Udinese’s toughest task: Replacing Francesco Guidolin and Antonio Di Natale

For Udinese, seeing star men leave the Stadio Friuli is not a new thing, with plenty of top-notch players being poached away from the Serie A club over recent years.

However, this summer the Udine-based outfit must watch on as two of the most prominent reasons for their continual over-achievement leave significant roles – but not for another team.

Head coach Francesco Guidolin has been the mastermind behind Udinese being able to mix it with Italy’s big boys in recent years; Antonio Di Natale his under-rated hatchet man that consistently scored the goals to fire the side up the table.

Coach Guidolin will move upstairs into a “technical supervision” role, while Di Natale’s time to finally hang up his boots has arrived – unfortunately for the club.

Guidolin joined Udinese in 2010 from Parma and has repeatedly had to deal with the loss of his best players to balance the books. However, without squabble, the Stadio Friuli outfit has still been more than competitive and punched above their weight.

Francesco Guidolin and Antonio Di NataleLeading the side to consistent Champions League qualifications with fourth and then third-placed finishes was nothing short of incredible given the club’s limited resources compared to those around them.

A fifth-placed return last term ensured Europa League inclusion, while this season has been more difficult, with Udinese ending up in 13th.

However, Guidolin’s work at the club should be hailed as he completely transformed the outfit’s fortunes after taking over the reigns.

During his tenure at the club, Udinese have been manhandled into parting company with international stars such as Alexis Sánchez, Mauricio Isla, Pablo Armero, Kwadwo Asamoah, Gökhan Inler, Mehdi Benatia, Juan Cuadrado, Antonio Candreva, Samir Handanović, Simone Pepe, Cristián Zapata; the list goes on and on – and that’s just in four years.

However, Udinese still have consistently overachieved and apart from this term qualified for Europe; Guidolin must be accredited as the main reason why.

Despite all the players to make their name at the Friuli only to leave for some of Italy and Europe’s most-prestigious sides, Di Natale has outshone them all.

The veteran centre forward has just ended a ten-year love affair with Udinese in which he has scored over ten goals in every campaign.

However, in the last five seasons Di Natale has netted a staggering 120 goals in Serie A alone; an average of 24 per season.

To give some perspective to how much of a clinical and ruthless goalscorer Di Natale has been, the marksman scored more Serie A goals than the likes of legendary figures Alessandro Del Piero, Gabriel Batistuta and Filippo Inzaghi. All this while playing for modest Udinese.

Udinese still have some very able players on their books and a team spirit that will mean that they shouldn’t be in relegation trouble next season if the club continues their notoriously wise investment in the transfer market.

However, with no Guidolin to call the shots and no matchwinner in the ilk of Di Natale to grab the goals, it will not be a surprise if the Stadio Friuli faithful enter next season with some trepidation.

I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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