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Udinese sit fifth in Serie A going into this weekends fixtures, just two points behind Lazio in the last Champions League place and two ahead of Juventus. A further point separates them from a Palermo side that have attracted many admirers this season for their stylish and effective play.

Alexis Sanchez has been the subject of seemingly limitless media attention, talk of a summer move refuses to subside with many observers offering the opinion that his leaving is now simply a matter of where and for how much - so remote is the chance of him remaining at the Stadio Fruili next season.

But while the form of the young Chiliean has indeed been sublime and he is undoubtedly deserving of the recognition, the man alongside in him the Zebrette attack has lived almost his entire career in the shadow of others. He may not be well known outside Italy but within the peninsula Antonio Di Natale has an ever growing group of admirers.

Now 33-years-old he is certainly in the twilight of his playing days, yet far from being yesterdays man the Udinese captain is arguably in the form of his life, a true Indian summer in a career that has rarely hit the headlines. Following his 29 goal haul last season - good enough to clinch the leagues top scorer crown - he has already notched another eighteen this term with 13 games remaining.

Despite being the seventh highest active goalscorer in Serie A he is the only man among the top ten to have never played for one of the leagues truly big clubs. Starting out in the youth teams of Empoli he was, in traditional Italian style, sent out on loan to Iperzola, Varese and Viareggio before returning to his parent club to play six seasons bouncing between the top two divisions. In 2002 he became only the second Empoli player ever to represent the Italian National team, following in the footsteps of his strike partner Massimo Maccarone.

In 2004 established Serie A side Udinese signed him and playing alongside Vincenzo Iaquinta and David Di Michele he formed an attacking trio that saw the Friuli side enjoy a fantastic season and qualify for the Champions League. His form there saw him recalled to the Italy set up by Roberto Donadoni who included him in the squad for Euro 2008. He was one of two players to miss in the Quarter Final penalty shootout with Spain which led to Italy’s elimination.

Since then Di Natale has matured into the leader he is today, becoming the club captain, an honour he would emulate for his country in a friendly against Sweden in late 2009 and overtaking Oliver Bierhoff’s record goal tally for Udinese on his way to last seasons Capocannoniere crown. His consistent form and reliability as a scorer would see him form part of the World Cup Squad that performed so poorly under Marcello Lippi in South Africa, scoring in the final Group Stage game against Slovakia.

His efforts last season were rewarded by the Italian Players Association at their annual Oscar del Calcio awards where he was named Best Italian Player by his peers and also collected a special Fair Play award as recognition for a stellar career finally started to arrive.

Then this past summer one of Serie A’s giant clubs would at long last attempt to sign him as new Juventus Director Beppe Marotta sought out new options in attack. He approached the other Bianconeri even before speaking to Napoli about Fabio Quagliarella, identifying ‘Toto’ as the goalscorer his reshaped Juve required.

Surprising many people Di Natale refused to discuss terms with Juventus, despite Udinese agreeing a fee with the Turin club and the player cited his desire to see out his career at the Friuli club, thanking them for all they have allowed him to become and saying;

“It was a choice of life for me. I feel so good here in Udine, and the president’s family have always made me feel like I was one of them. Some things are worth more than money.”

The loyalty of a man like Antonio Di Natale is most certainly one of them.

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