Six months after Atalanta played the most beautiful matches in club history against Valencia (4-1 win and 3-4 win), the Champions League fairy tale finally gets a sequel. Against the exorbitantly rich Paris Saint-Germain, Hans Hateboer (26) is going for a new stunt with the club from the Italian provincial city, which was the European epicenter of the corona crisis.
Atalanta paid a million euros in January 2017 for Hateboer, then still the right back of FC Groningen. The club from Bergamo is also not of big purchases, rather of smart scouting (Marten de Roon and the Germans Robin Gosens and Lennart Czyborra were also picked up in the Eredivisie). Colombian striker Luis Muriel is the most expensive purchase in club history with twenty million euros.
The difference is huge with Paris Saint-Germain, which paid 220 million euros for Neymar in 2017. And then they also have Kylian Mbappé (135 million), Ángel Di María (63 million) and Mauro Icardi (50 million).
“Yet we certainly do not have to be afraid of PSG”, Hateboer told NU.nl. “I think we are in very good physical shape. And individually PSG probably has a lot more quality, but we always do well against big clubs.”
‘Scoring in San Siro was a highlight’
Winning PSG’s star squad would indeed fit Atalanta’s season. In the Serie A, the team of trainer Gian Piero Gasperini humiliated the ‘big’ AC Milan with 5-0 and with Hateboer in the base, AS Roma and Napoli were also beaten. But the highlight was the 4-1 victory over Valencia in the eighth finals of the Champions League, although that was also the reason for the greatest tragedy Bergamo has ever known.
40,000 Atalanta fans sat in the stands in San Siro in Milan on February 19 – their own Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia was rejected by UEFA – and saw their club win 4-1 against Valencia, partly thanks to two goals from Hateboer. They were close together, especially on the buses and trains on the way to Milan. The result was an explosion of corona cases in Bergamo. More than 3,000 people died in a city comparable in size to Leiden. 2.5 percent of 120,000 inhabitants is no longer there.
“They say that the match against Valencia was the bomb for the spread of the virus. That it should never have happened,” said Hateboer. “But in hindsight that’s easy to talk about. The virus didn’t seem to be here yet, so it didn’t seem like a risk to play.”
Despite everything that has happened, the game still feels like a highlight for Hateboer. “They are two different things. I had not yet scored this season, and then I will immediately make two in a packed San Siro. Very special.”
‘My balcony was a gym’
Two weeks later Hateboer won again with Atalanta against Valencia (3-4) and a place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League was a fact. But at that time Italy already had so many corona cases that a lockdown was announced. Public life came to a standstill and Serie A too.
“With a small group of players, we have chosen to temporarily live at the club”, Hateboer says. “That was a kind of all-inclusive time, because the cook also stayed and we could use all the facilities. We lived like that for two weeks, after which I went home.”
“The club then ensured that we got a treadmill at home and I brought some stuff from the training complex myself. My balcony became a kind of gym. That way I kept fit.”
Hans Hateboer with a face mask from his club. (Photo: Getty Images)
‘Our fans live in a dream’
When Serie A resumed in June, it was immediately back to Hateboer and certainly to Atalanta. Even the national title seemed possible for the modest club, which regularly fought against relegation until six years ago. In the end it became third place.
“And that with the most attractive football in the league. We have scored 98 goals, then you can be satisfied. Our fans live in a kind of dream. Many of them were already in the stadium when the club was still fighting against relegation.”
Things could get even better for Atalanta, with the Champions League quarter finals against PSG ahead. Winning three times in Lisbon – where the tournament will be finished in empty stadiums for the next week and a half – and the impossible has happened.
“If we’re lucky – and we need it three times – and play the game of our lives three times, we could win the Champions League,” said Hateboer. “Getting to the semi-final would be great, but we are going to Portugal for the overall victory.”
Schedule quarter finals CL
- Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta-Paris Saint-Germain
- Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig-Atlético Madrid
- Friday, August 14: Barcelona-Bayern Munich
- Saturday, August 15: Manchester City-Olympique Lyon