Ahead of Saturday's clash with Atalanta, the Crazy Faithful caught up with Bald in Bergamo, Atalanta's bald bloke on the Curva Nord and international correspondent for Atalantini.com.
First up, could you tell us a bit about your own interest in Italian football in general and your passion for Atalanta in particular?
I grew up watching Italian football on channel 4 in the 90s which is the main reason for my love of Serie A. It got me curious about the teams, stadia and fans. As I got a little older and started playing championship manager, I would always manage an Italian team and I would always lose to Atalanta! I ended up wanting to know more about Atalanta and eventually I went to watch the team play in Bergamo.
In recent years Atalanta has emerged as a serious contender to the giants of Italian football. What is the secret behind this so-called provincial team’s emergence as a major force in Italian football?
Our success has been remarkable, especially when you compare the resources of our competitors. In my opinion it's down to two things. Firstly, team selection. We have brought and sold players like everyone else but over the last 2-3 years the core has never changed. Secondly, we have Gasperini, who is the ultimate "right guy in the right place at the right time". His swashbuckling style of attacking football is great to watch, but while others throw silly money to find a balance and style that works, we have done it with Gasp on a relatively small budget.
Atalanta’s academy system is renowned as one of the best in Italy (if not the world). Can you identify some recent graduates to keep an eye on?
The hard bit is nailing it down to one player. The Primavera were the best in Italy last season and they have started in the same manner this season. Young Amad Traore looked great in preseason. Papu (Alejandro Darío Gómez) liked him a lot and he scored against Udinese on his debut a month ago. Other than Traore I could realistically list another 6/7 players. Piccoli and Colley look the most likely to break in the first team squad. Keep on eye on Cortinvos and Da Riva as well.
Sixth in the league and beginning to compete in the Champions League. How would you assess Atalanta’s season so far?
It's great to have some points on the board in the Champions League at last. Any other season I would be thrilled with our league position, but we started so well, which is rare for us, so I found the Cagliari and Sampdoria results frustrating. I think most Atalanta fans will be very happy with our start to the season and will be looking forward to seeing whether we can reach the Champions League again.
Atalanta, like Hellas, has a significant stadium investment project in the pipeline? What can we expect?
It's probably the biggest period of change at Atalanta in my time following the club. The new Curva looks awesome and I cant wait for the rest of the stadio to be finished. The redevelopment was needed to progress, but it did raise some concerns for me. I loved the old Curva Nord, it was a great environment to watch football and meet your friends. I have great memories of the old Curva Nord. My fear was we would lose this in the redevelopment, but thankfully the noise and atmosphere remains as fun as ever!
For Verona I would say embrace the changes going forward. In this modern world it's vital that Italian clubs continue to grow and build infrastructure that will allow them to be competitive on the pitch, but still part of the community off it.
Finally, Gasperini is a highly respected tactician and Juric is a well-known follower of his methodology. What’s your prediction when master and apprentice meet in Bergamo on Saturday?
Really looking forward to this one. I think we will see goals. We have a good track record against Verona, so I think we will win 3-1. Muriel, Papu and a goal for Tim Castagne.
Thanks Nigel and enjoy the match on Saturday!