Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Curious Case of Udinese Calcio

One of the main storylines over the last couple of years in the Italian Serie A, has been Udinese Calcio. Led by Antonio Di Natale this club has found a way to push themselves into Champions League Qualification the last two years running. Ordinarily they are a midtable side who struggles to qualify for Europa league.

Antonio Di Natale (Udinese Captain)

The Friulani have been one of the few sides in Italy that have recorded profits in these trying economic times, because they are able to develop so much talent. In 09-10 they finished 15th way below where they should be, but Antonio Di Natale was the lone bright spot scoring 29 goals to lead the league. This was a sign of things to come in the coming years.

The summer of 2010 brought a huge amount of turnover, and saw many players leave the Stadio Friuli. Simone Pepe, Marco Motta, and Gaetano D'Agostino were all shown the door among others, but the team was able to finish fourth ahead of teams with much larger budgets like Roma, Lazio and Juventus. Simone Pepe and Marco Motta were sold to Juventus. But it was signings from previous seasons that filled the void of departed stars.

Simone Pepe

The summer of 2011 was no different. Instead of adding talent to the squad like most teams do in the wake of competing in the Champions League. Udinese continued to go about their usual business. Identifying players that could be replaced and selling them for a profit. A key player in the 2010-11 surprise season was Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean was bought by Udine in the summer of 2006 for just under 3m pounds. 2010-11 was his breakout year, scoring 12 goals and adding 6 assists catching the eyes of many big clubs he would be sold for 26m Euros that summer to Barcelona. Gokham Inler was also a part of the departed leaving for Napoli at a price around 13m Euros along with standout defender Cristian Zapata at 14m Euros to Villarreal. Udinese turned quite the profit that summer. However, they did not re-invest the money into any big name signings. Paolo Vitor Barreto was the biggest purchase at 3.5m Euro. They ended up losing their Champions League qualifier 2-1 to Arsenal on aggregate.

Alexis Sanchez with Gokhan Inler

However they were able to recover for the start of the Serie A season. Udinese's outstanding record at home (13-4-2) was the main catalyst in their second consecutive Champions League qualification. Antonio Di Natale had another fantastic season scoring 23 goals to go along with 7 assists.

So with the Champions League looming for Udine in the summer of 2012, the purge has arrived once again.

In the summer of 2007 an unknown Chilean was signed to a five year contract by the Friulani. Mauricio Isla came over to Italy for 462 000 pounds. He took the place of Simone Pepe on the right side of midfield in a 3-5-2 formation for the 2010-11 season. He's been sold to Juventus for just over 8m pounds.

Mauricio Isla

In 2008 Kwadwo Asamoah was brought in on a loan deal from a Swiss club. He would sign permanently the following summer for 880 000 pounds. The defensive midfielder has played a key role for Udinese in their past two seasons both resulting in top four finishes. Also sold to Juventus, for just under 8m pounds.

Kwadwo Asamoah

Samir Handanovic is a goalkeeper that Udinese got on free transfer! He had been with the club since 2004 until Inter needed a replacement for Julio Cesar this summer. They worked out a fee of 11m Euro for the Slovenian shotstopper.

Samir Handanovic

So who have Udinese brought into replace? Well to be honest a bunch of players I have not heard much about, typical Udinese. Three Brazilians look to be the ones that will fill the void in the midfield. I can try to speculate who will be their new star this year, but the truth is I have no idea. All we know is someone on the team will get it done. Antonio Di Natale seems to be the only player that can avoid being sold away from the Stadio Friuli and it remains to be seen how much longer the 34-year-old can keep it up.

(One of three Brazilians brought in this summer by Udinese)

To be honest it is a nice story, and it is great to see the incredible profits they've made through transfers. Buying players for next to nothing and selling them at huge prices. But it's also quite frustrating as a calcio fan. I want to see Italian clubs perform well beyond the league. I feel as though when you qualify for a Champions League match you need to invest some money in making the most of it, to represent your country on the Continental stage the best way possible. If Italy is to gain back their 4th Champions League place Udinese have to perform well in the competition, and with the sales from the last two seasons I don't see how that is possible.

It's hard to see them continuing this run in the Serie A also. Inter figures to be better than they were last season, Milan will not drop off as much as people think after the sales of Ibrahimovic and Silva, Roma has made significant improvements to their squad as well as Napoli, and Lazio still figure to be in the mix as well. Unless some 'ready-now' talent is brought into the Stadio Friuli they're run of top four finishes in the league will come to an end this year.

Giampaolo Pozzo (Udinese Owner)

It's unfortunate but it is clear that Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo sees his club as a business that needs to turn a profit, rather than a team he wants to see perform at the highest level possible. At some point one would think that their luck will run out. That eventually they will guess wrong on one of these unknown commodities that get purchased for next to nothing. The youth system is something that other clubs wish they had and it is a great tool to make substantial profits in the transfer market, but I think it is about time Udinese use some of the profits they've made over the years to make a real push at the Serie A title and who knows maybe a little run through the Champions League.

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