In the film Mike Bassett: England Manager, there's a moment where the recently-appointed England boss comically selects Ron Benson and Tony Hedges for his first squad. "They're third division players, one of them is 46!" a reporter remarks in Bassett's first press conference, to which Bassett responds: "I know, but I've always said 'If you're old enough, you're good enough.'" The line in question could not be more apt for Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale.
Now 36, the veteran frontman still has the goalscoring touch that has helped Udinese to four wins from their opening six games, yet it could well have been so different for him. "I have already decided, in June I'll stop playing. It's already established," Di Natale said back in January. It was news that fans of the Zebrette feared, though his decision was justifiable, taking into account his age and the personal success he enjoyed with the club since signing in 2004. With then-head coach Francesco Guidolin set to become technical advisor for the three teams belonging to the Pozzo family - Udinese, Granada CF and Watford - at the end of the season, a change at the helm meant a decision to relinquish his striking responsibilities would be better understood.
However, much to the relief of supporters, Di Natale U-turned on his choice on May 30th this year, this coming after he bagged a hat-trick against Sampdoria on his supposed last ever Serie A game. The news was welcomed, not only by Udinese fans, but incoming head coach Andrea Stramaccioni. The young tactician had been out of the game for 12 months following his sacking by Inter, but has hit the ground running at the Stadio Fruili, with considerable help from Di Natale.
Udinese have netted nine league goals in the opening six games this season. Di Natale has directly contributed to five of these (four goals and one assist). While the end of his career may be looming, the striker still has a big part to play for the team this season. His goals and assists have gained the club five of their 13 points in the 2014/15 campaign to help keep Udinese in touching distance of second-placed Roma, who sit two points above them.
At his age, the spring in Di Natale's step has deserted him somewhat, but his predatorial instincts certainly have not. The Udinese star has needed just five shots on target to net his four goals this term, with the frontman gaining a statistically calculated WhoScored strength of 'finishing' as a result of his goalscoring prowess. His performances in Italy's top tier, of course, have some pondering whether he could still cut it on the international stage.
Di Natale called time on his international career after Euro 2012, a tournament where he made just one start and bagged one goal. However, his league displays since then, with the attacker netting 44 goals in 71 league appearances, suggest he could still do the business for Italy. When compared to the current striking options in Antonio Conte's squad, there is little to suggest he would not warrant a place in the team should he be available.
Only a rejuvenated, and now injured, Pablo Osvaldo (six - four goals and two assists) has directly contributed to more league goals of all Italian players in Europe's top five leagues this term, while Simone Zaza, Ciro Immobile and Sebastian Giovinvo have all underwhelmed or rarely featured for their respective teams this season. Moreover, only Graziano Pellè (7.40) and Osvaldo (7.13) have earned a better WhoScored rating than Di Natale (7.04) this campaign. Giovinco (8.25) may overshadow the trio with his rating, but the 'Atomic Ant' has featured just the once for Juventus this term, so it would be an unfair comparison.
With Mario Balotelli misfiring and Giuseppe Rossi out for the foreseeable future with yet another knee problem, Conte's top quality options up front are somewhat limited. Di Natele's goalscoring exploits are unrivaled in Serie A and there would be little doubt that he could transfer this form onto the international stage. Conte being unable to call on the Udinese ace, however, certainly benefits his team. Without question, Di Natale is his club's star striker and to lose him to injury while on international duty would be a huge blow to the Bianconeri and their quest to secure a Champions League berth.
Nevertheless, his league performances this term suggests that, if he was available, Di Natale could certainly make an impact with the national side. Underused and underappreciated at Euro 2012, Di Natale's Udinese form continues to be of the highest standard and with the creative personnel available to Conte, the veteran striker may have been able to consistently find the net for the Azzurri had he not retired from international football in 2012.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.comSuggest a correction