Friday May 27 2011
Naturally Di Natale

In a week where the European Press have been salivating over a free-scoring superstar, Steve Wilson wonders why it is not Italy's star striker who has been in the spotlight

Have you heard how many goals he scored this season? A quite remarkable tally! It is a total that will put him up for comparison with some of the all-time greats. There have been some absolute belters too. Yes, Antonio Di Natale has had a quite remarkable year – oh, and apparently Cristiano Ronaldo has netted a few too.

While the vast majority of the European media have been gushing over the shy and retiring Real Madrid man, a much more remarkable story has seemingly slipped under the radar. While Ronaldo, a man yet to see a mirror he has not liked, has hogged the limelight, the polar opposite character of Toto Di Natale has gone about his business with a quiet dignity.

That humble manner should not let his achievements go unrecognised though. The Udinese man has become the first player to retain the Capocannoniere title since Giuseppe Signori back in 1993-94. On top of that his tally of 28 follows up his mark of 29 last term. With the exception of Luca Toni in 2005-06, no player has netted 28 or more goals since Omar Sivori in 1959-60 – yet the diminutive danger-man has done it twice in successive seasons.

Going back to Signori, there is more than a little similarity between the two men – and not just in physical stature. Both a mere 1.71m tall, both adept as a central striker or out on the flank, both spent eight years plying their trade at unfashionable clubs before being signed by an ambitious Serie A outfit, both were perhaps under-appreciated at Azzurri level and both had to wait until well into their 20s before winning a cap.

Neither man ever made the move to one of Italy's big three either. Back in 2001 there were rumours that a 33-year-old Signori may be called to Turin by Marcello Lippi, but the move never came off for the veteran. Toto has now reached that birthday and surely Juventus could do a lot worse than look to give the evergreen attacker a chance to help them rediscover their way. He turned them down last summer, after his exploits this season they must be tempted to find a deal to entice him this year?

Then again, he has spent seven seasons in Udine and that loyalty will be a hard bond to break. Maybe he figures that he is better off as a big fish in a little pond – and who knows, he could quite easily repeat his feats at the Stadio Friuli next term and match Michel Platini and Gunnar Nordahl by winning a third consecutive Capocannoniere title.

Nevertheless, it seems a shame that such a talented player, and one who is his side's main creator as well as scorer, is so often overlooked. Ask a casual fan to name the best Italian scorers of the last decade and you will hear Alex Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Pippo Inzaghi and countless others before you hear the name Antonio Di Natale – but then again it was the same story for Signori in relation to the likes of Roberto Mancini, Luca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli…

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