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Gomez & Gasperini's painful divorce: How Atalanta's Ronaldo has ended up mirroring Messi at Barcelona

14:00 GMT 23/12/2020
Papu Gomez Gian Piero Gasperini Cristiano Ronaldo Lionel Messi Atalanta GFX
The 32-year-old Argentine has played a pivotal role in the Bergamaschi's emergence as one of Europe's top teams, but he's heading for a January exit

In Italy, 'Il Tapiro d'Oro' ('The Golden Taper') is the one trophy nobody wants to win.

This very particular bauble is handed out by the satirical TV show Striscia La Notizia to famous figures who finds themselves at the centre of an embarrassing news story. It's usually best to take the public ridicule in good spirits.

Papu Gomez, though, was never going to see the funny side of Valerio Staffelli's attempts to make the Argentine the latest recipient.

However, Gomez didn't just refuse to accept the award, which Staffelli left on the roof of his car at Atalanta's training ground on Monday after failing to secure an interview with the club captain.

According to the presenter, Gomez launched it in his direction as he was walking away. It missed Staffelli but hit the ground, leaving the not-so-prestigious prize in pieces.

Gomez, though, later refuted Staffelli's version of events in a post on Instagram.

"I never threw any object at the correspondent of the programme in question," he wrote. "I only chose, as is my right, not to receive anything or answer any questions."

There are two sides to every story, of course, just as there are two sides to Gomez's present predicament at Atalanta. However, right now, whatever way you look at the situation, Gomez doesn't come off well.

The reason why Staffelli was in Bergamo earlier this week is because one of the city's adopted sons looks set for an ignominious exit in January.

No player has played a bigger role in lowly Atalanta's stunning emergence as one of the best sides in Europe than Gomez, who has scored 59 goals in all competitions since arriving from Metalist on September 1, 2014.

No player in Serie A has racked up more assists (58) or created more chances (514) during that time than the 32-year-old. He even ranks fifth across all of Europe's 'Big 5' leagues for chances created, meaning it is no exaggeration to call Gomez one of the most consistent and creative attackers in the game today.

Indeed, just a month ago, he was the best player on the pitch at Anfield, as La Dea pulled off a deserved 2-0 win over Liverpool – the kind of historic result that no Atalanta fan of any vintage would have ever even dreamed possible.

Well, certainly not until Gian Piero Gasperini and Gomez began to perform miracles in Bergamo.

Atalanta have won just one major trophy in their 113-year history: the Coppa Italia, back in 1963.

Now, thanks to Gomez's genius, Gasperini's guidance, president Antonio Percassi's wisdom, and the sensational work of sporting director Giovanni Sartori and academy chief Maurizio Costanzi in player recruitment and development over the past six years, this provincial club has just qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League for the second consecutive season.

Gomez is highly unlikely to feature in the knockout stage, though, at least not for Atalanta, anyway.

During a 1-1 draw with Midtjylland, just six days after starring on Merseyside, Gomez was removed at half-time, allegedly after refusing Gasperini's request to remain on the right flank.

That argument was picked up by touchline mics, primarily because of the absence of a crowd at the Gewiss Stadium, but what we don't yet know for sure is what happened in the dressing room during the interval.

There was certainly a confrontation, though, with some papers even suggesting it was of a physical nature.

The club remained silent on the speculation, Gasperini did his best to bat off questions but Gomez was omitted from the squad to face Udinese the following weekend.

"I am the coach, the team must know that it’s looked after," he explained, cryptically. "When I make decisions...

"Papu has always been extraordinary for me, especially in recent years. He was incredible, but there are moments that happen, as it did the other night...

“I think it’ll do him good to get some rest, as he needs a few days to distract himself so he can be ready for Amsterdam."

Gomez played all 90 minutes as Atalanta sealed second place in their Champions League group with a 1-0 win over Ajax and was even singled out afterwards for praise by Gasperini but the diminutive No.10 was then left on the bench for the duration of the subsequent Serie A victory over Fiorentina.

It was at that point that Gomez took to Instagram to all-but-confirm his exit, telling his followers, "I just want to tell you that, when I leave, you will know the truth about everything. You know me well; you know who I am. I love you, your captain".

By that stage, some of Europe's top clubs were circling, with Goal revealing that even Paris Saint-Germain were interested in a January move for the Argentina international.

Perhaps surprisingly, Gomez was recalled against Juventus, but was only used as a second-half substitute in the 1-1 draw in Turin, and caused controversy when a video circulated after the game of him appearing to hum the Bianconeri's anthem.

That was the signal for the whole affair to become farcical, with Gomez's wife posting a Socrates parable on her social media. Gasperini struggled to remain diplomatic; for him, it was all just very frustrating.

Even as Atalanta rediscovered something approaching their best form following their European exertions, culminating in a characteristic, come-from-behind rout of Roma last weekend, Gomez's future was still all any journalists cared about.

“We drew at Juventus, we beat Ajax, beat Roma, and yet you only talk about this. Enough!" Gasperini implored in an interview with Sky Sport Italia after the 4-1 demolition of the Giallorossi.

The obsession with Gomez is understandable, though, given their bond with not only Bergamo but one another.

Gomez has always admitted that had he met the Italian at 24 instead of 28, he would have become a great player much sooner. Gasperini, for his part, has called the versatile winger Atalanta's Cristiano Ronaldo.

If anything, though, Gomez now looks more like Lionel Messi at Barcelona, an inspirational and adored Argentine attacker heading towards a painful divorce from the club he loves.

There has already been talk that Gomez is demanding a free transfer, which simply isn't going to happen, given his contract runs until 2023 and he would be quickly snapped up by a Serie A rival.

As Goal confirmed on Tuesday, Gomez would like to join either AC Milan or Inter, which is unsurprising given he and his family are settled in Lombardy. There would, of course, be huge disappointment in Bergamo if their idol were to join a nearby rival.

This is a city that has known true heartbreak, real devastation in 2020, so the departure of the club captain would hardly constitute a tragedy. However, it would still be a sad end to a beautiful love affair.

Papu, remember, is the captain of a team that brought a small amount of joy to a people that spent most of the year in mourning.

He played a very active role in pleading with people to stay indoors during the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, to put the welfare of others first, and now it seems his relationship with another of the city's adopted sons is in pieces.

Just like that Golden Taper award.