The past few weeks haven’t provided the smoothest of rides for Andrea Stramaccioni at Udinese, first blaming the anger and tension within his squad for a 0-1 loss to Lazio before losing his own calmness after a similar defeat to Cesena. “I am furious and tomorrow there will be no day off. We’re going to all come in and train” he said, “we have to get back on track and quickly reach 40 points to secure safety”.
The loss to Cesena required Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzi to give Stramaccioni assurances that his job was safe, issuing a statement to deny reports that he had subjected his manager to an ultimatum. From being in the dizzy heights of 3rd after a 2-0 victory over Atalanta in October, a run of only 2 wins from the next 16 matches had left the Zebrette at risk of being dragged back into the relegation fight.
Strama and his men would remain 8 points clear of the bottom 3 in Serie A but for a club that had recently become accustomed to high-placed finishes under Francesco Guidolin, it would be understandable if Pozzo’s patience was beginning to wear thin.
Guidolin, who last summer relinquished his role as head coach to become a technical supervisor to the three clubs (Udinese, Watford and Granada) which are owned by the Pozzo family, was always going to be a tough act to follow after he guided the northern Italian club to the lofty reaches of fourth, third and then fifth in consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2013.
It was a miracle act, given Guidolin constantly had to rebuild his teams in the face of losing his star players, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Christian Zapata, Gokhan Inler, Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla and Samir Handonovic all leave for big money fees, the majority of which were not reinvested into the side. After losing Juan Cuadrado to Fiorentina and Medhi Benatia to Roma in the summer of 2013, Guidolin’s golden touch diminished and Udinese would finish down in 13th the following season.
To replace Guidolin, Stramaccioni was a curious choice having been out of work for a year following his dismissal from Inter Milan in 2013. Successful spells as a youth coach at Roma then Inter would still be an appealing part of his C.V but for a 39 year old who could only boast an underwhelming campaign in charge of Inter as his experience of senior coaching, it would be a bold choice in replacing the hugely experienced Guidolin.
However he would be significantly backed, for the first time since 2004 Udinese would spend more than they recouped in transfer fees, outlaying a total of £22 million as Strama put his personal touch to squad renovation. Over 35 players would be moved on- not to mention the numerous loans which are utilised by the Pozzo family to boost their portfolio of clubs- for just a total of £8 million as Stramaccioni strived to trim the wage bill as well as clear the deadwood that had been behind Udinese’s struggles of the previous season.
Plus, of course, he would he be motivated by his own personal desire to show that Inter and owner Massimo Moratti, amidst steep transition during Strama’s time in charge, may have been hasty in sending him packing after just 14 months. On a personal level December’s 1-2 win over Inter, who still continue to falter under Roberto Mancini, in the San Siro would have been especially sweet.
Those moments however have been all too rare for Stramaccioni who, after starting brilliantly with 5 wins from his first 8 games in charge, has experienced that winning season in the 17 following games. The most recent of those victories, the 3-2 win over Torino at the weekend, was both huge for manager, who earned some relief from the pressure that appears to be building, and for the club who got their first win at the Stadio Fruili since October 26th.
The fall-out from the match saw Stramaccioni use the media to beg Antonio Di Natale to reconsider his decision to retire at the end of the season. The 37 year old would bag his tenth goal of the season in Sunday’s win and the importance he still carries to the squad would not be lost on Stramaccioni.
“He can’t be a player for 38 matches per season, but in 20 he still makes the difference” said the manager and that should be indicative enough as to where his side are going wrong. Di Natale is top-scorer with 10 (and leading assist-maker with 5) and only Cyril Thereau, who has never been prolific during his time in Italy, has come close to that tally with 8. From a lack of goals within the squad, only five teams in Serie A have scored less than Udinese’s 29 goals and they are still extremely reliant on Di Natale who is just months away from bringing an illustrious career to an end.
Comparisons with Guidolin are as inevitable as they unfortunate for Stramaccioni who is essentially in charge of a mid-table side that have had expectations altered by three sensational seasons under his predecessor. Though signings like Guilherme, Panagiotis Kone, Allan and Thereau have settled in reasonably well while the likes of Lucas Evangelista, Rodrigo Aguirre, Melker Hallberg and Agostino Camigliano were all acquired with the future clearly in mind.
The batch of talented teenagers are likely to thrive under Stramaccioni’s guidance and nurturing, whose work with youth development has never been doubted given his success at Inter. Though they will all have to be afforded time and patience, much like the manager who aims to make this Udinese his own in the shadow of Guidolin.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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