Good things come in small packages, while many get better with age. Antonio Di Natale has been likened to the finest of wines, but the Udinese centre-forward hardly needs superlatives. Such is his goalscoring record in recent times, he can simply be described as one of the best strikers in football.
Despite earning his wage at a provincial club whose attacking phases come at less frequent intervals than some of the sport's bigger-name outfits, Di Natale has racked up a phenomenal 102 goals in the last four league seasons to leave some of football's most talked-about front men in his shadow. After netting 29 goals in 2009-10, he earned a second successive Capocannoniere crown with 28 more the following year. Last season's 23 and this term's 22 have ensured that his consistency in front of goal has helped Udinese to punch above their weight a while longer.
In Serie A, that feat had not been achieved in 51 years since Jose Altafini last recorded the same number of 20-goal seasons. Before him, Istvan Nyers, Gunnar Nordahl (with seven successive seasons) and Giuseppe Meazza (five seasons) had also reached the same mark. But not only is Di Natale only the fifth player to score so consistently in Italy, he is also outscoring the current game's big names at an alarming rate.
Radamel Falcao, who cost Atletico Madrid €47 million is not incredibly far behind, but he does trail Di Natale. Over his spells with Porto and Atleti he has chalked up 92 goals in the league. Even Edinson Cavani, who has been on fire in his three seasons with Napoli, sees his average drop thanks to his final season with Palermo when he scored 13 times. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – between Barcelona, Milan and Paris Saint-Germain - has scored 17 fewer goals than Di Natale, while Robin van Persie has netted 82, thanks in part to an injury-hit 2009-10 season at Arsenal during which he struck just nine times
The Dutchman's ratio for that season is still impressive given he only played 16 times, but even then it doesn't match that of Udinese's finest. Further down the list are star names such as Wayne Rooney (76), Mario Gomez (75) and Robert Lewandowski (71). Bigger gaps still can be found between the Italy striker's record and those of Sergio Aguero (66), Carlos Tevez (58) and Francesco Totti (49).
It would be harsh, however, to try to compare full European records with that of Raul, with the one-time Real Madrid captain having shared his recent goalscoring feats between Schalke and Al Sadd. The Spaniard has scored 42 in four years, including just nine in Qatar. The 2009-10 season was when things started to tail off for the great number seven, but the opposite can be said of Di Natale. At 35, he shows no sign of slowing down. We can only hope he keeps it up for some time yet.
By Kris Voakes
- The inevitable finally happened on Sunday when Palermo's 1-0 defeat to Fiorentina condemned them to relegation alongside Siena and Pescara. It was fitting, perhaps, that a Luca Toni goal should send them to Serie B given that the former Italy striker had scored 30 goals in firing them into the top flight nine years ago when wearing the famous pink shirt. The Sicilians must now regather themselves and restructure the club if they are to bounce straight back, but one cannot help but feel that if Maurizio Zamparini's trigger finger isn't checked for itching powder then the status quo of struggle and short-termism could continue a while longer. They have given us some great memories since 2004, with the goals of Toni, the genius of Fabrizio Miccoli, the rise of Javier Pastore and Andrea Barzagli, and the final fling of Eugenio Corini, but now the honeymoon is over.
- The Viola's win extends the fight for the Champions League football into the final 90 minutes of the season thanks to Milan's tempestuous 0-0 draw with Roma. The home side, donning their ugly new gold away kit, held on for the point after losing Sulley Muntari for mindlessly man-handling referee Gianluca Rocchi in the first half. Francesco Totti would also walk in injury-time for a ridiculous elbow on former team-mate Philippe Mexes to ensure that a magnificent league season on a personal level for the famous No.10 finishes one round early. Meanwhile for Milan, a nervy last day will see them travel to Siena while Fiorentina are at Pescara, with the Rossoneri needing a win to claim third place.
- Give the Coach of the Year award to Francesco Guidolin right now! A seventh win on the trot for Udinese - a 2-1 victory over Atalanta - has put them on the verge of European football yet again despite the annual cull of his squad last summer which had left many observers tipping the Friulani for relegation. Not only have Di Natale's goals boosted them, but Guidolin's magnificent direction has been priceless. With each campaign in the north east he seems to get the side fighting even further beyond their weight, and on the weekend we say goodbye to Palermo it is worth remembering the job he did in Sicily between 2003 and 2005. In fact, scrap the Coach of the Year statement... Give him Coach of the Decade instead.