The Zebrette face a mammoth struggle, as Christian FitzHugh unpacks the challenges awating new Coach Giuseppe Iachini.
Whilst it has long been customary for Udinese to lose their rising stars in the run-up to a new season, it has often been accompanied by a degree of excitement at the prospect of a young hidden gem, plucked from the depths of Latin American domestic league obscurity by a scouting network who have long been written into Friuli folklore.
After last season, however, a campaign that felt like one long descent, that sense of excitement has been replaced with one of trepidation.
Antonio di Natale, after 12 years, is no longer there acting as beacon of hope and an example of over-achievement and defiance against all odds (and his advancing years) for others to follow. So too, the bright spark who shone at Empoli, Piotr Zielinski, has moved onto sunnier climes at Napoli.
Instead, Udinese are nervously battening down the hatches as clubs are now hovering close by looking to pick off the remaining talent. The polyvalent Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, last season’s top scorer Cyril Thereau and the ever-present Silvan Widmar have all been of interest to Serie A rivals, Ligue 1 and the Premier League.
When investigating why Udinese are in such a perilous plight, the Premier League has a lot to answer for with the Pozzo owners in the thrall of the excesses currently on offer as owners of Watford.
The Zebrette’s new tactician Giuseppe Iachini has been bullish about his side’s chances in pre-season. Whilst not able to boast a particularly strong Serie A showing to date, the man from Ascoli has tightened up a frighteningly porous back line from last season, winning three out of five pre-season friendlies without conceding a goal.
A paucity of goals up front also threatened the Friulani with relegation last time out, and though journeyman Thereau scored a reasonable dozen, Iachini will be looking to the powerful promise of Duvan Zapata to avoid injury and build on last season’s eight-goal tally in the process.
Udinese will hope to replicate their opening day victory from last season against eventual champions Juventus when they play Roma, but the challenge of crafting a side befitting their sparkling new Dacia Arena will be a stiff one.
Whilst Iachini is the consummate professional when taking clubs from Serie B to Serie A with four promotions to his name, he has struggled badly as a top flight tactician. Never having completed a full season in Serie A, he has always departed with his sides sitting dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Whilst the Napoli loaner only notched up eight goals last term, his campaign was one punctuated by injuries. If he can put together a run in the side and build momentum, the Colombian undoubtedly has the ability, power and pace to take the mantle of Udinese’s leading man.
Whilst not a signing for the future at 31, just two seasons ago Harbaoui was top scorer in the Belgian League with 22 goals in 33 games. If he can bring that kind of form to the Dacia Arena, the rather outspoken Tunisian will fast become a fan favourite.
The Udinese squad is rather more representative of an extensive international scouting network than a thriving academy, but the 20-year-old goalkeeper has already shown his potential by breaking into the Udinese starting line-up in 2014 and representing the Azzurri at every level up to U-21.
The Zebrette have been chasing the Verona playmaker and set-piece specialist for some time now, but with a €4m bid already rejected and the clubs having reached what seems to be a standstill, Udinese may turn their attention elsewhere.
Karnezis; Piris, Danilo, Felipe; Widmer, Fernandes, Badu, FOFANA, Adnan; Thereau, Zapata