• Covid. "The Atalanta-Valencia was a biological bomb"

Nobody in Bergamo dares to name the reason why Atalanta reaches the peak of its history without its Champions striker: Josip Ilicic . He will not be in Lisbon against PSG and the fault is not a physical pain, but a deep wound that he tries to heal while taking refuge in the forests of his country, Slovenia. The giant that catapulted the team to the quarterfinals by killing Valencia with four goals has been blurred in four months .

His last game was on July 11 against Juventus. By then it was a shadow that in Bergamo they could not color again. Ilicic was fighting his own battle .

"We are also with you, who are our angels, to win the most important match," he wrote in networks after donating the ball of his feat in Mestalla to the auction organized by a hospital. At the time, he was the hero of Europe's breakout team, scoring five goals in an atypical round of 16. The opportunity to continue astonished continental football was postponed by a pandemic that caught the Bergamo team at the epicenter and affected the dressing room physically - Gasperini confessed to having traveled to Valencia with Covid - and mentally. They lived in an apocalyptic scene.

When Ilicic returned to the grass he did so with five kilos less and football and his mind short-circuited . Her soccer bubble was broken by the sirens and the parade of coffins and sadness, worry and fear emerged. Feelings that the forward knows well since 2018.

Orphan of a father since he was nine months old, he fled Bosnia with his mother and brother in the middle of the Balkan War to settle in Slovenia, where he started playing football until Palermo signed him from Maribor in 2010. Then he would sign for Fiorentina, where he played three seasons until reaching 17/18 at Atalanta.

On the brink of death in 2018

Already in Bergamo he received two blows that knocked him out and whose scar has bled again this strange spring. In March 2018 Davide Astori , Fiorentina captain, died of cardiac arrest at a team rally. He was 31 years old and they were both friends. «What happened to Davide made me go through difficult times and I suffered for many days. It was a terrible tragedy that did not let me sleep for days, “admitted the Slovenian.

His own would arrive just a few months later. In August 2018, during a routine visit to the dentist, he contracted a bacterial infection in the lymph nodes that brought him to the brink of death. «I thought a lot about what happened to Davide. I was afraid of falling asleep and not waking up again , of not going back to my family, ”the 32-year-old has recalled in multiple interviews since then. He stopped watching games and focused on enjoying his family, learning to walk, run and recover his football, which for many months was no longer his priority. "I was satisfied with leading a normal life." The trace of the Astori tragedy and his own fears surfaced in the form of tears at the 2019 Fiorentina-Atalanta in which the captain viola was paid tribute on the first anniversary of his death.

Now, Ilicic has once again needed to take refuge in his own, a decision respected by Atalanta, which gave him permission to end the season. Nobody in the club seemed capable of recovering their spirits , although his absence represents a serious setback for the final phase in Lisbon that Gian Piero Gasperini will have to solve. "It's as if Juventus lacked Dybala, Lukaku to Inter or Immobile to Lazio," he admits. Against PSG he will have to arm the Goddess with players like Pasalic , Papu Gómez and Zapata in a duel in which, in principle, Mbappé will not be there.

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