Cristiano Doni’s implication in the Calcioscommesse scandal has shattered his reputation and effectively ended his 20-year playing career, but he remains an Atalanta legend. Nerazzurri staff, players and fans have been vociferously supportive of their club and captain since the guilty verdicts were announced in August. The denial, protestations and fight to prove their innocence will continue, and Doni will remain a hero regardless of the outcome.
The ordeal has only strengthened the Nerazzurri’s resolve, and they’ve never been more supportive of Doni than they are today. Such is the nature of Bergamo’s sons and daughters. They are a proud, defiant people, and Doni is very much one of their own. Named an honorary Bergamo citizen in 2008, Doni and Atalanta have been great for each other. It’ll take more than a betting scam to break their bond.
Born in Rome on April 1st, 1973, Doni began his footballing education with Modena in 1988 but didn’t make his professional debut until a 1992-93 loan spell with Serie C2’s Rimini. Doni notched 6 goals in 31 appearances for the Romagna side, before moving up a division with Pistoiese the following season.
Modena decided against retaining Doni’s services despite the productivity of his loan spells, and the gifted midfielder moved to Bologna in 1994. Two promotions in two years saw Doni’s star rise with Bologna’s, but he was discarded before he could make his top tier debut. Doni didn’t have to wait long, however, as his new club Brescia were promoted as Serie B champions in 1997.
Cristiano’s Bergamese odyssey began in 1998 when he arrived at newly relegated Atalanta. Finishing with 8 goals in 27 games, Doni’s on-field influence continued to grow but his new side were unable to secure promotion and finished sixth in Serie B. The following season, 1999-00, was more productive for Doni and La Dea. Playing as a left-winger for the first time in his career, Doni scored an impressive 14 goals in 35 games, and a fourth-place finish was enough to secure Atalanta’s Serie A return.
The Nerazzurri impressed in Serie A and finished 7th, but 2000-01was a dark season for Cristiano Doni. He and his team-mates were accused of rigging a cup tie were accused of rigging a Coppa Italia tie with Pistoiese. Everyone involved was eventually acquitted, but Doni’s involvement has only compounded suspicion of his Calcioscommesse involvement.
Doni returned with aplomb in 2001-02 to record his most successful season yet. 16 goals in 30 Serie A appearances saw the playmaker earn a call-up to Giovanni Trappatoni’s Azzurri. Scoring on his debut (a friendly with Japan), Doni’s good domestic form earned him a place in Italy’s Euro 2002 squad. Doni made seven international appearances overall, scoring once.
A playoff loss to Reggina in 2003 saw Atalanta relegated, and Doni, too talented for Serie B, soon departed. He moved to Sampdoria that summer but became increasingly injury prone and rarely produced his best form. Two fruitless seasons in Genoa ended with a switch to R.C.D. Mallorca in 2005 but Doni continued to struggle, scoring just twice in 24 games.
Aged 32, it looked like Doni’s career was winding down. A spate of injuries and erratic performances meant Doni wasn’t exactly a hot commodity upon leaving Mallorca, but La Dea swooped to save him from the scrapheap. Doni returned to Atalanta in 2006, famously comparing his Nerazzurri jersey to Clark Kent’s Superman costume.
If Doni became a fan favourite during his first Atalanta spell, he became a legend during his second. Doni missed 10 games through injury in 2006-07 but still captained the side to an eighth-place finish, scoring 13 goals along the way. La Dea achieved another strong finish in 2007-08 (9th) as Doni’s rejuvenation continued. The following season he notched nine goals (including four against champion Internazionale), having already become Atalanta’s all-time top Serie A goalscorer in 2008.
Atalanta went into decline the following season. Doni mustered just 2 goals as La Dea slipped into the relegation zone and struggled for consistency all season long. A finish of 18th eventually saw Atalanta relegated, but Doni, 37, had become a Bergamese institution. Doni announced that he wanted to see-out the rest of his career with La Dea, and stuck around for his first Serie B season since 1999-00.
Captain Doni made an immediate impact, scoring five times in the season’s opening three months. His peak years were long gone, but Doni was reborn in the second-tier, providing a touch of class rarely seen outwith Serie A and finishing with 12 league goals, his highest tally in three seasons. Atalanta finished as champions and returned to Serie A, but without their captain. Doni was hit with a 3½-year band for his involvement in Calcioscommesse, and his playing days are probably numbered.
Doni was an advanced playmaker who typically operating between midfield and attack. His vision, touch and passing accuracy were superb: his game was based on technicality, not physicality, which explains why he was still playing at 38. Last season he played at the tip of Atalanta’s midfield diamond and showed that his ability to cut defences open with a single pass hadn’t diminished. His ageing body mightn’t have been able to cope with Serie A’s demands this season, but it would’ve been nice to see him try.
If this is the end of Doni’s career, he’s left plenty to be proud of. He’s seen Atalanta through two promotions and some of their best ever Serie A finishes. 112 goals in 323 appearances make him the club’s all-time leading goalscorer (by a margin of 50) and Atalanta’s fourth all-time appearance maker. His reputation outside Bergamo is now tainted, but Nerazzurri fans will always revere him.
In July, over 4,000 fans took to the Bergamo to protest their club’s innocence. That their club are guilty is incomprehensible to them, and that Doni could’ve played an active role in Atalanta’s demise is unspeakable. In their eyes, Atalanta will always be innocent, and Doni will always be a legend.
- “Doni’s diamonds – how Atalanta made their penalisation an inspiration,” Giancarlo Rinaldi.
- Italian Wikipedia.
- Cristiano Doni: official website.
- “Atalanta fans in denial as hero Doni accused of match-fixing,” James Horncastle.