Double centurion Di Natale still on top

Antonio Di Natale of Udinese Calcio celebrates after scoring his opening goal and his 200th goal in Serie A
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Waste no time looking for him in celebrity magazines. Spare yourself the effort of checking for him at exclusive parties. Antonio Di Natale is not that kind of footballer. The very antithesis of a 'star' player, the 37-year-old prefers to make his presence felt in the opposition penalty box, where he continues to carve out openings like a deadly predator. Di Natale has an unquenchable thirst for goals, and he proved that yet again against Chievo on Sunday when he racked up his 200th strike in 400 Italian Serie A appearances, and his 300th overall as a professional.

The Udinese forward has made a habit of confounding expectations, not least since he hardly looks the part of a finely tuned goal machine. Not the leanest of athletes, and at 5'7 not the tallest either, he looks a little older than his years too – but appearances are clearly deceptive. As now explains, Di Natale remains a superlative player and a likeable individual, whose bywords have always been loyalty, efficiency and comradeship.  

The figuresDi Natale took his personal haul to 300 goals against Chievo, a total that includes 182 efforts in 339 Serie A games for Udinese and 11 in 42 appearances for Italy.

That overall figure put him seventh on the list of Italy's most prolific players throughout history, behind Silvio Piola (390), Alessandro Del Piero (345), Giuseppe Meazza (338), Roberto Baggio (318), Filippo Inzaghi (316) and Francesco Totti (306). Di Natale has twice finished top of the Serie A scoring charts, hitting 29 goals in 2009/10 and 28 in 2010/11, and he was voted Italian player of the year in 2010.

What makes his Serie A tally all the more remarkable, meanwhile, is that the Naples native has plundered each of his goals in the space of just 12 seasons, having made his top-flight debut two months short of his 25th birthday.

Di Natale came close to hanging up his boots altogether at the end of last season. He ultimately decided not to retire and has been rewarded handsomely for his dedication, notching seven strikes in 12 Serie A games to put himself on course for a total of ten goals or more for the tenth consecutive campaign.

The manDi Natale was practically an unknown quantity when he signed for Udinese at the start of the 2004/05 season, the newcomer hoping to relaunch his career after a string of years spent warding off relegation with Empoli. Few could have imagined that the unassuming marksman would go on to become the club's most emblematic player, but Udinese soon began revising their ambitions as Di Natale set about putting the ball in the net. A model father, he has stayed loyal to the cause as well, turning down a move to Juventus in August 2010 for fear of disrupting his family.

True to his Neapolitan roots, Di Natale is passionate about the game. Driven by a fierce desire to win and a boundless hunger for goals, he is quick to make his criticisms known to Udinese's younger players during training sessions. "They know me well," he says. "They're more worried when I don't say anything." Indeed, the veteran is merely concerned that the youngsters breaking into the first team faster than ever "don't realise how lucky they are". "Attitudes have changed," he says. "But the important thing is that the ball crosses the goal line – how it crosses is much less important."  

The big-hearted centre-forward surprised many on 1 October when he opted to play following the death of his father at the age of 68. "Two days before his death, he watched Udinese against Parma on television and told me he enjoyed it," recalls Di Natale. "That's why I wanted to play as quickly as possible." In contrast, he prefers not to discuss his decision to look after Maria Carla, the disabled sister of his former team-mate Piermario Morosini – her only close relative – after the midfielder died during a match between Pescara and Livorno on 14 April 2012. 

Di Natale remains happy with life in Udine and has put thoughts of retirement to the back of his mind. "I'll play for as long as it's possible," he says. "I can carry on at the highest level until I'm 38 or perhaps 40. When I retire, I'll spend time with my family, and then I'd like to coach youngsters." A settled character away from the pitch but a restless figure on it, he has a few more defenders to torment before that happens.

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