Sunday, 3 November 2013

Atalanta: Serie A's answer to Southampton?

Atalanta B.C are not the most spectacular team to have graced the fields of Serie A by any means but there is one distinct aspect of this somewhat provincial football club that makes it stand out from most others in Italy, and that is its youth academy.

Club's football academies and their youth systems have long been a fascination of mine. One cannot help but be in awe of teams that can produce footballers through their own system and couple it with being a successful team. Barcelona is obviously the modern day example of this with their La Masia system which has outproduced any other football club in the world with great talent for the last decade.

I myself am an Ipswich Town supporter and have also been delighted to see some great talent come through our youth system over the last few years, with the likes of Kieron Dyer, Richard Wright, Jordan Rhodes and Connor Wickham to name but a few.

Obviously this is not on the same scale as much bigger and better teams but the point is that as a fan it gives you an incredible feel good factor about your team. It is such a refreshing thing to see. The fans love it as they feel a true sense of pride towards the team and indeed the region and, of course, it is also admired by other teams, critics and fans from all around the world.

At a football club like Atalanta this is no different and over the past 20 years this football team has in many ways outproduced a lot of their fellow Italian rivals when it came to bringing through youngsters and molding together an incredibly successful system at grassroots level.

Montolivo: Currently captain of Milan and Italian international
To back this up here are a number of players who you would have heard of who have come through the ranks at the club from Bergamo: Roberto Donadoni, Alessio Tacchinardi, Ivan Pelizzoli and Samuele Dalla Bona, Giampaolo Pazzini, Manolo Gabbiadini and Ricardo Montolivo (currently captain of AC Milan). All of whom went on to play top flight football either in Serie A or else where to varying degrees of success. Other well known players who have played at Atalanta in their younger years and have then gone onto bigger and better things include Claudio Caniggia, Paolo Montero, Christian Vieri, Filippo Inzaghi, Christian Lucarelli and Cristiano Doni. Although Doni has actually spent the majority of his career at Atalanta and has had his most successful spells of his career there.

Pazzini: Scored the 1st goal + 1st hat-trick at the new Wembley stadium.
 This fantastic record of producing players has earned Atalanta somewhat of a reputation, sometimes even as a feeder team to the bigger sides in Serie A. In the current squad there is still reason to be optimistic too as the Nerazzuri (a nickname in reference to the club's colours) have a number of young guns in the team. Andrea Consigli (Gk), Giacomo Bonaventura and Guido Marilungo make up the spine of the team with the first two having come through the team's academy. All three are still relatively young and have their best years ahead of them, however, it is increasingly likely that these 3 footballers will be plying their trades at bigger, wealthier clubs in the near future.

Time now for a certain comparison with a football club that lies on the south coast of England, namely Southampton F.C. The Saints have without a doubt had the most productive and successful academy in England in recent times. With Bale having been priced as the most expensive player in the world this summer epitomising this. Joining Bale are the likes of Wayne Bridge, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and now in the current team left back Luke Shaw and midfielder James Ward-Prowse (with high hopes expected of the pair of them).

Bale being unveiled as the latest Madrid 'Galactico'

Southampton, like Atalanta, are not a big big club. Excuse me Saints fans but please don't take offense. However, they too play in the top flight of their respected countries and have done so for many years, before they were relegated in 2005 they had played 27 successive seasons in the Premier League. Atalanta similarly play in Italy's top flight, but other recent years have found little stability moving between the top two tiers of Italian football regularly in the last 10 seasons.

Hopefully now with betting scandals and off field distractions put to one side the Nerazzuri can concentrate upon cementing its place in Serie A this season and look to push on in the future with the help of its excellent youth programme and some exciting talents coming through the ranks.

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