Liverpool vs Udinese preview

Posted by Mr Dilkington on September 30, 2012, 08:53:30 PM

It's the age of the super spending clubs. Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea, as well as eastern European teams like Shaktar Donetsk, Anzhi Makhachkala, and Zenit St Petersburg. They all have very different transfer ideologies. Real Madrid are in the second phase of 'project Galacticos', having signed players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, and Xabi Alonso. PSG have gone out and spent a truck load on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, amongst others. Man City and Chelsea have spent their way to the Premier League title in recent years too. Funnily enough, Chelsea's most important players in their success of seasons past were homegrown John Terry and Frank Lampard, who was signed as a young player from West Ham. Two of Man City's most important players in their charge to a dramatic Premiership title just happened to be a low key £300,000 signing from Shrewsbury in Joe Hart; as well as their captain Vincent Kompany, who was signed for a paltry £6,000,000 from Belgian heavyweights Anderlecht.

As good as those three signings were, they don't compare to the sheer consistency of brilliant imports made by our next Europa League opponents Udinese.

Run by the Pozzo family, Udinese are a classic example of how to run a football team. The principle owner Giampaolo Pozzo also owns Spanish top flight side Granada, as well as Watford.

July 2009: Spanish club Granada are on the brink of financial meltdown. The club is faced with the very real threat of being closed down. At the death, Giampaolo Pozzo completes a takeover of the club. The new regime enables Granada to loan some of Udinese's fringe players, as well as Udinese signing the pick of Granada's youth system.

June 2011: Granada gain promotion to the Spanish top tier for the first time in 35 years.

A success story if ever there was one.

Udinese have finished in a Champions League spot in each of the last two seasons, with a squad containing only one player who is paid over €1,000,000 per annum. The player in question being their talismanic captain Antonio Di Natale. Every single Premiership club earns more than Udinese in TV money (perhaps unsurprisingly). So why the consistent success?

Udinese have around 50 scouts, mostly based in South America and Africa. They scout predominately in the second tier of countries, picking up players at an extremely young age for minimal fees and then hopefully selling them on at a profit. Of course there are a great number of players who they sign that never make an impact. That is just the nature of the beast. If you're signing up masses of South American talent, then it's inevitable there are going to be casualties. For Udinese, just one of their players making the big time is pay back on their investment. Here are some of the best deals Udinese have made in recent times.

Alexis Sanchez:

Udinese picked up a then 16 year old Sanchez from small Chilean club Cobreloa. The skinny little winger only had 47 games under his belt at this point in time, so the Italian club loaned him to one of Chile's super clubs Colo-Colo. A loan spell at River Plate followed, where he impressed enough to convince Udinese to put him into their first team set up. Sanchez showed flashes of his quality for Udinese, but it wasn't until the 2010/11 season that Sanchez finally announced himself as a first class prospect. For years, fellow Italian clubs such as Inter, Milan, and Juve all pondered moves for the Chilean international. They were left ruing the decision not to persue a definite interest, and turn that into a concrete offer. Sanchez had an impressive World cup, and he carried that form into the Serie A season, where he and Di Natale built up an formidable understanding to notch 39 goals between them. Udinese displayed a great tactical understanding, as well as some explosive counter attacking, all contributing to a 4th placed finish, which secured their place in the Champions League play off.

Bought for €2,000,000

Sold to Barcelona for €26,000,000 rising to €37,000,000 based on appearances and suchlike.

Kwadwo Asamoah: The Ghanaian central midfield player didn't have the most common trajectory to the big time. In 2007 he left Ghanaian club Liberty professionals to join Swiss club Bellinzona. His first taste of European football didn't go to plan however, and Asamoah was loaned to Italian club Torino in the January transfer window. Despite not making an impression in Switzerland, the young midfielder did enough at Torino in that 6 month spell to persuade Udinese to fork out a small fee for him in the 2008 summer transfer window. Like Sanchez, Asamoah began to play an important role at Udinese, and was soon a crucial player for both club and country. Such was his form that some Ghanaian fans took to calling him the next Michael Essien. Asamoah only improved his stature at the World cup, leading a young Ghana team to the quarter finals, where they were knocked out on penalties to Luis Suarez's Uruguay (Suarez was quiet that night if memory serves...). During the last transfer window, Asamoah transferred to Scudetto holders Juventus along with teammate Mauricio Isla.

Bought for an undisclosed fee

Sold to Juventus for €9,000,000 (50% of his contract).

From one Asamoah to another...

Asamoah Gyan: Gyan started his career at the same club as Asamoah, but rather than the indirect route to Udine chosen by Asamoah, Gyan transferred straight to Udinese, after scoring an impressive 11 goals in 16 games at the tender age of just 17. Gyan was farmed out to Serie B club Modena to acclimatise to Italian football, and he responded with a very respectable 15 goals in 53 games. Despite only scoring on 12 occasions for Udinese, he was still sold on to a massive profit on the initial investment.

Bought for an undisclosed fee

Sold for €8,000,000 to Rennes

Enough of the past. What of Udinese now?

The first thing to say, and it's Important to do so: Udinese aren't exactly known for taking the Europa League seriously. They regularly fielded second string sides in their group last season, which consisted of Atletico Madrid, Rennes, and Celtic. This year, so far at least, has been a similar story. In Matchday 1, their starting line up consisted of a smattering of first team players, but mostly second string players around that. It took a stoppage time goal from (guess who?) to draw the game against the oil rich Russian team from the deep south.

Champions League qualification is always the goal for Udinese. The money they receive for TV, as well as Matchday revenue, is crucial to sustain the vast number of scouts they employ.

As of today, there is an interesting story developing at Udinese. Their captain, and undoubted best player Di Natale was left out of their goalless draw at home to Genoa (the two oldest clubs in Italy). He wasn't being rested, he wasn't suspended, and he wasn't injured. Guidolin confirmed that he left the Italian international out due to a locker room bust up, but he insists it was not with him.

That leaves us with an interesting question: will Di Natale start the game on Thursday?

From a Liverpool point of view, hopefully not. From a selfish point of view, I'd love to see one of the great unsung heroes of modern football play a game at Anfield.

More likely, Thursday night will prevent an opportunity to see a one time Liverpool target in Pablo Armero, who may yet become another one of Udinese's success stories. The Colombian flies up and down the left flank with great pace, and can play either as a left back or in a more advanced role. Whoever plays at right back on Thursday will certainly have their hands full. On the other side will more than likely be promising young right back Marco Faraoni. The 20 year old former Inter player was deployed as a right sided midfielder in the draw to Genoa, and like Armero, he is adept in either role.

Key player: Mehdi Benatia

Plucked from the French lower leagues, Mehdi Benatia has proved to be another master stroke from the Udinese scouts. The defender was let go from Marseille as a youngster, and had to bide his time until Udinese signed him as a 23 year old, back In 2010. Aggressive and calm with the ball at his feet, the Moroccan centre back has been one of Serie A's most under appreciated players for a good while now. Linked with Manchester United and Chelsea in the summer, it won't be long before the man who Marseille deemed not good enough will be plying his trade at one of Europe's biggest clubs. Whether it's Morgan, Yesil, Sinclair, or Borini playing up front on Thursday, Benatia will provide a stern test of just how ready they are.


Udinese don't have the strength in depth Liverpool do, but they are an extremely well organised team, and with the likes of Benatia, Armero, and perhaps even Di Natale, they aren't to be scoffed at.

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