‘Tis the season for joy and the air is filling with seasonal music. With the twinkling of lights and festive decorations adorning cities up and down the Italian peninsula, there is no better footballing tale from Serie A to unwrap than that of Mr. Christmas himself – ex-Udinese legend Antonio Di Natale.
With the Italian’s surname translating into English as “of Christmas”, the striker appeared predestined to bring joy and a touch of magic to football fans around the world, delivering goals like Santa Claus delivers gifts, but all year round.
Antonio Di Natale’s festive connection
If Mamma Di Natale had waited another two months to go to the delivery room back in 1977, the attacker might not have stepped into a winter wonderland, having being born in warmth of October in Naples. Instead, he would have had an even stronger connection to the festive season.
Nonetheless, the month of December would find a significant place in the career of the former Italy Men’s National Team forward.
December first became a month to remember for the footballer when he scored his first professional goal on loan with Iperzola against Tolentino in 1997 and, 18 years later, he netted the penultimate goals of his career in a Coppa Italia clash with Atalanta.
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Di Natale first headed north to join Empoli and fire them to Serie A, but it was with Udinese where his clinical finishing, intelligence and leadership shone brightest, like the star atop of the Zebrette Christmas tree. Toto fired them into Europe multiple times between 2004 and 2016 from the front of the attack.
The Neapolitan’s more than 200 goals in all competitions (209 in Serie A) made him the club’s all-time leading scorer and established him as one of the top strikers in Italy.
The Udinese fans watched in amazement, feeling like all their Christmases had come at once while watching him play.
When Di Natale outscored the rest of Serie A to win the Capocannoniere crown in both the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons, only Lionel Messi whilst at Barcelona and then-Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo scored more league goals across Europe’s top five championships.
The last days of Natale
Unfortunately for Zebrette fans, Di Natale‘s batteries faded as the years passed by.
In 2016, he finally hung his boots next to the stockings around the fireplace with many a Christmas tale to recount of his goals to fall back on.
Each time “Buon Natale” leaves the mouths of friends and families throughout December, fans of Italian football will always associate it with the diminutive frontman who gifted us with goals galore all year round, and raise a metaphorical glass to the real star of Christmas.