Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez clearly made a huge impression on Italian striker Antonio Di Natale during three years together at Udinese, with the veteran forward waxing lyrical about the Chilean's tremendous work rate and technical qualities.
Sanchez quickly struck up a successful partnership with Di Natale, with the pair scoring 39 goals between them in his final season as an Udinese player to help Sanchez earn a mega-money move to Barcelona.
Di Natale believes Sanchez is a very special player because he has the attitude to and temperament to match his talent, a mix which is in very short of supply at the highest level in the 38-year-old's experience.
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Di Natale loves him some Alexis
In a feature-length interview on Arsenal's official website Di Natale was asked to share what it was like to play alongside Sanchez, revealing: "I was amazed by his technical skills: he did things with the ball that were more typical of a juggler than a footballer. But what really impressed me was the approach he had to the everyday work.
"In my career, I’ve seen a lot of talented players squandering their abilities with the wrong attitude, with a sort of indolence. Alexis was the contrary: I’ve never seen him distracted, he was always attentive and focused, he was always ready to work harder in order to improve, to add some new trick to his natural talent.
"This is probably his secret, and the thing that has allowed him to become one of the greatest players around today: he combines individual quality with a willingness for collective sacrifice."
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The best partner he's ever had
Di Natale was asked if any strike partner across a two-decade career can match Sanchez, or at least he was about to be before pre-empting that line of questioning.
He said: "Stop: I know what you are going to ask. And the answer is: ‘Yes he’s the best partner I had in my life’. Like you say, I’ve played with a lot of champions, but he is the best; and he’s proven it by performing for enormous clubs such as Barcelona and Arsenal.
"It’s quite easy to be a star in a little or medium team, where there is no pressure and where competition is far to be ferocious. But to confirm your individual qualities within the biggest teams is something only few can achieve."
Shirt swap shows strong bond between the pair
You get a sense from the interview that Di Natale and Sanchez grew close during his three years in Udine, with a story about a visit to England last summer in particular sharing a side to Arsenal's £35m man that's definitely endearing.
Di Natale's little anecdote begins: "He’s a man who places a big importance on friendship. When I met him in Watford, I asked him for an Arsenal shirt because my son Filippo is a huge fan and I had promised him to come back from England with a present.
"You know what he did? He simply picked up the shirt he had been wearing a few hours earlier in his first match for Arsenal (Arsenal v Benfica in the Emirates Cup) and gave it to me. He could have saved it as a souvenir, but he preferred to give a present to my son."
Sanchez often played far more centrally at Udinese to compliment Di Natale and did so to devastating effect, so the man affectionately known as Tony Christmas has a view that definitely deserves to be heard when it comes to a man who has been exceptional in his first Premier League season.
Arsenal fans, has Sanchez surpassed your own expectations this season? Do you think he can improve still further at the Emirates next term? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!
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