The diminutive figure of Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez symbolizes everything to do with Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side. Skill, pace, precision. A strong case can certainly be made for saying that Gomez may well be the best signing made by Atalanta, or any side in Serie A this decade, in terms of value for money and for what he has brought to the club.
A leader on the filed entrusted by Gasperini to be Captain, Gomez is the man who pulls the strings either side of Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic, two players in which you could say similar things about.
However, the most intriguing part about Gomez is his background leading up to his move to Atalanta. After taking the usual route of most Argentines, Gomez played in the top flight in his homeland before making a move to Europe, initially with Catania.
Catania as a side then were comfortably punching above their weight in Serie A and Gomez was a key part in that. Alongside fellow countryman Gonzalo Bergessio, he helped the side record a club record 8th place finish in Serie A. Offers came in for the playmaker from Atletico Madrid and Inter amongst others as Catania looked to cash in on a prized asset.
Rather bizarrely, Papu made a €7m move to Ukranian side Metalist Kharkiv. Sure it meant Champions League opportunities but Gomez, upon his arrival, was greeted by a club in financial meltdown coupled with match fixing allegations. The club and Gomez went into complete disarray and the Argentine lobbied for moves back to Italy even going as far as threatening to walk away from his contract.
The move to Ukraine damaged the reputation of Papu and a move to Fiorentina collapsed. However, upon their sale of Giacomo Bonaventura, Atalanta swooped for Gomez.
Papu found himself joining a struggling side battling relegation but a side that he would soon be able to drag upwards. After surviving by the skin of their teeth under Eddy Reja in his first year, the side improved to finish 13th the following year before the arrival of Gian Piero Gasperini.
Gasperini built a side that La Dea had never seen before. Young Italian defenders in Mattia Caldara and Andrea Conti, central midfield enforcers in the shape of Roberto Gagliardini and Franck Kessie with Papu himself providing the goals up top, sixteen to be precise. Gasperini’s side, led by top scorer Gomez, finished in 4th position, which was their best ever finish in the Italian top flight.
As almost to be expected, the vultures swooped with Milan purchasing Conti and Kessie, Caldara returning to Juventus and Inter bagging Gagliardini at the end of that year. Papu remained, and to the surprise of many, Gasperini rebuilt a side that would go one step further.
Teams such as Dortmund, Ajax and Monaco have found their teams decimated as a price for their success, but Atalanta evolved. In came the enigmatic pairing of Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata who found their home at Atalanta after years of frustrating fans of their former clubs with their inconsistent displays. During 2018/19, Atalanta were seen as the hipster fan’s dream with their 3-4-3 system that led them to 3rd in Serie A and to the Coppa Italia final.
Hans Hateboer and Timothy Castagne provided the width as domineering wing-backs, Maarten De Roon and Remo Freuler in the engine room with Papu up top alongside Zapata and Ilicic.
It appears Gomez has found his place. A player who criminally has just four caps to his name for his native land but a hero in Bergamo. The attacker is synonymous with the rise of a club that has never before seen such heights, captaining it and leading it from the front.
In years to come people who have seen him will for sure look back and wonder why he never received the call from an elite club or more credit from his national team, but Gomez will forever be remembered by the people of Bergamo for carrying Gasperini’s side on his five foot four shoulders with pure flair.