Antonio Di Natale reveals he taught Alexis Sanchez how to shoot and would only have left Udinese for Liverpool.
The striker turned 37 last month and has scored 199 Serie A goals, so this weekend against Palermo could set a new milestone.
In January Di Natale had announced he’d retire from football at the end of that season, but was talked into changing his mind.
“It was a difficult moment for the team and for me,” he told SportWeek. “My father was already seriously ill, Udinese had lost six games between October and January... I was also upset at the criticism, not so much aimed at me, but at the squad.
“When things go badly, you need to feel the affection of the fans, instead... Once things had calmed down and I’d been on the beach over the summer, I convinced myself I should continue.
“My physique is holding up, I’ve been at this club for 10 years and above all I had that 200-goal mark to reach.
“The truth is that if I took a step back on my decision, it’s also thanks to President Pozzo: he made me feel important, talked about the new stadium and said I can have a future here even off the field.
“Will I become a Coach? No, I don’t think so. Players are difficult to deal with!”
Di Natale famously turned down an offer from Juventus a few years ago and insists he has no regrets – except maybe one.
“I did it because this is an important club, I owe a lot to the Pozzo family who allowed me to become who I am today and to the city. The Friuli people taught me the culture of hard work and respect. When I left Empoli to come here in 2004, there were many offers, but history and the numbers prove I was right.
“I had a few opportunities to go abroad, but the only team I would’ve liked to play for, purely for the stadium and the atmosphere, is Liverpool.
“When they signed Andrea Dossena in 2008 they also talked to me, but then nothing came of it.”
Some of Di Natale’s old Udinese teammates have gone on to star in the Premier League, including Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez.
“He admits I taught him a great deal. Every Wednesday just the two of us would stay back and train on long-range shots. Now my teammate is Muriel, who is even more talented than Sanchez, but Alexis has more hunger. I don’t know how to convince him that he needs just that little bit extra to turn a corner.”
Di Natale is one of the only players in Italian football who remains universally-admired regardless of club affiliation.
He also won over hearts when offering to take life-long financial care of the disabled sister of Piermario Morosini, the ex-Udinese player who died from a heart condition during a Serie B game.
“In football the statistics do count, but above all sentiments. I always showed respect and fairness to everyone and I’m happy that it has been recognised.”