Robin Gosens’ Rise to Stardom at Atalanta
The 1974 World Cup Final saw West Germany narrowly edge the Netherlands in Munich, with a Die Mannschaft side led by Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller mustering a 2-1 victory at the Olympiastadion and depriving Johan Cruyff’s Oranje of eternal glory.
14 years later, the Netherlands exacted revenge in Hamburg, defeating West Germany in the Euros semi-final via goals from Marco van Basten and Ronald Koeman, before beating the Soviet Union in the Final.
Following the victory in Hamburg, Amsterdammers threw their bicycles into the air in celebration and conglomerated for the largest public gathering since May 5, 1945, when the Netherlands was liberated from Nazi Germany. “Hamburg was also a reversal of the invasion: an orange-clad Dutch army drove its cars into Germany and defeated the inhabitants,” wrote Simon Kuper in his 1994 book Football Against The Enemy.
Netherlands and Germany have been vying for supremacy on the football pitch for the past 50 years, but their latest fight came off the pitch rather than on it. Born in Emmerich am Rhein, Germany to a Dutch father and a German mother, Robin Gosens found himself in the middle of a dual nationality tug-of-war between the DFB and KNVB, but he put an end to that battle on September 3, 2020, after starting in a UEFA Nations League match for Germany against Spain and grabbing an assist in a 1-1 draw.
Growing up a diehard Schalke fan near the Dutch border in the small village of Elten, Gosens bounced around various small clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia, often showing up hungover after spending the previous night partying with friends.
Gosens thought that he had squandered his chance to make it as a professional footballer after being rejected by Borussia Dortmund, but his fortunes turned around after being spotted by a Vitesse Arnhem scout, who invited him for a trial. Gosens joined Vitesse’s academy on July 4, 2012, and a year later, he signed his first professional contract.
“It’s hard to explain why it has clicked for me now but one factor is essential: I’ve worked incredibly hard on myself since I got the chance to become a pro,” said Gosens in an interview with The Athletic. “It’s because I felt I had to make up for all the things I didn’t learn in an academy. The dream was so big that I promised myself to never stop working and trying to improve myself.”
Desperate for his first experience in professional football, Gosens joined FC Dordrecht on loan on January 14, 2014, and quickly became an undisputed starter, leading the Sheep heads to the top flight for the first time in 19 years.
Whilst he was mainly utilized in central midfield during his first few months in South Holland, Gosens was shifted to the left back position midway through the 2015/16 campaign. He failed to prevent Dordecht from making a swift return to the Eerste Divisie, but his performances drew the attention of Heracles Almelo, who signed him on a free transfer.
At 21 years of age, Gosens chipped in 3 goals and 3 assists as Heracles finished sixth in the league, qualifying for European competition for the first time in the club’s 113-year history.
He was shoehorned in a wide range of positions under manager John Stegemen, deputizing at right back, central midfield, and left wing, although he solidified his position at left back in the 2016/17 season. After a five-year spell in Holland, Gosens joined Atalanta on June 2, 2017, for a fee of €900,000.
Gosens often found himself on the bench in his first season in Bergamo, but he broke into the starting eleven in March 2018 after Leonardo Spinazzola was sidelined with a long-term knee injury. He cemented a starting spot the following season, delivering stellar performances at the left wing-back position in Gian Piero Gasperini’s 3-4-2-1 as Atalanta qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
Atalanta began the 2019/20 season in Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, facing off against SPAL at the Stadio Paolo Mazza. SPAL took an early lead via goals from Federico Di Francesco and Andrea Petagna, but La Dea halved the deficit in the 34th minute, with Gosens charging past Marco D’Alessandro at the far post, latching onto Hans Hateboer’s cross, and firing a bullet header past former teammate Etrit Berisha in goal. Atalanta would go on to complete the comeback via a brace from second-half substitute Luis Muriel, holding on for a 3-2 victory.
That performance against SPAL set the tone for the rest of the campaign, as Gosens provided 10 goals and 8 assists in 43 appearances, leading Atalanta to the Champions League quarter-finals and a third-place finish in Serie A.
He continued his upward slope in Bergamo with 12 goals and 8 assists in 44 appearances in 2020/21, leading Atalanta to another berth in the UEFA Champions League knockout round, as well as taking them to the Coppa Italia Final, where they would lose to Juventus, and sealing a third-place finish in Serie A.
Following another successful campaign under Gasperini, Gosens was called up by Joachim Löw for Euro 2020, where he would start each of Germany’s four matches including a phenomenal performance against Portugal that saw him bag a goal and two assists in a 4-2 victory against the defending champions. In a dour campaign for Die Mannschaft, Gosens was one of the few shining lights.
Jogi Löw: The Despairing End of a 17-year Saga in Black & White
It has been far from smooth sailing for Gosens this season, however. Following a productive September that saw him pick up two goals and one assist in his first eight matches, Gosens suffered a hamstring injury in a 1-0 win against Young Boys, and it is unlikely that he will return until January at the earliest. La Dea have narrowly missed out on their third straight qualification to the Champions League knockout round, but they nevertheless remain in Serie A’s top four.
At 27 years of age, Robin Gosens has emerged as one of the most lethal wingbacks in European football for Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta, and with 18 months remaining on his contract, Atalanta may very well decide to cash in on Gosens for a hefty profit rather than lose him for free in 2023. He has served the Italian side well since his arrival in 2017, but with Giuseppe Pezzella and Joakim Mæhle waiting in the wings, Gosens could be approaching his final months in Bergamo.
By: Zach Lowy / @ZachLowy
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Lars Baron – Getty Images