It was one of my first Serie A experiences. August 2003, Udinese-Roma. I already followed the Giallorossi (and in particular Totti) before that match though. There was the amazing CL campaign 2002-2003 with a memorable 0-3 win in Valencia or the dramatic exit of Totti’s Italy at the World Cup 2002 Japan/South-Korea. But my oldest memory in Serie A? Well, that must have been Udinese-Roma, nearly 15 years ago. Roma won thanks to goals of Delvecchio and Montella, but Udinese Calcio has always been a special case for me.
Think of it as meeting a sweet, cute girl and one of her girlfriends. You go on a date with the former and ultimately end in a relationship together. Things are going great. But you also have that special bond with that girlfriend because she was there when Cupid first shot his arrow. You know, you like her but just not in a serious way. She’s in no way competition but a nice presence whenever there’s a party or drink with mutual friends. Oh boy, my gf’s not going to like what I just wrote down, is she?
Ahem, anyway. You get the point. After that match in 2003 I closely monitored Udine as well, next to Roma. Their roster was quite impressive that period: De Sanctis, Jorgensen, Sensini, Jankulovski, Iaquinta, Pinzi, Gyan, Kroldrup etc. One of the anchors in midfield was David Pizarro, who would later become a Roma hero and play 150+ games for the Giallorossi. The trainer of the Zebrette those days? A certain Luciano Spalletti. Yeah, they were something that season. Udine ended seventh, Roma second.
Yet, it was season 2004-2005 in which Udine took Serie A by storm and Roma fell down the table. Spalletti guided the Zebrette to a fourth place and thus Champions League qualification. AS Roma? They tumbled to eight place, four trainers came and went. It was a mess. Udine were flying high though. Di Michele, Muntari, Pazienza and Mauri were nice surprises, but it was a 27-year old Antonio Di Natale who would later become one of Italy’s finest strikers of the new millennium.
Antonio, also called Mr Christmas thanks to his family name, would stay twelve seasons at Udine, scoring more than 190 Serie A goals for the club in approx 385 games. Including European competitions he would surpass the mark of 220 goals. He also amassed 40 or so caps for Italy and was twice capocannoniero of Serie A, in 2010 and 2011. In those two season he scored 57 goals. Only Messi and Ronaldo did better. He’s also in the top six of highest goal-scorers in Italy. Like I said earlier: AS Roma had Totti, Udine had Toto Di Natale. A club legend. A hero. A savior. The reason why fans came to the stadium. A man who would never, ever disappoint. I can impossibly describe his career in just this one post.
An elegant striker with great vision and a killer in front of goal. Di Natale wasn’t particularly tall or strong, but he could play anywhere in the frontline, or even in a deeper role in midfield thanks to his class. Penalties, free-kicks, leadership, flair, you name it, Di Natale has it. Remind you of someone? Yes, our dear Francesco.
The reason why we at Chiesa opted for a small piece dedicated to Mr Christmas is simple: There was a time when he was linked to Roma. Yeah, shocking I know. In the course of history a lot of people were ‘linked’ to Roma, but there were few guys who I really, really, REALLY wanted to join. Like in a desperate ‘I’d give my left testicle or hell, even my right too’ way. Quagliarella was such a player, Di Natale too.
You see, Di Natale at Roma wasn’t just fantacalcio. It was a real possibility. Toto and Totti have always been close friends. Di Natale was born in 1977, Totti in 1976. It was Di Natale who said that Roma should retire the no 10 when Totti calls it a day. Around 2007-2008 there were some persisting rumors about a possible transfer. Antonio was 30 by then but banging in goals left and right for Udinese. He was also named captain of the Friulian club after only three seasons.
This is the fun part: I found a Marten Portoise (God bless his soul) piece about this rumor in the dark places of the internet. It’s a fun read.
There were a lot of reasons why Antonio would choose Roma in 2007-2008. Totti for example, who was hailed as one of the best footballers on the planet and won the Golden Boot. The city of Rome. His buddies Luciano Spalletti and Pizarro (who joined Roma in the meantime). The Champions League. AS Roma itself, because believe it or not, the club was actually winning trophies under the guidance of Spalletti: Two Coppe Italia and Supercoppa! Can you imagine a frontline of Totti, Vucinic and Di Natale in Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 formation?
Alas, Mr Christmas never reached Trigoria and stayed at Udine, his one true love, until his retirement in 2016. Why? Maybe there were talks going on and a deal was near, but perhaps something or someone blew it all up. We’ll never know. Di Natale would have been pricey sure, but definitely worth it. Instead, Roma bought other targets like Baptista, Giuly and Esposito (typing that just made me threw up) and well, that was it. As Antonio got older, the rumors vanished and never returned.
The fans would never witness Totti and Di Natale playing for the same club. Two class acts. A match made in heaven. They were bound for greatness, but I guess it was never meant to be. I actually believe those two would form a better and bigger duo than Totti-Cassano a couple of years earlier and could give Roma a Scudetto or two more.
Sigh. I would happily trade all of my Christmasses for this one Mr Christmas. Unfortunately Roma never got to unpack this present.