Udinese Club Focus: Season Preview 2013/14
When Udinese finished in a Champions League qualifying spot in 2010, most Serie A enthusiastic wrote it off as a onetime fluke. However, when the Zebrette continued to secure a European tournament spot consecutively since, that “onetime fluke” began to be reconsidered.
Last season, with 18 wins, 12 draws, and 8 losses, Udinese finished 5th overall, securing a position to compete in the Europa League. The club saw their season end with on eight straights wins, including a final victorious 5-2 win against Inter on the last match of the season.
Antonio Di Natale came in second as Serie A’s Top Goal Scorer (after Napoli’s Edinson Cavani), which included his 150th goal during a game against Pescara and head coach Francesco Guidolin witnessed his 500th game.
The Little Zebras enter the 2013/2014 season with nothing but high expectations and even higher hopes.
Udinese has had several promising players sign for this season and the club will no doubt make superstars out of them. Here are the three you should be looking for and why:
Background: 19 / Uruguayan National / Forward
Talking Point: Lopez recently joined Udinese on a deal with Roma for himself and Valerio Verre (see below) in exchange for Mehdi Benatia (see further below).
The forward’s most memorial moment at Roma was when he replaced captain Francesco Totti in the dying minutes in a Roma game against Catania. Roma were slated to lose, until Lopez scored an equalizing goal in stoppage time, giving the Romans a point in a 2-2 draw.
Valerio Verre (Roma)
Background: 19 / Italian National / Midfielder
Talking Point: Verre joins Lopez at Udinese from Roma. The Roman-born midfielder already has one Coppa Italia goal under his belt (for Siena, on loan from Roma), scoring against Vicenza; a positive for him as this will be helpful for Udinese during their own Coppa campaign this year.
Silvan Widmar (Aarau, on loan from Grenada)
Background: 20 / Swiss National / Right Back
Talking Point: Widmar previously played for Udinese’s owner Giampaolo Pozzo’s second team, Spanish-side Granada, until he was loaned to his hometown club of Aarau last season.
Widmar also plays for the U21 Swiss Youth Team and became eligible to join only a year after the Swiss came in second to Spain during the 2011 UEFA Under21 Championship; he can be considered part of the new wave of promising Swiss players. Additionally, Widmar has also never received a red card during a professional game.
Of course, Udinese wouldn’t be Udinese without a couple of players (and places) on the out too:
Mehdi Benatia (to Roma)
Background: 26 / French-born, Moroccan National / Centre Back
Talking Point: Roma is banking on the centre back’s size and strength to help their squad, banking on it so much, that they paid a reported €13.5 million for him.
Background: 21 / Czech National / Striker
Talking Point: Vydra was the darling of the English Championship last season while on loan to Watford, however the Pozzo-owned club failed to be promoted to the Premier League after a devastating final game to Crystal Palace.
While Watford may not have made the Premier League, the ever resourceful Vydra did: by going on loan to West Brom.
Stadio Friuli (under construction)
Background: 37-year-old / Lorenzo Giacomuzzi Moore and Giuliano Parmegian Designed and Built / Stadium
Talking Point: Stadio Friuli was built in 1976 to replace the smaller Stadio Moretti. The stadium is currently undergoing a 16-month renovation, estimated to cost €30 million.
In the interim, Udinese will be playing at Stadio Nereo Rocco in Trieste as their 2013/2014 “home pitch,” alongside Cagliari, as their stadium is also undergoing renovation.
Francesco Guidolin returns to Udine to coach his fifth season with Udinese. Like his team, the 57-year-old former midfielder is also from Northern Italy (Castelfranco Veneto) and has seen both ups and downs with the club.
Some “ups” include: securing Champions League or Europa League qualifying spots every season since his return as coach in 2010, witnessing his 500th milestone game being played last season, winning the Panchina d’Oro (Best Serie A coach) in 2011, and being the only coach in Italy who actually looks professional in a sideline tracksuit.
However, Guidolin has also witnessed his share of downs with his team, including: a not-as-successful stint as head coach in 1998/1999, numerous failed European and Coppa Italia campaigns, sporadic failures of the club (mostly due to loans or injuries), and never being able to wear his toque properly on the sidelines.
Guidolin is known to be a head strong coach; the first to bench a player as a disciplinary tactic and the first to recognize a player for a good game. He is also frank and honest about Udinese performances, by owning up to his mistakes and being humble in his successes; when the club finished in third place in 2012, it was the highest in the club’s history.
Guidolin was recently quoted as saying: “it’s not true that I was not considered by the big teams, but that I preferred to stay in Udine and I’m very proud of that. I’m very happy to be tied to this club for so long.” This year, he extended his contract with Udinese until the end of the 2016-2017 season. Hopefully, in the next three years, he manages to win one title with the club.
Udinese wins everything: The Coppa Italia, The Scudetto, Europa League, and Champions League (somehow). The city of Udine then erects a solid gold statue of Di Natale and Guidolin hugging and Pozzo hastily gives the green light to re-sign Fabio Quagliarella and asks for Mario Balotelli to be sent to Udinese on loan from Milan (because, let’s be realistic).
Failing that, Udinese should look to win at least the Coppa, to add to their trophy case of absolutely nothing.
Have the Zebrette truly earned their stripes? Only so far as to cruelly make their fans believe hope—and silverware—is possible in the future. However, the 2013/2014 season is a chance for Udinese to truly be considered part of Serie A’s elite, rising through the ranks based on talent, rather than luck.
And the Little Zebras have been quite lucky, but after three years of supposed “luck,” this year will determine if they are excellent equidaes or a group of asses streaked in black and white.