Italy goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini discusses Atalanta's campaign as well as his own UEFA Champions League memories.
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UEFA.com will be running a series of UEFA Champions League Q&As every Friday in the coming weeks.
We've dug through our archive of interviews from across the season and start with our February sitdown with Atalanta keeper Pierluigi Gollini.
UEFA.com: What do the city of Bergamo and Atalanta Football Club mean to you?
Pierluigi Gollini: From the moment I arrived here [in 2018], there's been an incredible impact. The team were doing really well, it was right at the start of this run that we've been on in recent years. Nowadays Bergamo definitely holds a special place in my heart but also in my life, because I've been living in this city for the past three and a half years and I have a lot in common with the locals. It's a very beautiful town.
I think the best and rarest thing that we've created here is the relationship that we have within this team and this group of players. Because even though over the past few years there have been new arrivals and several departures, there's been a core group of players who have been here for some time. So I'm part of a big family at Atalanta, but also in a great, beautiful city.
So it's a special bond, almost unique, between the Atalanta fans and the team and the city. It's like a three in one: the team, the fans, the city.
Yes, exactly. That's definitely how it is. That's why I said before that we really relish what we've created. It's a unique bond. There's a lot of warmth and always a lot of respect. For a player, that's a great thing to receive and experience.
Let's rewind to the start of your journey. The life of a sportsman takes you away from certain things during your childhood – what are your memories of that?
Yes, it's not easy, to tell you the truth. I made a lot of sacrifices as a child. I didn't think of them like that at the time, because deep down my only desire was to be a footballer, to be the best I possibly could. So at that time, when my friends went dancing, I had no interest in going dancing. Today I realise I turned down a lot of things, I tell myself I did well. But I certainly had a lot of hunger to get to this level.
But at certain levels, talent isn't enough. Everyone has hunger, everyone's strong, everyone has talent, so the difference is in the little things – it's lots of little things that make the difference.
You spent time at Manchester United as a youth-team player – tell us about that experience.
It shaped me a lot as a man, as well as a player. I grew a lot from a human perspective thanks to the fact it made me discover a completely new culture different from my own, as well as a new language. I had to face a lot of the difficulties that a boy faces when he leaves home. It's an experience that did a lot for me on a human level and one I always look back on, because it taught me things I definitely wouldn't have learnt in Italy.
When the opportunity arose, I didn't have many doubts because I had this dream of becoming a player and United are still one of the best clubs in the world, but back then they were on a different level to other teams.
Naturally, Manchester United are associated with the Champions League. What were your first memories of the competition?
My first memories are definitely of watching it at home with my dad. Then – perhaps it was destiny – I remember going with my dad and my friends to watch Milan 3-0 Manchester United at the San Siro [in the 2006/07 semi-finals]. An amazing game by Milan, and the first Champions League match that I saw live. Then I went to United and played in the Champions League at the San Siro, so it must have been destiny! But it's a lovely memory.
It was an incredible group stage, wasn't it? How did you go from being practically eliminated, to qualifying in the way you did?
Lots of people had written us off after the second match [1-2 v Shakhtar at San Siro]. We, on the other hand, never felt like we were going out. I think the draw against Manchester City [on matchday 4] gave us a big boost. We managed to get a point against a team with phenomenal players, who are ruthless and tend to score a lot of goals.
Then, of course, other results went our way. We also have a lot of faith in our ability, our team and our game. All of these things together enabled us to achieve the incredible goal of qualifying from the group.
Tell us a little bit about that last match against Shakhtar. How did it feel to return to Bergamo with all of the fans waiting for you?
It was a special feeling for me. When I was at United and playing in the Youth League, we were eliminated in the group stage by Shakhtar. Obviously, the one we played recently was a much more important match. Possibly the most important one in my career. I’ve certainly returned as a more mature, stronger player. One with an increased sense of awareness and not a young kid anymore.
This interview was conducted by UEFA.com's Atalanta reporter Vieri Capretta in February.