SB Nation Italia welcomes a new contributor for our Udinese preview: Sonja Cori Missio is a Little Zebra by birthright, which is an incredibly cruel thing to burden a small child with. She is an information officer by trade, a soccer writer by night, and in the other waking hours, running an (un)successful campaign to become the next FIFA President.
Udinese defied all odds once again last season and finished 5th, making the club eligible for a Europa League spot. While this is the lowest the Little Zebras have placed since the seconding coming of coach Francesco Guidolin, they did manage to win their final eight games of 2012/2013 season, with captain Antonio Di Natale coming in as runner up to most goals scored.
Players get traded all the time, but there's a certain amount of sting when those players get traded to an owner's OTHER team. Let's look at the Little Zebras that have become Hornets over the summer.
Almen Abdi: the 26 year old, Yugoslavian-born, Swiss midfielder was already loaned out to Watford last season where - unfortunately for Udinese supporters - he flourished. It is unsurprising that Abdi wanted to remain in England with a team and a league that he is more comfortable with.
Joel Ekstrand: the 24 year old Swedish defender was also sent on load to Watford last season and like Abdi, he has come into stride with the English side. It will be a blow for Udinese to see him go, as the Zebrette has had some defensive issues in the past; Ekstrand could have been the much needed reinforcement on the back line.
Diego Fabbrini: the 23 year old Italian who seems to play every single position was also loaned out last season, but to Palermo. It was a shame that Fabbrini was on loan and then promptly traded, as his diversity on the pitch would have worked well with the free flowing, attacking style of the Zebrette, had he had time to develop more.
Udinese gets rid of the aging mid-to-late-20-something-year-olds and replaces them with underage-to-barely-of-legal-age-in-the-United-States-and-parts-of-Canada-year-olds.
Bruno Fernandes: the 18 year old Portuguese midfielder had been described by Sky Sports as "promising" and "highly rated." But more importantly, he's also super stoked to be playing for with Di Natale, recently telling the Udinese Channel, "I can't wait to meet the captain, Di Natale. I've seen him on TV and I'm excited by the idea of training with him!"
Jadson Alves dos Santos (Jadson): the 19 year old Brazilian defensive midfielder has been catching the eye of Brazilian scouts and receiving lots of attention at club level. Previously, he had publicly rejected a bid from Udinese, stating he was not ready to leave his club Botofogo or Brazil. However, since he's obviously accepted an offer, hopefully he has become ready in the meantime. And by "hopefully he has become ready in the meantime" I really mean, "he better have become ready in the meantime."
Frano Mlinar: the 21 year old Croatian midfielder is one of the more experienced players to join Udinese this season; he grew up playing within the Croatian youth system, playing for every youth team since U15. Like Bruno, Mlinar has expressed his excitement to play and learn from Di Natale and he is enthusiastic to join the Friulano side. Mlinar also has great hair, which will soften the blow of Fabbrini leaving the club for good.
Keep an Eye On
Antonio Di Natale: While that might seem like an obvious-or cop out-answer, this season will be crucial for the Udinese captain. First, he has just extended his contract and received a raise; he is happy in his position in Udine and the happier Toto is, the better he plays. Second, Di Natale would be wise to showcase his talents this season. With last year's rival lead goal scorer, Edinson Cavani, now in France, Toto has the opportunity to regain his status for most goals score in Serie A. He may also get the attention from Cesare Prandelli to be called up for the Italian National Team. Third, Udinese has signed a slew of younger players this season. Di Natale has the opportunity to work with, develop, and cultivate them into world class players... only to be sold next season. Finally, it will be interesting to see when in the season Di Natale surpasses Filippo Inzaghi as "Player Most Caught Offside." Several pools have already been started.
A failed Europa campaign, a failed Scudetto run (but a respectable fourth place finish), and the first Friulano team to hoist up the Coppa Italia.