When Alberto Zapater arrived at Genoa at the age of 23 in 2009, in his first experience outside of Spain, he was amazed at the club’s headquarters. A 16th century mansion, decorated with Mannerist style frescoes, which had been a vacation retreat for European royalty. There was the sports city and there he met the personality and methods of a then unique coach, Gian Piero Gasperini, who now threatens Real Madrid with Atalanta in the Champions League (21.00, Movistar Champions League, 0-1 in the first leg ) with the same offensive and revolutionary catalog that left a mark in his almost eight seasons with the team griffon.
“I had never played like this. You saw that he had super controlled what he wanted, how he wanted it and transferred it to the footballer. There were a series of instructions that you had to follow to the letter. If not, he’s a guy who gets really pissed off. There was no room for debate, what he said was going to mass. Only his presence commanded respect ”, affirms the 35-year-old Zaragoza media, who was a regular in the Italian’s plans in the course he shared with him at Luigi Ferraris. “At first I wondered why veterans didn’t do certain things on the pitch, but of course, it was because of Gasperini’s authority. With time you realize that I would like to have those experiences today. I was caught by a kid and, in addition, the players are selfish who are always with our day to day. Now you start to see everything more transparent ”, the pivot is sincere, who left La Romareda for Italy for 4.5 million.
That Genoa, the 63-year-old Piedmontese picked him up in Serie B, raised him the first year to the top flight and qualified for the Europa League. Before that, he had left the Juventus nest, where he trained as a player (he retired in 1993 without a great career in the elite) and had trained the lower categories, to go to the other end of the country, to direct 1,200 kilometers in the third division to Crotone. “It was the most difficult moment,” his wife Cristina later acknowledged from a more familiar point of view, confirming the “explosive” nature of her husband, although she clarifies that now “she has a little more patience.”
“Everything he’s doing at Atalanta doesn’t surprise me,” says Zapater. Of the battery of dogmas and automatisms of that Genoa, one of the sections that most caught his attention were the markings on the man, a rule that continues to apply in the Bergamo team, which he has led since 2016. “In defense we adapted to the rival. He would tell you: ‘you don’t swing, you don’t cover the pass lane. That’s your midfielder, so with him. ‘ That has its advantages and disadvantages, but I have a very positive memory ”, comments the captain from Zaragoza. And in attack, the first day he made a game change to the extreme, he was called to order. “His mandate was to get there through the pass underneath to make the opposite run and so that we too could move towards that area and, if we lost the ball, we were already positioned,” he explains.
Despite his high participation that season (2,533 minutes, with four goals and four assists), the Aragonese was sold the following summer to Sporting de Portugal in a joint operation. A few weeks later, another Spaniard appeared in the sports city of Villa Rostán, the central Chico Flores, from Almería, in exchange for five million. It’s been a decade since that, but the 34-year-old from Cádiz, retired after passing through Fuenlabrada, remembers two things about Gasperini very well: his attacking vocation and his character. “If you didn’t follow his instructions, he would get quite pissed off,” he repeats almost identically to Zapater. “He liked to keep the limits, that no one was above him. I guess some of that would happen with the Papu [traspasado al Sevilla tras un enfrentamiento con el técnico]. But he never lost his papers. I have had coaches of everything. I have seen Joaquín Caparrós, who was a beautiful person, take more than one colleague by the neck ”.
That 2010/11 campaign was the last of Gasperini’s first stage at Genoa (he returned from 2013 to 2016). Flores only had it 11 games before leaving office, enough time for some ideas to be clear to him. “He told me that he signed me because I had a good ball out, he was fast and forceful. Although then he put me a lot as a lane. And he wanted us all to attack. It touched me too. I saw myself in quite advanced situations and that was a novelty in my career ”, relates the Andalusian, with experience also in Swansea, Rubin Kazan and Mallorca.
“In the long run, his way of working has proved him right. He made good footballers who had practically no name, ”says Chico Flores. The 20 million that Atalanta paid for Muriel has been the largest outlay ever made by a club led by the Italian. The average cost of all transfers is 3.6 million.
“He builds author teams and makes them grow. He has a very particular idea of the game and he takes it to the last consequences. And so it should be. The footballer must see that the immovable is the coach. Before, they depended more on the talent of the players, but now everything is well studied. That is why technicians are so important ”, Zapater conscientiously emphasizes. Only one destiny resisted Gasperini, Inter, where he barely endured five games in 2011/12, a skid that did not take the Zaragoza player by surprise after having lived with him. “That was a winning team of everything. I thought I was going to collide with some insurance ”, the Aragonese ditch.