Now, bear with me. While the traditionally imposing, world-class strikers, such as Cavani, Gomez (the Germans’ rather hilariously untalented carbon-copy of Mr. Bent himself) and Van Persie may have dominated the tabloids’ and – well, come to think of it – every single publication’s back-pages, poor old (in a rather literal sense) Tony sulks in the shadows, largely unrecognised when one considers his prolific goal-scoring exploits in recent years. Frankly (well, sort of), I pin it down to a ridiculous ageist ploy, with anti-Hanseners embracing the current abundance of youth presently on display – something epitomised when I proposed the above declaration to a group of acquaintances: ‘he’s about 50, surely?’, ‘he’s simply too old’ and – rather ingeniously - ‘he’s a wanker’ a mere sampling of their scathing criticisms of my blatantly incorrect opinion for which I should deservedly be ridiculed and verbally abused.
But the stats, and the man’s impact upon his cripplingly mediocre side, speak for themselves. For a team who offloaded their star playmaker, their ‘no-nonsense’ Swiss midfielder and their delightfully talented centre-back, the manner in which Di Natale has prolonged his astounding record is simply - without wishing to overload the superlative quota any further - fantastic. The fact Udinese are genuine title and Champions League contenders for a second season in a row – even without the crux of their side which embarked on such an unprecedented run the last season – only goes to show that this player is, rather counter-intuitively, at the peak of his game.
Furthermore, his stats only serve to augment the player’s influence on Udinese: averaging a goal every 1.2 games, one would be foolish to suggest that they are in such a position for any reason other than Di Natale. While his relatively paltry record of assists belittles his importance to an extent, it is without retribution that one can say this man carries the proverbial weight of a whole team on his shoulders.
Yes, there are other highly talented players (with Mauricio Isla a definite ‘wizard of the wing’) that facilitate Di Natale’s finishing; but quite simply, he is one of Europe’s most talented strikers. With 10 Serie A goals already this season, he looks set to flourish once more. Not bad for a coffin-dodger.