They Could Have Been One of Football’s Greatest: Antonio Cassano
Part 15 of this series looks at a former Real Madrid, Inter, Roma and Sampdoria forward Antonio Cassano who was once described as Roberto Baggio’s heir.
It has also been stated that he could have been as good as the likes of Messi, Neymar and others. However, his attitude towards the game and those within, kept him from fulfilling his potential. He always had ability, and the platforms to display that talent.
Unfortunately for the Italian Maverick, his attitude let him down and ultimately stopped him from being one of football’s greatest.
Links to Parts 1-14 in this service can be found below.
A promising start.
Cassano was born the day after Italy won the World Cup in 1982. Street football became his escape from the life of crime. It was here that he began to hone his skills that would lead to his first foray into professional football.
A scout from Bari spotted his undisputed talent and he was brought through the clubs youth system. It was not long before the first team came calling and at the age of just 17 he made his Serie A debut. It didn’t take the youngster long to become a fan favourite. A spectacular late winner against Inter Milan made fans idolise him. It was his excellent performances and goals that earned him nicknames such as Fantantonio and the Jewel of old Bari.
Unfortunately for both fans and Bari, when a headline grabber of Cassano’s talents come along, it’s almost impossible to keep them for any length of time.
First big move
At the age of 19, Cassano left Bari to become the world’s most expensive teenager. Italian giants Roma paid around 30 million Euro (60 billion Italian lira) to secure his services.
It was here that he began to form an exciting partnership with Roma and Italy legend Francesco Totti. The forward would latter describe Cassano as his best ever team-mate. However, it was also soon after signing that Cassano began to display his bad boy side that would become more famous than his footballing talent.
Clashes and conflicts
When in Rome, he clashed with manager Fabio Capello several times, once famously after being left out of a practice match just days after making his international debut. Capello would later say, “Anarchy is always around the corner with Cassano.”
The youngster was also sent off in the Italian Cup Final for clashing with the referee. To add extra fuel to the fire of being sent off, Cassano flashed the ‘sign of the horns’ (an offensive gesture in Mediterranean countries) towards the official.
Despite hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons, his football was also doing so for the right ones. The youngster won the Serie A Young Player of the Year award in both 2001 and 2003.
Clashes with the Roma manager continued even after Capello moved on. He was omitted from the squad, and had constant clashes with regards to a new contract. Problem with team-mate Totti then followed. It was these clashes that would see him leave Roma for well below his true value.
With Cassano’s contract negotiations going anything but smoothly, Spanish giants Real Madrid pounced to sign the forward for just 5 million euros in January, six months before his contract was due to expire. He made his debut for Las Blancos against Real Betis and scored inside three minutes. It was an excellent start to his career in Spain but as was to be expected, problems lurked just around the corner.
It wasn’t long before Spanish life and its cuisine caught up with the forward. He began putting on weight and this, in turn, affected his form. In an attempt to reduce his weight, Madrid fined him for every gram he remained over the clubs playing weight.
The beginning of the next season saw Fabio Capello appointed as Madrid manager. Player/manager conflict continued where it had left off at Roma. Dressing room arguments saw the forward benched by Capello. Cassano would state that he would “walk all the way back to Roma”. An ankle injury restricted his playing time and the club President stated that Cassano’s attitude was “unsustainable”. Indicating that he would be leaving in the summer transfer window.
At this stage of his career and life, he was claiming that he had slept with over 600 women. According to Cassano, he would eat three or four pasties every time he had sex.
Back to Italy
Cassano’s wish of a move back to Italy came true. Instead of returning to Rome he signed for Sampdoria, initially on a one-year loan deal. His first season back in Italy would have been deemed a success but for the red card resulting in a five-match ban. The offnce worsened when he hurled his shirt at the referee on leaving the pitch. Even so, Sampdoria had seen enough of his undoubted quality to sign him permanently.
Temperamentally, Cassano seemed to be improving during his second season. Especially following the signing of forward Giampaolo Pazzini. The pair linked beautifully. Fans were comparing their partnership with that of former Sampdoria greats Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini as they led their team to the final of the Coppa Italia.
The following season the club continued to progress and at one stage topped Serie A; however, a run of poor results led their manager to drop Cassano for “technical and tactical reasons.”
His situation did not approve during the next season. His troubles continued, leading to the club applying for his contract to be terminated by a league arbitration panel.
The request came after Antonio Cassano and the Sampdoria chairman shared a heated exchang after the player refused to attend an awards ceremony. The request for termination was turned down. Cassano would only be paid 50% of his salary for the remainder of his contract. Enough it seemed, was enough.
In December 2010, AC Milan came to the strikers rescue, signing him on a three and half-year contract. The man he would be replacing was Brazilian legend Ronaldinho.
By the end of the season, Cassano had helped Milan win the Serie A title. It was the first of the striker’s career. At the same time, his former side Sampdoria were struggling and were eventually relegated.
Competition at Milan was now becoming fierce with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexandre Pato and Robinho battling it out for a place in the team. Cassano, however, performed well in pre-season and began the campaign in good form.
On 29th October 2011, disaster struck. Cassano suffered a stroke following a match in Rome. He underwent surgery days later. Although he recovered, the ordeal would keep him out of action for almost six months.
Euro 2012 Controversy
Although he played every game as the Italians reached the final, bad publicity was close by. During a press conference, he was asked if he thought there were any homosexual players in the Italian team. His response “I hope not” was taken with umbrance. Even though he was fined for his comments, he issued a statement to say that he had been misinterpreted. It could be said it was a bizarre question to ask.
During the summer Milan sold several players, including Ibrahimović, much to the disgust of Cassano. He therefore submitted a transfer request. In August 2012, AC Milan and Inter came to an agreement, and the next day saw Cassano swap shirts.
This move however, inevitably would last only until the end of the season. At this stage of his career, Antonio Cassano was as far from being ‘The Jewel of old Bari’ as was possible.
Scoring nine goals and 15 assists failed to prevent arguments with manager Andrea Stramaccioni, including one physical fight. This saw the strikers time at Inter cut short and he was once again on the move. He recently stated that Stramaccioni is the “worst manager ever.”
On the move again
His destination this time was Parma. It appeared as though Cassano was finally getting his act together. His discipline improved, as did his work rate and fitness, losing 10kg in the process.
As had become his norm, his settled time with his new club wouldn’t last long. Surprisingly, it was not of his own doing this time. With the club bottom of the table during his second season, and facing serious financial difficulties, Parma allowed Cassano to terminate his contract. The club reportedly hadn’t paid the player for many months.
During the summer of 2015, he agreed to return once again to Sampdoria, agreeing a two-year contract. He scored just two goals during his first season, leading the Sampdoria president to advise him that he would not start the second. He trained with the youth team until terminating his contract in January 2017.
Undecided on retirement
Six months later, Cassano signed for Verona. However, even by his standards, this move was over quicker than was expected. After playing two friendlies, the striker announced that he would be retiring, the same day, he held a press conference to announcing he had reversed his decision. He then repeated this action twice over. His contracted was eventually terminated a month later, leading him to declare he was looking for a new club.
Antonio Cassano finally done with football? – Or a possible comeback?
Later in the summer, Cassano would once again announce that he was “Done with football” However, as is usually the case with Antonio Cassano, what he says is not necessarily what he does.
Earlier this year he dismissed the idea of seeing out his career in China, but did appear to be open to extending his career. “I want to know whether I can still make it. It needs to be a president or coach who have 100% belief in me. Otherwise, I will leave it alone. However, If I do find it, I’ll be ready.”
The Last Word
Antonio Cassano was certainly a gifted player who with more determination and dedication could have been be talked about as not only one of Italy’s greatest, but one of the worlds greatest.
He has fairly described himself as being “problematic” and certainly proved that at various clubs. He also appeared to prefer being the big fish in a small pond, an attitude that perhaps hampered those big moves. His current career stats have him playing over 450 games and scoring 125 goals for both club and country. Antonio Cassano is yet another example of what could have been.
For other parts of this series please click on the following links:-
P1 Robin Friday P2 Dean Ashton P3 Kieron Brady
P4 Jason Koumas P5 Brian Clough P6 Freddy Adu
P7 Frank Worthington P8 David Bentley P9 Gianluigi Lentini
P10 Jean-Pierre Papin P11 Asamoah Gyan
P12 Manchester Derby Special P13 Salvatore Schillaci
P14 Sebastian Deisler