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Friday November 2 2018
No more Di Natales

Udinese don’t have Toto anymore and, as Richard Hall explains, their entire model seems to be a thing of the past.

The Stadio Friuli looked different back then, certainly not as modern but it still had atmosphere. On the March 8 2014, Antonio Di Natale was wheeling away in celebration after tapping home from close range. There was nothing special about the goal, only that it came against Milan and it would go towards his league tally of 17 for the season. Even back then the cracks were beginning to show in the ‘Udinese model’ but now in 2018, as they face Milan again, the Zebrette are a shadow of their former selves. Only now there in no ‘Toto’ to save them.

Di Natale was Udine’s patron saint of football, there was no doubt about it. For years, those who frequented the Friuli, as it was known, enjoyed one constant. The goals of ‘Toto’ saw them reached unprecedented heights, as they nearly qualified for the group stages of the Champions League. The bond their number 10 had with the city was unbreakable, as his family adored the city that adored them. Some time ago his wife, Ilenia, had stopped a potential move to Juventus (Turin isn’t far from Udine) as their boys, Felipo and Diletta, were being schooled in the city. They had also taken care of Piermario Morosini’s disabled sister (the Livorno player died of cardiac arrest whilst playing) and Di Natale didn’t want to disturb her.

It came to be, that due to these reasons and the love he had for the club, the lethal striker went on to score 227 goals in 446 the Friulian’s. At the end, it had to be said, that his goal ratio was papering over some growing cracks, as despite the shiny renovations to what is now the Dacia Stadium, the owners were changing their focus. Now as Udinese enter their 23rd consecutive season in Serie A, the impact of the Pozzo family’s change of stance could see it be their last.

The ‘Udinese model’ had been admired for many years for being idealistic and yet effective. The idea was always to renovate the Stadio Friuli and keep a competitive team going in the top flight by employing a network of scouts that would pick up talent from all over Europe and especially South America. Owner Giampaolo Pozzo was enthralled in this project, he had brought them from Serie B and them executed his plan. It worked so well he soon owned clubs in Spain, Granada, and then English club Watford, with the idea of repeating this model.

The Pozzo methodology was to be the ‘happy feeder club’, making money from selling the star names and investing back into the youth system. Antonio Di Natale, Samir Handanovic, David Pizarro, Medhi Benatia, Luis Muriel, Kwadwo Asamoah, Alexis Sanchez and so many more were evidence of this success. The Wall Street Journal reported that between 2009-14, the club were making a loss but, with player sales, they turned profit of $26m - it was insane but brilliant.

The problem came with Watford and the continued rise of the Premier League. The money that the competition offered saw Udinese become second in the pile when it came to investment. This saw less scouting, less talent, less revenue and ultimately trouble. Now there were no Di Natales or Gokhan Inlers. Now there was Emmanuel Badu and, at best, Rodrigo Paul. Udinese saw the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra go to Watford and things started to look bleak. While not abandoned by the Pozzo family, they are at best, treading water and this season has proved this. With nine points - two wins and three draws - coupled with five defeats, they sit in 16th place and are simply hoping that there are worse teams below.

As they get set to welcome Milan to the Dacia Stadium this weekend, they will be hoping that Kevin Lasagna or the like, can step up and give them a 1-0 win, just as they managed in 2014.

An away trip to Empoli is followed by the visit of Roma and they will be desperate to find some form. There is a strong possibility that they will survive and have 24 straight seasons in Serie A. Perhaps that wouldn’t even be good news. Perhaps if the Zebrette were eventually slip into Serie B, then it just may mean that the Pozzo’s come home and stop focusing on their English mistress.

Have your say...
It makes sense now why Di Natale didn't leave the team. What a sweetheart.
on the 5th November, 2018 at 12:15am
The list of ex players is amazing for Udinese. There was also Stefano Fiore, Iaquinta, Bierhoff, Sully Muntari, Morgan De Santis in primes.even up to 2013 with current great players > Italian and international. The owning family is finically genius and or lucky, but they really could of had or built a permanent top 5 club. I remember they incredibly made it into CL....and nearly qualified again few years back but lost on pks.
Di Natalie himself was like Messi for Udine. great Neapolitan Legend.
on the 2nd November, 2018 at 11:29pm
Come on there are limits on rebuilding udinese lost in space of a couple of seasons handanovic zapata benatia pasquale asamoah isla inler cuadrado armero sanchez candreva pepe denis plus a ageing di natale who was the main reason behind their success. In addition they lost larini and micheli as scouts and directors. In addition only really 30% of the players they had on their books came good people have forgotten about the likes of fabbrini pasquato barretto torje who were scouted at the time.
on the 2nd November, 2018 at 9:25pm
England - SMH - Come back home!

I remember being in a meeting with former Parmalat CEO (post-fraud) and turnaround specialist Enrico Bondi. He simply stated that money was not everything and his firm had a responsibility to the community.
on the 2nd November, 2018 at 2:47pm

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