow in the first round, drawing 0–0 at home before losing 2–0 in Moscow. In the 1989–90 season, the club finished seventh and qualified for its second UEFA cup, having further reinforced its attack by bringing in Argentine international forward Claudio Caniggia.
Despite obtaining a second consecutive qualification for the UEFA cup, the end of the 1989–90 season was marred by Bortolotti's death; he died in a car accident the night of 6–7 June 1990. His father Achille briefly held the presidency until former defender and entrepreneur Antonio Percassi purchased the club.
First Percassi and Ruggeri presidencies (1990–2008)
In the 1990–91 season, Atalanta reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA cup, overcoming Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb, Turkish club Fenerbahçe, and German club 1. FC Köln in the first three rounds. Despite reaching the quarter-finals, the club replaced coach Pierluigi Frosio with Bruno Giorgi midway through the season, after a poor run of form left the club in fourth-to-last place in Serie A in January. After this change, the club would be eliminated from the UEFA cup by eventual winners Inter, also finishing in the middle of Serie A (thus not qualifying for UEFA competitions) and reaching the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. Percassi also worked to further develop the club's youth sector. In 1991, he appointed Fermo Favini as a scout; he would recruit many promising players to the club, and the club won its first national youth championship in 1993.
Starting in 1992, the Bortolotti Cup was held annually in memory of presidents Achille and Cesare Bortolotti, featuring Atalanta and various invited guests. In the following years, the club earned several more finishes in the top half of the standings, but did not qualify for any more UEFA competitions. Percassi appointed emerging coach Francesco Guidolin for the 1993–94 season, seeking to bring the "football show" to Bergamo. He also purchased Franck Sauzée, Olympique Marseille midfielder and European champion. Despite these arrivals, Atalanta had a poor campaign; Guidolin was sacked after failing to obtain results and was replaced by Cesare Prandelli as caretaker manager. Although Prandelli enjoyed success with the youth team during these years, he could not steer the club away from relegation, as it would finish in second-to-last place in Serie A. Also in 1994, following modernization of the Tribuna Giulio Cesare, the Stadio Comunale was renamed the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia ("Blue athletes of Italy").
In February 1994, Percassi sold the club to entrepreneur Ivan Ruggeri. Ruggeri reinstated Emiliano Mondonico as coach, who led Atalanta back to Serie A after having done so previously in 1988. While in Serie B, the club participated in the 1994–95 Anglo-Italian Cup, its last international cup for the next 22 years. Despite a difficult start in Serie B, the club obtained numerous positive results including seven consecutive victories, and secured promotion with a victory over Salernitana on the final matchday.
The next few years saw Atalanta achieve two mid-table finishes in Serie A. In the 1995–96 season, Christian Vieri led the attack; the club reached its third Coppa Italia final that season, but lost against Fiorentina (3–0 over two legs). Future Champions League and 2006 World Cup winner Filippo Inzaghi led the attack during the 1996–97 campaign: Inzaghi scored 24 goals for Atalanta that season, finishing as the Capocannoniere (league top scorer). He remains the only Atalanta player to win Capocannoniere, and despite moving to the likes of Juventus and later Milan after that season, did not enjoy such a prolific season again in Serie A. The 1996–97 season was however marred by another major loss: in February 1997, 22-year-old forward Federico Pisani died in a car accident. The club retired his shirt number (14) and renamed the Curva Nord of the Bergamo stadium—the one typically occupied by the Atalanta ultras—the Curva Pisani in his honor.
In the 1997–98 season, the club again struggled and found itself near the bottom of the league for most of the season. Relegation was confirmed on the final matchday, leading to Mondonico's dismissal as coach. Former player Bortolo Mutti was appointed as the new coach for the 1998–99 season. The club finished sixth in Serie B, missing out on promotion, and leading to the departure of Mutti after only one season.
Another former player, Giovanni Vavassori, was appointed as head coach of the senior team in 1999, after winning several trophies with the Primavera team during the 1990s. The club also chose to invest in its youth system, spending an estimated 3.5 billion lire per year in 2000, far more than any other provincial club in Italy. As the club often lacked the money to purchase world-class players from abroad, it heavily emphasized youth development since the 1970s. Under the guidance of Vavassori and with the help of homegrown players in the senior team, the club achieved promotion to Serie A at the end of the 1999–2000 season. Among these players was defender Gianpaolo Bellini, who made his debut under Mutti during the previous season in Serie B; he would spend his entire career at Atalanta (retiring in 2016, after 18 years) and record the most appearances of any player for the club. Atalanta started the 2000–01 season in Serie A well, and went on to finish seventh. This season also saw the top-flight debuts of many youth players who were considered promising, among them twin defenders Cristian and Damiano Zenoni and goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli, who would also be called up to the Italian national team.
Ruggeri then sought to improve the team's performances by selling youth players to economically stronger teams (Pelizzoli to reigning champions Roma, Cristian Zenoni and Massimo Donati to Milan) and using that money to buy more famous players. Among them was forward Gianni Comandini, whose 30-million lire purchase was Atalanta's most expensive at the time. However, the new arrivals did not mix well with the squad, leading to a ninth-place finish, though with one more point than the previous season. The 2001–02 season also saw good performances of attacking midfielder Cristiano Doni, who was already part of the first team under Mutti in 1998; he scored 16 goals for Atalanta in 30 appearances, earning a call-up to the Italian national team for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Vavarossi's Atalanta was relegated to Serie B at the end of the 2002–03 season after losing the relegation playout against Reggina. He was dismissed at the end of the season, and with coach Giancarlo Finardi returning to the Primavera bench, was replaced by Andrea Mandorlini. In the 46-match 2003–04 Serie B campaign, Atalanta enjoyed a 24-match unbeaten run and remained near the top of the standings; the club eventually finished fifth and was promoted to Serie A. Delio Rossi was appointed as the new coach before the start of the 2004–05 season, though the club did not secure Serie A safety and was again relegated.
In 2005, the club replaced Rossi with young coach Stefano Colantuono. In his first season in charge, he led the team back to Serie A. The club won the 2005–06 Serie B with a total of 81 points and a club record of 24 victories in a league campaign. Atalanta's upward trajectory continued in Serie A in 2006–07, when the club finished in eighth place with 50 points, only four points behind Empoli and UEFA Cup qualification. Despite this success, Colantuono decided to leave the club and move to Palermo; the club replaced him with former Chievo coach Luigi Delneri in summer 2007 as a result.
Transitional years and return of Percassi (2008–2016)
In January 2008, Ruggeri suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. As his health deteriorated, his son Alessandro, who was CEO, assumed the presidency, while his daughter Francesca was named vice president. In the meantime, Atalanta remained near the middle of the standings; despite defeating Milan twice, the club finished ninth and did not qualify for European competitions. In September 2008, Alessandro officially became club president in place of his father. In the 2008–09 season, the club enjoyed many positive results, including victories over Roma (3–0), Lazio (2–0), Napoli (3–1), Udinese (3–0), and reigning champions Inter (3–1), though these were not enough to achieve a European qualification.
Alessandro Ruggeri appointed Angelo Gregucci as the club's new coach, in place of Delneri who moved to Sampdoria after the 2008–09 season. This appointment did not last long; the club sacked Gregucci on 21 September 2009 after four defeats in the first four matches of the campaign. He was replaced by former Arezzo and Bari coach Antonio Conte. Under Conte, the club obtained two wins and three draws in his first five matches, but obtained a series of poor results afterwards, culminating in a home defeat to Napoli on 7 January 2010. A total of only 13 points obtained from 13 league matches under Conte, combined with elimination from the Coppa Italia by Lega Pro (third tier) club Lumezzane, resulted in Conte having an altercation with the Atalanta supporters and subsequently resigning. Primavera coach Valter Bonacina took over as interim coach for one match, before Bortolo Mutti returned to the club for his second coaching spell. Under Mutti, Atalanta obtained 22 points in the next 19 matches as it fought for survival, though it struggled away from home, losing every away match except a 0–0 draw against Catania. With a 2–0 away loss to Napoli on the penultimate matchday, the club's relegation to Serie B was confirmed at the end of this tumultuous season.
On 14 May 2010, majority shareholders Alessandro and Francesca Ruggeri announced the sale of the company. Antonio Percassi acquired 70% of the club's shares on 4 June, returning as club president after sixteen years.
At the end of the 2009–10 season, Mutti departed and was replaced as coach by Stefano Colantuono. Colantuono returned to the club after three years, having left Torino after losing the Serie B playoffs; Roberto Spagnolo was also appointed as new general manager. Under this new management, Atalanta achieved promotion to Serie A after only one season in Serie B. Atalanta won Serie B with a total of 79 points and secured promotion with three days to spare; this was the club's second-best Serie B performance after the 2005–06 campaign, during which Colantuono was also in charge.
The following summer, though, captain Cristiano Doni was listed among the suspects for involvement in a match-fixing scandal (also known as Calcioscommesse). Atalanta faced a six-point penalty in the 2011–12 Serie A standings, and Doni was handed a three-and-a-half-year ban from all football-related activities on 19 August, effectively ending his career at age 38. Defender Thomas Manfredini was also accused of involvement in the scandal and was initially handed a three-year ban, though he would later be acquitted. At the start of the season, Atalanta obtained 10 points in its first four matches, while the company worked to defend itself and its players from these accusations. Atalanta went on to obtain 52 points before the six-point penalty, setting a new club record for most points in Serie A. This followed from consistent performances throughout the season (26 points in each half) and the fourth-best defense in the league with 43 goals conceded, on par with Bologna and Fiorentina. The club secured Serie A safety on the fourth-to-last matchday with a 2–0 home win against Fiorentina, though lost the final three matches against Milan, Lazio, and Juventus.
On 31 May 2012, following the second round of investigation in Cremona, Atalanta received a two-point penalty in the 2012–13 Serie A and a 25,000 euro fine for the Padova–Atalanta match, while Doni received a new two-year ban. In the 2012–13 season, Atalanta was in sixth place after the first quarter of the season after a 2–1 home win against Inter; performances declined later in the season, but the club mathematically secured Serie A safety with two matches to spare (despite losing to Juventus).
The 2013–14 season began with the club only obtaining three points in the first five matches, with one win (2–0 against Torino) and four defeats. Atalanta then won its next six games, a club record at the time. The club secured Serie A safety with 46 points and seven matches to spare, improving over Delneri's 2008–09 campaign (in which safety was obtained with five matches to spare). Despite temporarily being tied on points in sixth place with Verona, the club only obtained four points during the remainder of the season, eventually finishing eleventh with 50 points and equaling its Serie A point record at the time.
Atalanta had a more difficult Serie A campaign in the 2014–15 season, coming closer to relegation but still securing Serie A safety for a fourth consecutive season. Colantuono obtained 23 points in 25 matches from the start of the season; he was sacked after five years at the helm after this poor run of form. He was replaced by Edoardo Reja, under whom the club obtained 14 points in 13 games (with two victories, eight draws, and three defeats) and eventually finished in 17th place, just above the relegation zone. Reja led the club to a strong start in the 2015–16 season (11 points in the first six matches), but the club then went 14 matches without a win (from 6 December to 20 March, when the run ended with a 2–0 home win over Bologna). Nevertheless, Atalanta obtained a 13th-place finish and remained in Serie A.
Gasperini era and return to European football (2016–present)
Reja's contract was not renewed at the end of the 2015–16 season, leading to his departure and replacement with Genoa coach Gian Piero Gasperini. Atalanta initially had a difficult start to the season, obtaining only three points in the first five matches, leaving Gasperini at risk of being sacked. Starting on matchday 6, though, the team's results steadily improved, starting with victories over Crotone and Napoli and also including victories over Inter and Roma. Gasperini integrated many youth players into the first team, among them Roberto Gagliardini (who transferred to Inter in January 2017), Mattia Caldara, Andrea Conti, and Franck Kessié; this was essential to the club's improvement during this season. On 13 May 2017, Atalanta secured a place among the top six teams in Serie A with a 1–1 home draw against Milan, which guaranteed qualification for UEFA competitions after 26 years of absence.
A 1–0 away win against Empoli in the next round guaranteed a finish among the top five, and therefore at least a place in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. Thanks to a win on the final matchday, as well as Crotone defeating Lazio, Atalanta finished fourth in Serie A, besting its previous record of fifth in 1948. The club also bested its records of total points in Serie A (72) and total victories in Serie A (21).
As a result of Atalanta's success this season, many of its players were called up to their national teams. Wing-back Leonardo Spinazzola and striker Andrea Petagna made their debuts with the Italian national team; midfielder Remo Freuler was named among the starters in the Swiss national team; forward Alejandro (Papu) Gómez, who scored 16 goals for Atalanta in 2016–17, debuted for Argentina; and Kessié appeared regularly as a starter for the Ivorian national team. In the meantime, Atalanta acquired the stadium in Bergamo in 2017 from the comune for €8.6 million, becoming one of only four Serie A clubs to own its home stadium. This acquisition allowed the club to authorize a renovation project for the stadium; renovation work started in 2019 and is expected to be completed in 2021.
In the 2017–18 season, Atalanta finished in seventh place with 60 points and thus qualified for the third qualifying round of the 2018–19 UEFA Europa League. Domestically, the club also reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. In the Europa League, the club was drawn into Group E with French club Lyon, English club Everton, and Cypriot club Apollon Limassol, where it defeated Everton home and away and topped the group with 14 points. The club then advanced to the round of 32, where it was eliminated 4–3 on aggregate by German club Borussia Dortmund (3–2 in Dortmund, 1–1 in Bergamo).
Atalanta began the 2018–19 season by defeating Bosnian club Sarajevo and Israeli club Hapoel Haifa in Europa League qualifiers, though failed to reach the group stage after losing a penalty shootout against Danish club Copenhagen (having drawn both legs 0–0). The club reached its fourth Coppa Italia final this season, eliminating Cagliari (2–0), defending champions Juventus (3–0), and Fiorentina (5–4 on aggregate), though lost the tightly contested final against Lazio 2–0. In Serie A, the club began the season in difficulty, winning only one of its first eight matches, but recovered substantially during the latter half of the season. The club boasted the best attack in the league with 77 goals scored, and with a 3–1 victory against Sassuolo on the final matchday, achieved a record third-place finish with 69 points and qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in its history.
The 2019–20 season featured Atalanta's Champions League debut; the club was drawn into Group C with Dinamo Zagreb, Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, and English champions Manchester City. Following an agreement with both Milan clubs, Atalanta would play its home matches in the competition at San Siro, as the stadium in Bergamo was undergoing renovations to comply with UEFA standards. Atalanta began its Champions League campaign with three consecutive losses: 4–0 in Zagreb, 2–1 against Shakhtar at San Siro, and 5–1 in Manchester. Atalanta then earned its first ever champions league point in a 1–1 home draw against Manchester City, before winning its remaining two matches (2–0 against Dinamo Zagreb, 3–0 away against Shakhtar). These last two wins, combined with favorable results in the other group matches, allowed Atalanta to qualify for the knockout phase of the competition, becoming the second ever club to advance after losing its first three matches.
In the meantime, the club continued to enjoy success in Serie A, despite the double commitment that caused the club to drop points in the early part of the season. Standout matches include a 5–0 home victory over Milan on 22 December 2019, Milan's worst defeat in 21 years, and a 7–0 away win over Torino on 25 January 2020, Atalanta's largest ever Serie A victory. A month later, in the Champions League round of 16, Atalanta defeated Spanish club Valencia 8–4 on aggregate, winning the first leg 4–1 at San Siro and the second leg 4–3, in which forward Josip Iličić scored all four of his side's goals. The season then came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic for three months, in which the Province of Bergamo was the epicenter in Italy. The Associated Press dubbed the first leg of Atalanta–Valencia "Game Zero", as it had over 40,000 spectators (one-third of Bergamo's population), and by 24 March, there were over 7,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and over 1,000 deaths in the province; a link was suggested between the attendance of the match (as well as post-match celebrations) and rapid spread of the virus in the region.
The season resumed in late June and Atalanta eventually achieved a second consecutive third-place finish in the league; the club secured its second Champions League qualification with a 1–0 win against Bologna on 21 July. This campaign saw the club best its records for total points in a Serie A season (78), goals scored (98), and consecutive Serie A victories (9). This was also the first time that at least three different players scored 15 goals for a club in Serie A since Juventus in 1951–52: Iličić scored 15 league goals, while strikers Duván Zapata and Luis Muriel each scored 18. On 12 August 2020, the club faced French champions Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals of the Champions League; despite Atalanta taking an early lead, PSG scored two goals near the end of the match, winning 2–1 and thereby eliminating Atalanta.
In the 2020–21 season, Atalanta was drawn into Champions League Group D with English champions Liverpool, Dutch champions Ajax, and Danish champions Midtjylland; the stadium in Bergamo also passed inspection from UEFA, permitting it to host Champions League matches. Atalanta defeated Midtjylland 4–0 away and drew 2–2 at home against Ajax, before suffering a 5–0 home loss against Liverpool. Despite this setback, Atalanta obtained a historical 2–0 win in the reverse fixture at Anfield. Following a 1–1 home draw against Midtjylland, the club secured its second consecutive qualification to the knockout phase on the final matchday with a 1–0 away win against Ajax, having won all three of its away matches in the group stage. However, the club was eliminated from the Champions League by Spanish club Real Madrid in the round of 16, losing 4–1 on aggregate (1–0 at home, 3–1 away). On 15 May 2021, the club secured qualification to its third consecutive Champions League with a 4–3 victory against Genoa. The club also reached the Coppa Italia final for the second time in three years after defeating Cagliari (3–1), Lazio (3–2), and Napoli (3–1 over two legs), though lost the final against Juventus 2–1 amid controversy. The club finished the season in third place, matching its record of 78 points from the previous season.
- The club also won the Prima Divisione, the predecessor to Serie B, in 1927–28, for a total of six first-place finishes in the second division.
- Goal quotient is the ratio of goals scored to goals conceded; it is not to be confused with goal difference, which is the difference of goals scored and goals conceded.
- In Serie A, the club's top scorer in a league season was Filippo Inzaghi, who scored 24 league goals in the 1996–97 Serie A.
- This record stood until the 2018–19 season, in which the club scored 77 goals.
- Welsh club Cardiff City also reached the semi-finals of the 1967–68 Cup Winners' Cup while playing outside a top flight league. However, it played in the English Football League Second Division because Wales did not have its own league system at the time. Atalanta therefore achieved the best run at a UEFA competition of a club playing in its country's second tier.
- At the time, this was the club's point record in the three points for a win era; the club's previous highest league finishes occurred when wins were worth two points.
- This record stood until the 2019–20 season, in which the club enjoyed a run of nine consecutive victories.
- The club obtained 52 points in the 2011–12 season, but six points were deducted as punishment for involvement in the Calcioscommesse scandal.
- Since the winners of the 2016–17 Coppa Italia, Juventus, qualified for European competition based on league position, the spot awarded to the cup winners (Europa League group stage) was passed to the fifth-placed team and the spot awarded to the fifth-placed team (Europa League third qualifying round) was passed to the sixth-placed team.
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- The season total of 98 league goals was the highest of any Serie A side in 70 years.
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