As Udinese celebrate their 106th birthday, Alex Mott argues that they should forego their profit-making philosophy and focus on trophies.
The last three years have really been a period of unparalleled success in the history of Udinese Calcio. For a provincial club in the north-east of Italy, they have managed to hit the continuous heights only normally reserved for the giants of the game.
A succession of top four finishes saw the Zebrette qualify for the Champions League on two occasions, and their brand of high-intensity, counter-attacking football made them one of the best teams to watch in Serie A.
They were the peoples' favourites and with Francesco Guidolin in charge, they had a Coach who implemented his philosophy whatever the opponent.
As well as an idealistic boss, over that time, some of the best players in Europe passed through the doors of the Stadio Friuli. Their experimental scouting network unearthed gems from every corner of the globe and turned the Pozzo family owners into one of the most envied on the continent.
The problem with being a provincial, unfashionable side, however, is exactly that. And keeping your best players becomes something of a task.
Samir Handanovic, Mauricio Isla, Kwadwo Asamoah, Gokhan Inler, Cristian Zapata and Alexis Sanchez. All of them have been the shining stars over the past few years and all of them have gone on to pastures new.
It's been a model that has reaped in unimaginable rewards, both on the pitch and financially, but is it time that Udinese put a stop to their profit-gaining enterprise and splashed out on winning a trophy?
For all their endeavours, the Bianconeri are yet to win a domestic competition outside of Serie B and C. Ever. Their biggest honour to date was the Intertoto Cup in 2000 and even that was an extra time win over Sigma Olomouc of the Czech Republic.
It's not the roll of honour deserved of a team founded 116 years ago today and it so easily could have been different if all those names had stayed just that extra year and they had won the two Champions League play-offs against Arsenal and Braga. The fact is though, against the Portuguese side in particular, they were prophets of their own downfall.
Some may say that argument’s flawed, that the next generation of Zebrette players could be just as prolific as the last. Results so far this season though, would say otherwise. Losses to Lazio, Fiorentina, Juventus and Napoli can be tolerated – draws with Siena, Chievo and Torino really can't.
Squad members like Maicosuel, Mathias Ranegie and Zeljko Brkic just aren't inspiring the same sort of form displayed by their contemporaries and 12th place in Serie A would back that up. It seems that only the absurdly consistent Antonio Di Natale is stopping them from sinking all together. And at 35, he's certainly not going to be around forever.
From afar, the scouting network seems to have lost its touch and the owners look more preoccupied with their toy things at Granada and Watford.
It's the ultimate conundrum in modern football – make a profit or win a trophy. It's a dilemma currently being considered by clubs all over Europe. The likes of Arsenal, Lyon and Atletico Madrid have wrestled with the thought, or are in the midst of doing so.
Udinese are not as big as those clubs, but they could be as great as them over a short space of time. No one wants to see them go under, like so many before, but it looks like they're being run by a tax man and not a tactician.
Perhaps patience and some capped greed from the President is all that they need, and a serious Scudetto challenge could not be too far off?
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