Why Liverpool's pursuit of Luis Muriel could hinge on ageing Serie A legend

Antonio Di Natale’s future may have a definitive role in defining that of Luis Muriel.

Udinese have made a living off of snapping up un-spotted young talent and later selling at premium prices over the past decade.

Serie A is littered with players that originally made their name plying their trade under the ownership of the Friuli outfit - Roma’s Mehdi Benatia, Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus and Fiorentina’s co-owned Juan Cuadrado just to name a few.

Of course, it would be a massive disservice not to name the crown jewel of all those blooded by the Zebrette. Alexis Sanchez landed at Barcelona in 2011 for a cool €26million after rising to stardom in the north east of Italy.

At the heart of the developmental operations going on at Udinese, however, has been Di Natale - the constant that joined the club as a 27-year-old in 2004 and went on to become one of the most prolific strikers in the lofty history of Serie A.

Now 36, Di Natale sits just three goals behind the legendary Alessandro Del Piero on the top flight’s all-time scoring chart, and is within striking distance of the 200 goal mark. But there is a twist in the tale.

In January, the former Empoli man sent out shock-waves in the peninsula when he revealed the current campaign would be his last - only to express uncertainty just weeks later, leaving the continuation of his glittering career in the balance.

And with Liverpool linked with a £17million move for Udinese's latest piece of hot property, Luis Muriel, the veteran Italian’s ultimate decision may just decide whether or not his 22-year-old team-mate lands at Anfield.

If Di Natale - whose prolific exploits have led his modest club to the promised land of the Champions League in recent years - does indeed hang up his boots, Udinese may be understandably hesitant to sell Muriel.

The Colombian’s development is far from complete and he would be placed in a leading role in Di Natale’s absence, relied upon to replace an incalculable loss with promise so far unfulfilled.

As a policy, Udinese don’t do short-term solutions. It is how the club has managed to punch above its weight so consistently. Muriel would become the main man, not a more experienced striker, the scouting staff continuing the mission to uncover the next big thing in the background.

And to boot, Muriel hasn’t nearly reached the peak of his value. If just four goals this season are enough to command £17million, the Zebrette management will be well aware that a year as a leading light could yield a payday more comparable to that received for Sanchez.

Yet should Di Natale renege on retirement and carry on, the chance that Udinese cash in on a player recognised around Europe for his potential will be enhanced.

The squad wouldn’t be left threadbare upfront without their talismanic hit-man, and it may decided that the time is right to pick up the return on an investment without the space to fully express himself.

Bearing this situation in mind, Liverpool should be hoping that Di Natale - who in October 2012 powered Udinese to a Europa League victory at Anfield - feels the need to play on.

Should he stick around the Stadio Friuli, the Reds may just have a chance to get their man in Muriel, the window of opportunity likely to be closed otherwise.

Dealings with Udinese always involve more than meets the eye and in this case, it’s the choice of a 36-year-old club legend in the twilight of his career that may have a profound effect on Liverpool’s transfer market fortunes.

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