Di Natale blossoming in Maradona's shadow
He is the new man of Italian soccer. His goals, first and foremost, have propelled him into the national side, but Udinese's Antonio Di Natale, known by his friends as Totò, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
Coming from Naples, the comparisons with the city's favourite son, Diego Maradona, are evident; but with his eyes on a successful season with Udinese, and tough task ahead to help Italy into the 2008 European Championship finals, Totò is focused on the next two crucial games against Georgia and Scotland.
About this and more he spoke exclusively to ESPNsoccernet.it
Q. Totò, people are still speaking about your two sensational goals (the second, in particular) that you scored during the match against Reggina. What effect does it have on you?
A. I have to admit that I scored two stunning goals, especially the second. At that moment it didn't seem so great, but seeing them again on TV made me aware of what I actually did. A great cross by Augustin, then I stopped and shot straight away, all in a single moment. It was a beautiful feeling and something like that gives you confidence. I have received many compliments since the match and it is a pleasure to receive them; but I am not satisfied, I hope that it is first of many.
Q. Let's talk about Udinese. Even though we are only at the beginning of the season, you are a stone's throw away from the Championship. What are your objectives for the season?
A. Not much. I believe you should be realistic and keep your eyes open with everything in sight. The team is young and has a lot of potential, we are aware of this, but must keep getting results. Against Genoa, we played poorly and this must not happen again. Our main objective is to stay in Serie A, then, once we have reached that, we will see where it takes us.
Q. Against Parma you helped your friend and national team mate Fabio Quagliarella to score a goal; what is your rapport like?
A. Fabio is young and has great qualities. The past year has seen him scoring splendid and difficult goals. Between us there is an understanding, we hope that this rapport can last and produce many goals, for both Udinese and the national team.
Q. What teams, up to now, have made an impression on you during the season so far?
A. Inter have a first class line-up, but following straight behind them are Milan and Roma. There is also Juventus, who have demonstrated that they are in a good position to battle for the title. It will be a fantastic championship this year, but I hope that the real eye-openers will be the Udinese team.
Q. Speaking about the Italian national team now, you are a certainty in midfield, but do you feel a leader wearing the Italian colours?
A. No. I became a part of the national team very quickly and each game is still an enormous satisfaction for me, so I am still not used to it. Sure, I have scored some decisive goals, but in the team there are several World Champions and because of this I believe that they have the right to leadership. Above all, my aim is to create my own place in the team, to contribute to the next qualifiers and to play for a place in the Euro 2008 championships.
Q. You will have to win all your matches in the Euro 2008 qualifiers to get there and, above all, in Scotland where you have never won. Do you think it is possible?
A. We will always be 2006 World Champions and the team is full of great players, all motivated and convinced that they will be able to go to Euro 2008. They are convinced that we are ready to reach our goals, but we will take it a step at a time. First we have to think about beating Georgia in Genoa, then we will go to Scotland to play and hopefully seal our qualification with a win.
Q. How important are the national team colours for you, and what is your opinion about the controversies between national teams and domestic clubs? For example the recent controversy between Patrick Vieira, France and Inter Milan?
A. To play for Italy has always been my dream, since I was a child. To have achieved it already is indeed an incredible and immense joy, I hope to remain in the team for a long time yet. As far as the club and national controversies go, I prefer not to discuss the situation: I believe that everyone must be true to their own team.
Q. Let's speak a bit about you, for the fans who do not know you that well. You were born in Naples, the city of Maradona.
A. Well, as you know, Maradona has represented and still represents something extraordinary for all Neapolitans. Those who have seen him play still remember his magic and his goals, I still get goose bumps when I watch the replays. Moreover, for a genuine Neapolitan like me to wear number 10, even if it belongs to another team, is a very special feeling.
A. Stop joking, Maradona is Maradona, even if the compliments some people make are appealing to me, my feet are firmly on the ground because Diego is from another planet compared to everyone else. I believe that nobody will ever become his equal.
Q. Who was your role model when you were a child?
A. I did not have a particular role model, even though I have always been a great admirer of Vincenzo Montella, with whom I have played and grown up with from our days at Empoli. Vincenzo is an extraordinary player, he has always done well everywhere he has been, I am happy that he has returned to Italy, where he is starting to impress again.
Q. Who is the greatest player in the world for you at the moment?
A. They are several fighting for that honour on a world-wide level: Ronaldinho, Kakà, Totti, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, all great players, and there is always a risk of forgetting someone like Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o for example. The list continues, but there are also new players who are now becoming noticed, to choose just one is far too difficult.
Q. In surveys, Andrea Pirlo and Kakà are competing for the Gold Ball: Who deserves it more, the Brazilian or your national team mate?
A. For what he has done with Milan and at an international level, for the goals he has created and scored and the spectacular games he's been in, I believe that the favourite is Kakà. But my friend Andrea, between 2006 and 2007, has won the Champions League also the World Cup and this must be remembered as well.
Q. Of course Udinese comes first now but, in the future, which team would you like to play for? Milan? Or Juve, with your other friend Iaquinta?
A. I have a contract with the Udinese team until 2012 because I feel at home here and I want to remain here for a long time. Honestly, at this moment I do not want to think about it. Interest from the great clubs appeal to all players and you never really know what the future holds, but for now I prefer to remain focused on my adventures in the white and black jersey.