In January, Antonio Di Natale announced that the 2013-14 campaign would be his last in professional football. Fast forward eight months, and the Udinese striker netted his first two goals of the season in the Zebrette’s 2-0 victory over his former employers Empoli.
The 36-year-old looked hungrier than ever when he opened his account for the season via a fabulous move with strike partner Luis Muriel, laying the ball off to the Colombian on the edge of the box before ghosting in behind and coolly poking beyond goalkeeper Luigi Sepe.
He then showcased his goalscorer’s instinct once more. Capitalising on a woeful backpass from Vincent Laurini, Di Natale taught the new boys a stern lesson after snapping up the loose ball in an offside position and sliding home in typically-clinical fashion.
And as ever, the Naples native, who earned the joint most points for the weekend on eurofantasyleague.com, showed great modesty in spite of his personal achievements. In a token gesture, he rushed over to Empoli Coach Maurizio Sarri after the match and handed him his No 10 jersey – a sign of appreciation for the club that discovered his talents.
“It was a difficult game, so I congratulate Empoli,” he told reporters. “They played better than us in the first half. Sarri is a great Coach who went through rigmarole and deserves to coach this team in Serie A.”
Last week, the attacker stole all the plaudits in the third round of the Coppa Italia, smashing four goals against Ternana in a 5-1 success. Thus, the mere notion that the ex-Empoli ace could split his days on the golf course or in a studio has been rendered unfathomable.
It appeared that Di Natale had lost his passion for the beautiful game midway through last season. The marksman had scored just four times prior to the winter break, and the love story between the two parties seemed to have come to an end – as with all good things.
However, his announcement hit home. Netting a further 13 times before the end of the campaign, including six in his last three appearances, there were even suggestions that he had played himself into contention for Italy’s World Cup squad.
Unsurprisingly, Di Natale postponed his retirement plans for another season, citing assurances from the club’s board following the departure of Francesco Guidolin. Fortunately for the Friulani, he has been given a new lease of life by Andrea Stramaccioni.
“His preparation [for the new season] was excellent, and it has immediately resulted in great form,” said the former Inter Coach. “He strikes me as a leader, thanks to his ability to be at the service of the team.”
Di Natale’s future remains to be seen. With so much to bring to the table in the form of experience, leadership and – most crucially – goals, new national boss Antonio Conte would be hard-pressed to find a better role model for his Azzurri young guns.
As for his playing career, his performance against Empoli has proved that he still has the tools in his armoury to challenge for the Capocannoniere. Form may be temporary, but class is permanent…
Prove yourself as an outstanding football manager by building a unique La Liga fantasy football team for free & challenging your friends at eurofantasyleague.com