Back to back losses in the Champion’s League qualifiers for Francesco Guidolin’s Udinese side is something that many fans will never forget after being so close on both occasions in this decade. An Antonio Di Natale missed penalty against Arsenal in 2011 would’ve all but put Udinese through in a tense qualifying round, whilst the season after, an away goal lead from the fixture in Portugal vs Braga was squandered at home after they conceded the advantage and eventually lost on penalties. It was always Guidolin’s dream to coach a club in the most lucrative club competition on the planet and he always felt fate was set up against him: “evidently I am not capable of leading a team into the Champions League. When you get so close several times and can’t go through, you have to learn from that experience and accept the truth.” Words from a broken man, and after witnessing Pablo Armero waste so many crucial chances to put Udinese through, who can blame him? As a result of such a loss Udinese eventually sprung into life at the end of the 2012/13 season winning 8 games in a row. It was the last fragment of life Udinese would really show under Guidolin, as they would then go on to suffer a season of mid-table mediocrity, frequently drawing games and having Di Natale question whether it was worthwhile having another season of professional football with the Zebrette.
Francesco Guidolin, who was long tempted to depart after successive Champion’s League knockouts, finally departed the club for a position as technical supervisor with the club instead (overseeing all of the Pozzo’s three clubs). Along comes the fantastically named Stramaccioni; many saw Udinese as a great place to revitalise his career after having suffered a miserable end to his decadent period with Inter Milan.
A pre-season with Pereya leaving, Luis Muriel yet to reach anywhere near his potential and the star man we all know to be Toto Di Natale, who needing convincing to stay for one more season, could’ve posed for more than a tricky start for Strama. Cutting his teeth within the provincial side could’ve posed a number of downfalls for the young Italian, especially after many were unconvinced by his time with Inter Milan. But here we are now, seeing Udinese hold 4th position, reminiscent of the 11/12 season where Guidolin, Alexis Sanchez, Gokhan Inler and co masterminded a wonderful season which saw them finish 3rd. It’s too early say whether a start of 4 victories and a draw in 6 games (only losing to the almost impenetrable Juventus away), can be maintained, but the omens are positive.
Stramaccioni has also ensured that Udinese aren’t entirely dependent on Di Natale either. This is not to take away from the legendary Udine hero, but the winning goals versus Lazio and Napoli were from Théréau and Danilo. Clearly Strama has found a decent balance within the team, with goals being supplied from all areas across the pitch. Kone and Théréau are the suppliers behind Toto in recent games and the trio worked wonders in the 4-2 defeat of Parma.
One issue does still remain with the striker known as Luis Muriel. The Colombian has been expected to explode within Serie A for some time and after having committed to Udinese for the time being to get minutes and goals, things aren’t really working out for him. Plagued by injuries and fitness issues, he is yet to score this season and was stretchered off most recently when playing against Lazio; this conundrum will be a thorn for Stramaccioni who knows that Pozzo family who run the club will eventually want to sell the player for a nice sum. The player who resembles a play style very similar to that of the Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo, has attracted a lot of attention from clubs like Milan, Liverpool and Roma.
Another potential hiccup for a future with Udinese is that his history with Inter Milan was a tale of two halves. Undermining and beating Juventus’ unbeaten run within their own stadium against such an adversary like Antonio Conte was an incredible accomplishment, and beating other internationally regarded managers like Rafael Benitez, Donadoni of Parma and Stefano Pioli of Lazio, Strama clearly has the tactical acumen to compete with the best. Yet, his history with Inter is somewhat concerning. After sitting comfortably in 2nd place in November of 2012, Inter Milan finished 9th with an incredible 16 losses to their name. Yes, they were overpowered with injuries and Strama’s relationship with Cassano definitely undermined his ability to motivate within the dressing room, but the manner in which the wheels came off was a definite cause for concern. Massimo Moratti might’ve been hasty in sacking the young manager who has been likened to Mourinho and Andrea Villas Boas with his preparation, however the Italian is evidently showing he has what it takes to reach the top.
Stramaccioni is aiming for Udinese to remain within Serie A for another season, but with the defence keeping clean sheets when playing sides like Napoli (who have luxurious attacking talent) and then also free scoring against sides like Parma, things are rather exciting right now for the Zebrette. Calming fans expectations is one thing, but if they continue this line of form with a squad lacking any big names apart from Toto up front, Stramaccioni could be on the lips of many European executives come the end of the season.