Italian side Udinese have flourished in recent years, recording finishes which far outweigh their budget in Serie A and producing a number of highly rated players. The 2010/11 season was no exception, with the Udine-based club earning a spot in this season’s Champions League, although they must negotiate a tough playoff round against Arsenal to progress to the group stage.
Despite losing a number of stars this summer, including Chilean talent Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona, the future still looks bright for the Bianconeri thanks to a strong scouting network and a partnership with Spanish La Liga side Granada CF.
Key to Udinese’s set-up is the club’s sporting director Fabrizio Larini. Inside Futbol’s Alec Cordolcini spoke to Larini about the secrets behind Udinese’s success and the Serie A side’s plans for the future.
Inside Futbol (IF): Considering your unique, attractive style of play, Udinese could be described as an exception to the rule of "less than easy on the eye" Italian sides. Do you agree?
Fabrizio Larini (FL): Of course, I do. In our team we have a lot of players who are looking for their breakthrough at the highest level. They have skills and they want to show all their potential.
These kinds of players fit perfectly into our football philosophy which prioritises technical qualities to develop a game that makes the difference.
IF: You are widely known for your “buy-cheap-gain-exposure-sell-high” philosophy. What are the secrets behind this successful approach?
FL: First of all, a quick and extremely organised scouting system. Of course we don’t have the resources and money to compete with the big clubs in the race for a potential world class talent. When they set eyes on a player, we are out.
We basically have two options: Be the first to discover a future star of tomorrow – as happened with Alexis Sanchez – or look for unknown players in alternative markets, such as in Chile and Colombia instead of Brazil or Argentina. Or in the less important European leagues: Switzerland, Denmark, Slovenia.
IF: How long do your scouting teams follow a player before a decision is made over whether they are good enough to join Udinese?
FL: It’s not a question of how long, but a question of opinions. We have scouts abroad and others who work in our head office in Udine. A player is good enough for us when all the people who have watched him play – including the head scout – agree on his potential.
Take for example our new signing Thierry Doubai. We have a scout in Switzerland, who followed him playing with Young Boys. He sent us his review, we watched him on DVD, and finally the head scout went to Switzerland to see him live.
How many times did Udinese watch Doubai play? I don’t know, ten or maybe 12. However, the most important thing was that we always had positive feedback on the player.
IF: Udinese lost three key players in the transfer window this summer: Alexis Sanchez (sold to Barcelona), Gokhan Inler (now at Napoli) and Cristian Zapata (who joined Villarreal). What are your expectations for the new season, considering that from this year Serie A clubs will only have three instead of four Champions League spots?
FL: At the beginning of every season our ambition is always the same, develop a team able to cement a mid-table spot as soon as possible. We can’t ever forget Udinese are not a top club.
Discovering and developing players is our main aim and every time one of our stars leaves for another club, we know the cycle begins anew. We try to sell a player only when we know we have the guarantee of having the right replacement for him. Doubai will take Inler’s place, and we have two new Brazilian defenders, Danilo Larangeira and Sergio Piccoli Neuton, that can play as well as Zapata.
Of course, a player like Sanchez is almost impossible to replace. Not only for Udinese, but for almost every team in the world.
IF: Coach Francesco Guidolin said that the Champions League playoff tie against Arsenal will in a way be an “impossible mission” for Udinese. What’s your opinion about this?
FL: We are clearly underdogs and it will be very, very difficult for us. Arsenal are a top club, technically speaking they are two or three steps above us.
I don’t like to make predictions, but I know that our few chances will depend on how we can surprise and apply pressure on them.
IF: These are unsettling times for Arsenal. Don’t you think the unhappiness Arsene Wenger must face at the club, from the supporters to some players, could help Udinese?
FL: The best moment to play against a big club is always at the beginning of a season, when the top teams in particular are still a work in progress. This is the only advantage Udinese have, but it would be the same against other teams.
IF: In your opinion, which Udinese players could actually merit a spot in the Gunners’ starting eleven?
FL: I think many, from our goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah. Mauricio Isla and Pablo Armero, who play on the flanks, could be good enough too. Of course I am not considering our star striker Antonio Di Natale, who technically is second to none. But he is linked to Udinese until the end of his career.
IF: What about the partnership between Udinese and Spanish club Granada? Can you tell us a little about it?
FL: It’s an important benefit for us to work together with a club from an important footballing country such as Spain. Granada were suffering a deep financial malaise – both competitively and financially – when we signed a partnership agreement in July 2009.
As you know we have a well-developed recruitment policy in South America and Africa. Gaining some experience with Granada could provide many young players with an easier introduction into Europe’s football and lifestyle. South American players don’t even have to face a language barrier, while we don’t have the same problem of limits for African players as for non-EU players, due to an agreement signed by Spain and Africa concerning free movement for certain kinds of workers.
IF: Two months ago Granada were promoted to La Liga. Will this make the connection with Udinese stronger?
FL: It was surely a great achievement, one that shows how a partnership can benefit both clubs. Granada had 11 Udinese players on loan, of whom six were starters. The Spanish Segunda Division was a league we valued to develop players; however La Liga is obviously better. From the beginning we thought Granada was a city with great footballing potential, and we are very confident about the future.