“AC Milan announce the definitive purchase from Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio of Andrea Conti, who signed a contract with the Rossoneri until June 30 2022,” a statement on Friday read. After attempting to push through a move all summer, the youngster had finally got the dream move to San Siro, a stadium just 37 miles away from where he caught the spotlight at Atalanta last season.
But it hadn’t always been that way. The Lombardy-native had a successful trial at Milan at the age of eight, but boldly rejected their offer as it was said he did not like the club’s training facilities. Recognising his talent, he then received an offer from cross-city rivals Inter, only to eventually accept local side Atalanta.
By choosing the long-game rather than making the obvious choice as a child, the right-back has found success, signing for a big team at exactly the right stage in his career. Developed alongside the likes of Mattia Caldara and Roberto Gagliardini in La Dea’s famed youth academy, he has blossomed into an accomplished defender, and had even drawn attention from Chelsea and Liverpool before opting for Milan.
At 23 years old, many players have already found regular first team football, but Atalanta are careful with their young stars and – after loan spells with Perugia and Virtus Lanciano – Conti only truly broke into the first team at the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign.
From there he was named in the starting lineup 31 times as Atalanta surprised everyone by qualifying for Europe making 75 interceptions and 51 tackles along the way. But it wasn’t just his defensive work that caught the eye of big sides. Playing as a right wing-back in Gasperini’s 3-4-3 formation, Conti created a total of 28 chances – scoring eight goals and providing five assists – including a stunning bicycle kick against Genoa.
After the jubilation of the previous season had died down, things soured with Atalanta as the youngster’s agent confirmed that he would not be turning up for pre-season training with the Bergamaschi as he only wanted Milan. This obviously angered his club, as their president confirmed. “Milan and Conti have reached an agreement? Well now they’ve got to find one with us,” Antonio Percassi told La Gazzetta dello Sport.“His agent can say all he wants, but Conti came up through Atalanta’s academy, if he is in the Italy squad right now, he can thank Atalanta for that.”
The Rossoneri had endured a taste of this with Conti’s Italy U21 team-mate Gianluigi Donnarumma, but in truth this had a different feel. Yes, agent Mario Giuffredi was a little excessive in expressing his client’s demands to move to San Siro, but the defender was ready to make the move and as with so many of their other young stars, Atalanta must have known that he wouldn’t stay forever.
“I’m very excited, this is the first time for me,” Conti told Mediaset Premium on entering Milanello for his medical. “I can’t find the words to describe this moment, I’m very happy. There have been intense moments and sleepless nights, but I’m happy.”
Just like his previous boss Gianpiero Gasperini, Milan Coach Vincenzo Montella has a proven track record in developing young players, and will look to integrate the right-back into his squad of new players that have been bankrolled by the club’s new Chinese owners. Atalanta meanwhile have received €24m plus promising 20-year-old midfielder Matteo Pessina as part of the deal, a fair price for all parties.
Andrea Conti has now gone full circle in joining Milan, but as the Rossoneri push for a Champions League berth next season, he will have to prove his worth on a much bigger stage this time around.