Udinese's 2-1 win over Atalanta this weekend was their seventh consecutive victory, and is enough to see them move up into a Europa League place going into the final game of the season. Against Inter Milan, they can guarantee themselves qualification for European competition for the third consecutive season.
It's no mean feat for a side whose wage bill is only €21.2 million. To put that in context, it's the 14th highest in Serie A, with two of the six teams below them in the wage table relegated this season. In terms of value for money, no one does it better than the zebrette. Their high squad turnover has led to them becoming pejoratively known as a 'selling club,' but in truth, there's no reason why the tag 'buying club' isn't equally applicable. After all, it's the meticulous scouting and bartering with clubs in far-flung corners in the earth that ensures they are continuously able to compete near the top of Serie A.
Founded in 1896, they're the second-oldest club in Italy, with only Genoa shading the zebrette. Yet, their age is belied by their surprisingly bare trophy cabinet. Udinese has never won a major competition, and much of their history has seen them -- like many sides in Italy -- yo-yoing between Serie A and Serie B, never settled in the top tier. Over the past decade that has changed, though the consistently excellent players that have passed through the Stadio Friuli on their way to major clubs have distorted perceptions.
In truth, while they may be one of Italy's most historic clubs, they certainly aren't one of the biggest. Their average attendance of 17,316 this season -- the 12th-highest in Serie A -- is testament to that. Going on the figures alone, Udinese are purely a mid-table side. Yet, teams like Sampdoria, Genoa, Bologna and the newly-relegated Palermo -- all who have higher wage bills and average attendances than Udinese -- can only dream of such constantly high league finishes. Selling the likes of Alexis Sánchez, Gökhan Inler and Samir Handanovič for maximum profit has ensured they are run sustainably, and wildly overachieve.
For most of those teams, any upheaval is a result of chaotic management from the trigger-happy presidents (Genoa and Palermo in particular), but Udinese's instability is ... stable. Not only are they meticulous in their scouting and signing of new players, but they maintain a solid core of players to guarantee some continuity. Of course, their two most obvious ever-presents; Antonio Di Natale -- who rejected an offer from Juventus to stay at the Friuli -- and coach Francesco Guidolin have played a key part in their success.
With new talent like Roberto Pereyra and Luis Muriel linked with moves elsewhere, there'll probably be a few holes to fill in the starting eleven next season. Yet, with Udinese having already invested in players like Alexander Merkel, Piotr Zieliński and Davide Faraoni of late, they're already lining up replacements. Masters of the transfer market and an example of what can be achieved by all Serie A sides, they'll hopefully keep on delivering into the future.