Season three feels like it should be a pivotal one in this save. In back to back seasons we’ve progressed in the league and also shown we are no pushovers in the Champions League group stages. This time around we need to start closing the gap on the title race, move beyond the first knockout round in Europe and a Coppa Italia win wouldn’t be bad either.
With these aims in mind, the board handed me a transfer budget of around £77m – by the time the domestic season rolled around this had grown to £130m. No pressure.
When it comes to summer transfers, I have my regular methodical approach of utilising my shortlists. This pragmatic, measured approach can lead to better decision making most of the time, however, it does occasionally lead to me shooting myself in the foot. I have an inclination to not engaging in any transfer business until the contract expiry date for players passes – so in Italy I decided not to make any transfer moves until after 1st July. Already this has meant me missing out on a few potential signings.
Dele Alli was transfer listed for £54m and I had a serious look at bringing him in. By the time July came about he had been removed from the transfer list and Spurs were now looking for at least £80m. Nehuén Pérez at Atlético Madrid had a minimum fee release clause of £39.5m but just before July he signed a new contract and the clause increased to £106m. Filip Benkovic was available for a bargain of £5.5m from Lazio but Burnley swooped and sealed the deal for themselves.
SIGN HIGH-REPUTATION PLAYERS
As the sub-title suggests, the board are insistent that I make a conscious effort to bring big names to Bergamo.
Before I get into the players who will ply their trade for Atalanta in this upcoming season, it’s worth explaining how that transfer budget rose so quickly from £77m to £130m. Filippo Melegoni and Lennart Czyborra to Genoa at the end of two-year loan deals were pre-arranged and gained us a combined £8.7m, Davide Bettella was being considered as a future first team contender for me but when Roma came in with £6.5m for the centre back I decided to let him leave. Christian Capone was another youngster who was moved on for a decent sum of £2.5m to German side Bochum.
Cristian Romero made his loan deal permanent last season for £14.5m and after 34 league appearances last year Chelsea came in to sign him for £29m. If the fans found that move a hard pill to swallow then they certainly weren’t happy about my decision to allow Mario Pasalic to leave for Lazio for £26m – Pasalic did make 18 appearances last season but only 11 of those were starts and with Camavinga and Çalhanoğlu as my first choice midfield pair, I had no problem in letting Mario go.
Coming in – firstly, it’s a look toward the future and another tip of the hat to our Scandinavian scouting. Christer Hellum was a £7.5k steal from Molde FK and will join the other Scandis in our U18 squad. We also brought in FC Bayern youngster Marcel Wenig on a season loan – he’ll join our U20 squad and while I haven’t been able to negotiate a future fee as yet that’s something that’s certainly under consideration depending on how he develops in the next 12 months.
Another trio of loan signings now, this time with the aim of providing cover to the first team. Rayan Aït-Nouri has a year remaining on his Angers contract and rather than pay out the £21m they are demanding, I have brought him in on a year long loan for £1.7m to test the waters as I also anticipate Robin Gosens’ departure in the near future. Pedro Porro is brought in to cover Dodo at right wing back but also with the knowledge he can play further forward if we move in that direction. Billy Koumetio gives us depth at centre back, he’s tall and comfortable with the ball at his feet – certainly another one I’ll be considering for a future permanent transfer should he integrate well enough.
Finally, the two players who fulfill our board’s vision of high reputation signings. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a free signing following his release from Roma and Sergio Agüero comes in on a free after leaving Manchester City. Neither will be an expected starter for me this season but despite their advancing ages, both still have exceptional qualities which may come in handy as the season goes on.
It’s been far from an intensive pre-season schedule but we’ve attempted to look at developing our alternative tactic of a back four and midfield three. For now, we’ll definitely continue with our three at the back as we have done since day one but this will be something we look to as another option when we need it.
The results were not scintillating but we had a chance to learn a lot about our new tactic and signings from these four games.
YOUTH STAFFING CHANGES
I don’t want to go in-depth here with screenshots of 30 coaches but just to mention that I decided this was the season to make wholesale changes to our U20 and U18 teams.
The only member of staff from both squads to be retained was U18 Assistant Manager Willy Sagnol. The mass changes are the beginning of me looking in depth at how we train our youth and making my own decisions about who should be available for which squad. Obviously I’ll still leave the matches up to the managers themselves but I want to be more involved in the decision making at this level.
THE SEASON AHEAD
2022/23 will be an interesting one. I’ve already outlined where I want to see improvements in our performances but one obstacle ahead of us is the 2022 World Cup. Due to the winter scheduling it has meant the Serie A season beginning on 24th July rather than in September as normal.
The squad will break at the end of October and football resumes on 31st December – I will then have to look at doing another pre-season schedule in December to ensure we’re up to speed. I don’t believe we’ll be losing too many players to International Duty for the World Cup so hopefully this will stand us in a better position than others at the top of the table.
As always I’m keen to look at our opening five fixtures: Genoa home, Lecce away, SPAL away, Hellas Verona home, Sassuolo away. Playing two of the newly promoted sides and three others that we have reasonable records against so far, I’d love to go all out and say we’ll get 15 points but I’d settle or anything around the 10-12 mark for now.
We still await the Champions League draw for the season ahead and the schedule for that will obviously be condensed due to the World Cup also. It’s looking like a busy September/October for us!
As you can read from the above, we’ve not really touched the transfer budget for the season yet. With £130m still available to spend and plenty of time left in the summer transfer window, don’t rule out a marquee signing… I’m just so happy with the squad that I’m not sure where I’d bring one in!