GLENN STROMBERG: Captain forever
There are footballers who enter the hearts of their fans slowly.
But once they have entered their hearts, they never leave.
They are often not the most talented, the most creative or the most spectacular in the team.
Nor are they the number 9 who scores 30 goals a season, the fantasist who makes your heart leap every time he goes off on a dribble, or the goalkeeper who goes and snatches a ball from the crossbar of the posts when you may already have your hands in your hair in despair at a goal conceded.
They are the ones who, without having to kiss the crest as is fashionable today, literally soak the jersey with their own sweat, in the game and in training.
They are the ones who take and give blows because football is not only for engineers but also for labourers.
They are the ones who bind themselves to a city, to the people of this city, to a club and to a jersey, and that even a big pay rise, the chance to win trophies or the international showcase are not able to change their priorities.
Glenn Stromberg for Atalanta and its wonderful fans is all that.
And perhaps even more.
Yes, because this ‘big Swede’ of more than one metre ninety has not only played eight consecutive seasons for the DEA, but has also renounced far greater engagements in more emblazoned and probably more successful teams.
Stromberg stayed in Bergamo to live there, he and his splendid family … including his granddaughter Ginevra!
And to think that the beginning was by no means easy.
On the contrary.
When Stromberg arrived in Bergamo in the summer of 1984, Atalanta had just risen to Serie A after a period of purgatory in Serie B and one in Serie C.
Stromberg had already made a name for himself before at Goteborg, where he even managed to win a UEFA Cup in May 1982, and then at Benfica, again together with his mentor Sven Goran Eriksson.
In Bergamo Glenn found as ‘coach’ Nedo Sonetti, a genuine Tuscan whom to define as footballingly ‘pragmatic’ is an obvious understatement.
Glenn found it hard to fit into a ‘sparse’ team, devoted to defending before attacking.
He who comes from winning teams, where he has always had carte blanche to insert himself into the attack and look for the net himself.
What’s more, he soon discovers that ignorance, prejudice and malice are still an integral part of our country.
‘Marisa’ is the nickname with which the opposing fans label him because of that long blond mop, even questioning his ‘masculinity’ and sexual tastes.
Glenn puts up with it without too much trouble.
He has other things to think about.
Like Atalanta’s salvation and how, above all, to find a way back to being the universal player he had been with Goteborg and Benfica.
In the second half of the championship, Atalanta and especially Stromberg began to get into gear.
Little by little, the Atalanta fans learn to appreciate this long, lanky player who can carry the team on his shoulders, putting his heart and tactical intelligence into every game.
At the end of the season it was an excellent 10th place, and for Stromberg came the great satisfaction of being named ‘Swedish Footballer of the Year’ in 1985.
The real turning point in his relationship with the club, the fans and the city of Bergamo would come two seasons later.
At the end of the 1986-87 season, Atalanta relegated to Serie B.
However, they also reached the Coppa Italia final, and despite losing it to Napoli, who were also crowned champions of Italy, Atalanta won the right to participate in the next Cup Winners’ Cup.
At the end of the season, however, the Swede expressed the desire to go elsewhere.
He is not happy with the situation and what is more, he is also in the sights of some fans.
‘Marisa’ is no longer a nickname with which he is only mocked by opposing fans … now some DEA supporters are thinking of using the same stupid ‘weapon’.
That summer, president Bortolotti decided to hand the team into the hands of young coach Emiliano Mondonico, who had led Como to a resounding 9th place in Serie A the previous season.
It was the best possible move, for Atalanta and for Stromberg.
There is immediate chemistry between the two.
Mondonico would later recount that he saw himself in that big guy who was a bit out of the box, with an above-average intelligence and a ‘rebellious’ attitude that was the same as the footballer Mondonico had.
Plus they discovered a shared love for the Rolling Stones!
Mondonico convinces Stromberg to stay in Serie B, offers him the captain’s armband and makes him the absolute leader of the team.
After a few days of training in preparation, the ‘Marisa’ question is also resolved once and for all.
A friendly match against a minor team is scheduled.
Stromberg has already scored two goals and leads the team with authority and character.
From the stands a couple of jerks think well of spoiling the party.
‘Wake up Marisa’ is the cry coming from the stands.
Glenn casts an eye towards the area where that voice came from.
With him is also Aldo Cantarutti, bomber of the Orobici and another player of important size.
Together they climb over the protective net.
Stromberg lifts one of the ‘furbies’ by the lapel.
“My name is Glenn, Glenn Stromberg. Captain of Sweden and Atalanta. Don’t you EVER forget that. Neither you nor anyone else.”
He returned to the pitch, smiled at the bench and resumed playing.
That season will go down in the history of Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio.
Not only was there an immediate return to Serie A (albeit a painful one, and on the last day), but above all there was an incredible ride in the Cup Winners’ Cup that took the Bergamasks all the way to the semi-final lost to the Belgians of KV Mechelen (or Malines in the French-speaking diction), still the best result of a Second Division team in the European Cups.
Stromberg is adored by the public.
He is the captain, the symbol, the soul.
He sacrifices himself in coverage, is always ready to return and defend with great humility only to find him a moment later setting up the action or launching himself deep to dictate the pass.
The following season, that of his return to Serie A, was simply sensational.
A 6th place finish, worth a place in the next UEFA Cup and ‘seasoned’ with some results that the passionate Bergamo fans had only dreamed of for years: away victories at Juventus and Milan.
By now, Atalanta is a reality of Italian football.
For the DEA and its incredible fans, these will be unforgettable years.
There will be extraordinary players like Claudio Caniggia and the Brazilian Evair, there will be other excellent placings and participations in European competitions.
And there will also be ugly episodes, which will deprive Atalanta of possible great satisfaction and hurt the soul of Glenn Stromberg, who had built his career on ethics and professional correctness.
We refer to what happened on 26 January 1990.
The quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia were being played. Facing them was AC Milan, the reigning European champions, who in May of the same year would repeat their success in Europe’s most important competition.
It was the Milan of Berlusconi, Sacchi and the fantastic Dutch trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rjikard.
A draw would be enough for Milan to qualify, but instead it was Atalanta who took the lead and the match was in the closing stages.
Borgonovo was down after a clash.
He is writhing and swearing.
Glenn Stromberg sees it coming and puts the ball into the side foul so that he can render aid to the Milan striker. He even raises an arm to get the referee and doctors’ attention
Rjikard takes the throw-in, handing the ball to Massaro.
The Atalanta players all stand still, waiting for the ball to be returned to them or kicked off the pitch.
Massaro instead throws the ball into the middle of the area.
Atalantini all stand still.
Borgonovo catapults himself onto the ball, who probably didn’t see what had happened a few seconds earlier. He engages in a duel with Barcella, the Atalanta stopper, who tugs him a little in hand-to-hand combat.
It’s a penalty kick.
The Atalantini are furious.
The ball belonged to Atalanta and Milan should have returned it.
The time expired.
Franco Baresi appeared on the penalty spot.
The Atalantini called on the Rossoneri captain to do justice.
The only one possible is to kick the penalty outside.
Stromberg reiterates: ‘If you are a man, you kick this penalty into the stands’, says the Swede to Baresi.
Baresi listens to no one.
He shoots and scores.
Milan are in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia.
Atalanta are out.
It is a shameful episode, in the history of Milan and Italian football.
All hell breaks loose, on the pitch and especially in the locker room.
“Someone is going to get kicked in the butt,” Mondonico would later say about what happened in the locker room.
Milan didn’t make a big impression.
Rjikard will simply say ‘we are professionals’, Baresi will gloss over it in an unorthodox manner and Berlusconi, ‘afterwards’ will talk about re-doing the match … later, always later.
The only one who will come out on top is Paolo Maldini, who at the end of the match will come out with a laconic ‘what a shit figure we made’!
Stromberg will play two more seasons with the DEA and at the end of the 1991-1992 season, at only 32 years of age, he will decide to leave football.
The tribute of the Atalanta fans is goose-bumps.
The affection for this Swedish giant goes far beyond footballing merits.
It is the honesty of the person, the sense of belonging, the innate nature to work, toil and sacrifice.
All the qualities of the people there.
Glenn would become Bergamasque inside, to the point of staying here at the end of his career, starting successful businesses, making Italian products known in his country where he often returns to be a sports pundit.
To understand what Stromberg really represented for Bergamo and the Atalanta fans, perhaps words are not enough.
Better to look at the certificates.
Like the one that the DEA curve decided to display on 6 May 2012, before a home match against Lazio. There are 7 numbers under which are the 7 names of the great captains of Atalanta’s history.
In the centre, the only one with a white and not a Nerazzurri banner, is him: Glenn Stromberg, even though he stopped playing football 20 years ago.
But if and when there is another similar tribute, even if it is in another 20 years, in the centre, we are certain, there will always be him.
ANECDOTES AND CURIOSITIES
Everyone is well aware of the esteem and affection between Mondonico and Stromberg in Bergamo. However, not everyone knows about one of the few episodes where the two faced off in a very decisive manner.
The topic of discussion? The card game.
During the long coach journeys, cards were the favourite pastime of many footballers, and Atalanta players were no exception.
One of the most passionate players was captain Stromberg.
For a while Mondonico managed to put up with this habit, which he was never too fond of. But then came a couple of consecutive away defeats and then things took a decidedly different turn
“Guys those damn cards distract you and take away your concentration. You’d better rest and think about the game on your bus journeys,’ was the explicit message from ‘World’.
Stromberg gets really angry this time.
“No coach. This we cannot accept. The card game has nothing to do with whether you win or lose’.
A long and tortured negotiation began, which led to a Solomonic result: cards were played at alternating times: one hour playing and one hour off, and so for the duration of the trip!
Another amusing anecdote concerns the Friday training match. Stromberg recounts that in those matches there was often the same intensity as in a cup final! Mondonico knew very well that Stromberg absolutely hated to lose, and playing on this fact he prolonged the final match to excess, denying Stromberg’s team obvious penalty kicks or conceding advantages to the captain’s opposing team. Stromberg, who did not accept losing, demanded to continue playing … until he won, to the delight of Mondonico, who had obtained from his boys a tense and very productive training session.
Football-tennis. One of the great passions or challenge for any football team. In Bergamo it had become almost an obsession.
The late Mondonico recounts that with training scheduled for 3 p.m., he would always make sure to be at the Zingonia pitch well in advance to prepare for the session.
… only to find that by 2 p.m. the full team was already challenging each other in tense football-tennis matches!
Adding that often when the real training session began many of his players were already very tired …
It is Mondonico himself, however, who remembers one of Glenn Stromberg’s most important characteristics: his ‘rare’ ability to read the game like few others.
‘I never gave too precise tactical tasks to Glenn. It was simply because it was he on the pitch who always understood, depending on the course of the match and the opponents’ line-up, where to put himself in order to be as useful as possible to the team. It’s an innate gift. That only intelligent people and footballers have.”
The one about Glenn Stromberg is one of 38 biographies told in http://www.urbone.eu/media/images/shop/questo-e-il-nostro-calcio.jpg