Refugee to Serie A, 18-year-old Moustapha Cisse scores for Atalanta in debut

Cisse arrived in Italy as a refugee in 2019 and soon joined Lecce-based team ASD Rinascita Refugees — an amateur team that plays in the eighth tier of Italian football

Atalanta's Moustapha Cisse, second right, celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal during a Serie A match against Bologna.   -  AP

From refugee to amateur football player to Serie A scorer, 18-year-old Moustapha Cisse has been through plenty in the last couple of years.

Cisse arrived in Italy as a refugee in 2019 and soon joined Lecce-based team ASD Rinascita Refugees — an amateur team that plays in the eighth tier of Italian football. He was with that team until last month, when Atalanta signed him to a professional contract.

On Sunday, Cisse made his Serie A debut when he came on as a substitute in the 65th minute against Bologna. He scored the only goal of the match 17 minutes later.

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“Besides his great footbal skills, he’s an exceptional guy,” Atalanta assistant coach Tullio Gritti said. “He came to Bergamo and then trained with us, he’s extremely polite, his politeness is an example despite the fact that life hasn’t been easy for him.

“Yet he’s a wonderful person, who is eager to learn. He has some great skills, today he scored a goal like a champion.”

The goal, and the win, were huge for Atalanta, a team that has been overachieving under coach Gian Piero Gasperini and is looking to again qualify for the Champions League. Atalanta is within eight points of fourth-place Juventus with a game in hand.

Cisse, who made his way to Italy from Guinea after the death of his father, got his chance to play on Sunday following a string of injuries to Atalanta’s forwards. But scoring goals has been a constant since he joined ASD Rinascita Refugees, a team made up entirely of foreigners who are seeking asylum in Italy.

Cisse was spotted by Atalanta’s scouts and he made the trip north to Bergamo on February 23 as the club made the unusual choice to give the unproven teenager one of the few slots Serie A teams are allowed for players outside of the European Union.

In his debut for the youth team, he scored — twice — in a 3-1 win over AC Milan’s youth team. He then scored again against Napoli’s youth team.

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As the goals piled up — along with the injuries in Atalanta's first team — Cisse was promoted to Serie A over the weekend. The gamble paid off.

Since Gasperini took over five years ago, Atalanta has found success by bringing forward its youth team players. Cisse is the latest prize.

“It’s in Atalanta’s history. The club has always believed in its academy. It’s been so for five to six years, thanks to the president, who chose a coach like Gasperini,” Gritti said. “The coach doesn’t have problems throwing on players who have quality, value and a clear head.

“People say there aren’t young talents in Italy but we actually have them if you have the courage to play them. And the coach surely has that courage. Cisse debut was a stroke of genius from Gasperini, saying that the player is there and he has lots of talent.”

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