Udinese are a club famous for signing little known players from some of the most far flung regions of the world and transforming them into stars.
Their extensive scouting system has enticed such talents as Marcio Amoroso, Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan to the Stadio Friuli over the last two decades, but signing a 16-year-old Alexis Sanchez for US$3 million from Cobreloa in 2006 may just prove the biggest masterstroke of all.
After excelling for the club in the 2010-11 season, they sold him to Barcelona for an initial US$38.2 million rising to $16.5 million depending on appearances.
The player boasts extraordinary vision, movement and pace, while the 2010-11 season saw him develop a healthy appetite for goals.
The Early Years:
Sanchez played just one season at native club Cobreloa, who he joined at 15 in 2003. After becoming the youngest player to debut in the Copa Libertadores and impressing in his fleeting stint in the first team, Udinese snapped him up for a sum reported to be anything up to US$3 million.
The youngster was immediately loaned out to Colo Colo, and then River Plate where he was able to mature in less physically demanding confines than Serie A.
Impact in Italy:
He would improve on a tally of eight goals over the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons from his position on the wing when coach Francesco Guidolin decided to move him into a more central role in the 2010-11 campaign.
Sanchez performed superbly behind Antonio Di Natale, his creativity helping the striker finish the season as top scorer with 28 Serie A goals. The Chilean scored 12 of his own and was considered Player of the Season by many observers after helping the modest northern club qualify for the Champions League.
Such form in his new Trequartista role, coupled with strong interest from other clubs, prompted Udinese patron Giampaolo Pozzo to conclude: “He’s worth as much as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi”.
Having already made his senior debut against New Zealand in 2006, becoming his country’s youngest ever player at 17 years, four months, and eight days, Sanchez continued to catch the eye at youth level, notably in Chile’s 2007 Under-20 World Cup win over Congo where he ran his opponents ragged and scored a goal from 20 yards out.
Sanchez was a regular menace for Chile at the 2010 World Cup where he helped La Roja (The Red One) qualify for the second round with some explosive wing play in South Africa.
His impressive form would be the prelude to a stunning season for Udinese, and one that would propel him to stardom.
At the 2011 Copa America, Sanchez scored once against Uruguay but Chile bowed out disappointingly to Venezuela in the quarter finals.More profiles of the world's greatest players