Guidolin follows Arsenal model
For Arsenal, a highly-coveted Champions League berth, despite competition from much more free-spending teams, playing some truly breathtaking football that earned the admiration of neutral observers across Europe.
Thirty-eight games of effort, skill and determination all culminating in securing that prestigious fourth spot. A summer spent having very public transfer negotiations with Barcelona for a highly influential player who not only wants to leave, but has stated his desire to move only to the Camp Nou club.
At first glance Udinese have very little in common with Arsenal, perennial contenders of the latter stages of the Champions League. While the famous English club have been crowned league champions of 13 times, won the FA Cup ten times and have contested seven European finals, the Italian side's trophy cabinet holds only the an InterToto Cup, the 1980 Mitropa Cup and the 1978 Anglo-Italian Cup. Their highest ever league position was third in 1998, achieved thanks to the 27 goals of Oliver Bierhoff.
Yet scratching the surface reveals some striking similarities over the last few years between the two clubs set to face-off in the UEFA Champions League Play-off Round over the next week. As much as anyone with so much as a passing interest in football grew weary of the never-ending Cesc Fabregas transfer story, Udinese followers went through a very similar experience this summer - albeit a much more concise version - as Alexis Sanchez spent weeks with a move almost completed, without clubs ever actually agreeing on a fee.
When they eventually did reach a compromise, it was one that undoubtedly sent a clear signal to Arsene Wenger, as the Italian club will not receive any part of the €26 million fee (plus a further €11.5m in bonuses) until January 2012. This points to a cash-flow problem at Barca and awareness of that issue is believed to have helped ease the negotiations for Arsenal's Spanish international over the last few days.
If those parallels are not enough, Udinese also sold Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler to rivals who finished directly above them in third place last season, echoing the move of Gael Clichy to Manchester City, a path that may yet be followed by Frenchman Samir Nasri before the transfer window closes at the end of August.
The real similarities however, are not found in individual transfers or spats with Barcelona, but in the coaches, their philosophies and the frugal, intelligent manner in which both clubs are run. While Arsene Wenger's preference for aesthetically pleasing football is well known, his opposite number, Udinese's serene and understated coach Francesco Guidolin, is no less a purist than the Arsenal boss.
Two coaches who both teach their players to be comfortable in possession, who want to give the fans enjoyable games to watch, two men who make every effort to give an identity and definitive ideals to their teams. Their similarities are difficult to explain, given they have emerged from two very different schools of thought.
Indeed Guidolin, who led tiny Vicenza as far as the semi-final of the 1998 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup - where they lost to eventual victors Chelsea - has offered up the north London club as his ideological template recently.
When asked by La Repubblica earlier this year whether coaches are tacticians or motivators he replied: "I think you can be one and the other at the same time, both teaching and winning together, even if the Arsenal model seems to me to be the right one for Udinese. Here, like with them, there is tranquility, you have time so can have a project."
It is that planning and its implementation that means so much to Guidolin who, like Wenger, has spent time in charge of AS Monaco. He told Gazzetta dello Sport that for this reason he would not manage at a big club, but cited Hertha Berlin and Nottingham Forest as future possibilities should he leave Udinese as they are "niche clubs because I am a niche coach".
That may be quite true, but the ability of his current team should not be underestimated. He may have lost the hugely influential Inler and Sanchez, as well as the imposing Cristián Zapata to Villarreal, but a number of key figures remain. Antonio Di Natale has topped the Serie A scoring charts the last two seasons while Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic equalled a 62-year-old league record as he saved six penalties last term.
In addition, Guidolin's fluid system, ostensibly a constantly changing 4-4-1-1, relies on the tactical intelligence of full-backs and Pablo Armero, along with the tireless Mauricio Isla provide attacking width as well as solid defensive cover.
The midfield will be led by Ghanaian Kwadwo Asamoah, a skillful and versatile player who was linked with a number of major clubs but surprisingly remains with the Zebrette while the attack has been reinforced by Antonio Floro Flores - who netted 10 goals in 18 games on loan at Genoa last season - and the exciting Italy Under-21 international Diego Fabbrini.
Udinese have reached the Group Stage of Europe's top competition previously, finishing third after being drawn against Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen and Barcelona in 2005-06. Whether this team, with little European experience, can manage the leap in quality required to overcome Arsenal as they previously did at this stage against Sporting Lisbon in 2005 remains to be seen.
They will draw strength from the manner of their late season victory away to Napoli last season, an fine win achieved without both Sanchez and Di Natale but Guidolin, and no doubt his squad, looks to be relishing the challenge as he told Udinese's official website: "We will be ready for Tuesday's match and the Emirates will be a real test, but my team is mature and ready.
"We are used to playing in important stadiums such as San Siro, the Olimpico and San Paolo. We have offered extraordinary performances in crowded stadiums before and hope to do so again there."
Perhaps then he, unlike his former players, will be able to reject the advances of some of Europe's biggest clubs. In Serie A, Udinese and their coach are unique; their focus on young players, scouting of new talent from around the world and bringing them into the first-team as soon as possible is not replicated anywhere else in Italy.
However, on Tuesday evening Francesco Guidolin will not have to search too far to see a man who shares those ideals, he'll be sat in the home dugout.