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Josip Iličič and the Gasperini's theorem

A short history about how Atalanta coach managed to decipher the talent of the Slovenian

Josip Iličič and the Gasperini's theorem  A short history about how Atalanta coach managed to decipher the talent of the Slovenian

Gasperini could not manage it. He kept looking at that hat-trick on his iPad and wondered why, why, why.

Everything was silent in Zingonia. Even Hateboer, usually the last one to leave the training center, had been away for an hour. Gasperini was alone, under the buzzing light of a neon that was the background to his doubts. Hair graying from time and adventure at Inter but the gaze still convinced. Sitting on one of the dressing-room benches, Gasperini held the iPad tightly and sent the video back to the first goal. One, two, three times. The storekeeper came in to take away the last things but was stopped by the wrinkled hand of the Gasp: "Leave me alone, then I'll take care of it". 

He did not even look up, his eyes were a color halfway between black and blue. Gasperini, for the umpteenth time, pressed on the "play" button. And the magic started again. 


Bewitched, entranced, a heroin addict after the umpteenth dose: Gasperini had become addicted to that hat-trick against Sassuolo (as a subs) and could no longer stop looking at her in a compulsive way. He had not had dinner and was not hungry, had not drunk and was not thirsty. The only thing he needed was a clear, decisive, mathematical solution. It was the second hat-trick in midseason, after all. A scientific explanation had to be there.

What was watching was the same lazy southpaw of the previous day, the same that would have gone on the pitch the next day? What could happen in the player's head to make it perform at its best, but only intermittently? What was the switch?

Gasperini sent back, again, and covered the second goal.


It was from the end of the match against Sassuolo that he could not take the thought out of his head. The players had seen him stranger than usual, but they preferred to say nothing, so much in the field the results were the same.

Ilicic, for his part, noticed a strange distrust in the eyes of his coach: the Slovenian felt the weight of the coach gaze on every workout. When the Slovenian turned to meet the coach's eyes he always found them there, fixed, vacuous, questioning and severe. It was really scary.

Gasperini sent back again, and looked at the third goal.



Another dose, another ecstasy. Then that feeling of emptiness when you lose something and do not understand why. He got on a new rage, he struggled to control himself, he wanted to throw away the iPad but just kicked a bottle away. His breath came short almost immediately, he leaned against the large table in the middle of the locker room and noticed the draft with the tactics for the next game and some white paper scattered here and there that is confused with the white of the table. He grasped at someone groped: he needed to write, to make the problem concrete, to face it black and white.

He opened a pen with his mouth and spat out the cap, then took a piece of paper and wrote it in large letters:


He put it on one side, then again, on a different sheet: 


It's still:


He had nothing else to write. These were the only three words he had to describe the player Josip Ilicic, born on January 29, 1988 in Prijedor, Slovenia. Gasperini rubbed a hand through his hair and gritted his teeth. He gave an open hand shot on talent, one on expectations, one on inconstancy. He crushed those three imaginary buttons in the hope that something would happen, but nothing happened. Only the tolling of his shots was heard throughout the locker room.

Gian Piero Gasperini, born in Grugliasco 30 years before, felt explode, his breathing became shorter, his eyes widened, even bluer, even more black. Suddenly he shouted desperately, with all the breath he had in his body, letting the sheets fly off the ground.

Gasperini was defeated. He sat down again on the bench, in tears. Tired, exhausted, destroyed. He cast his eyes distractedly towards the sheets and saw that they had placed themselves strangely on the ground: they formed a precise right triangle, with the word TALENT falling diagonally while INCONSTANCY and EXPECTATIONS were standing there, straight and impassive.

It was there that he had the lighting. His eyes suddenly lit up like the neon lights, his brain began to buzz, all the gears set off madly. The now unrecognizable Gasperini stood up, reached the table, took the marker and another sheet and wrote: 

"The area of ​​the square built on the talent of Josip Ilicic is equivalent to the sum of the areas of the squares built on its inconstancy and on my expectations".

He looked at the paper, and at that precise moment everything was clear to him: the essence of Ilicic was contained in that theorem, a paradoxical mathematical operation that only succeeds on certain occasions. Gasperini understood that Ilicic was the inconstant talent that unmarked three quarters of the opposing team and put the ball under seven, and at the same time was also that lazy player who disappointed his expectations. A lopsided and marvelous equation, like a kick given to a flask, like three sheets falling to the ground and leaving you astonished to think that if Ilicic was different, more constant, more continuous and incisive, it simply would not be Ilicic.