Talented. Tempremental. Funny how those two seem to go together so frequently. Both apply in large doses to Antonio Cassano, who will find out this week whether he needs a new job. Here's Adamo Digby.
Antonio Cassano is known in Italy as Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia - the jewel of Old Bari - but since his transfer to Sampdoria became permanent (and his marriage to Carolina Marcialis) it seemed the old Cassano had vanished. The temperamental, cocky, brash, and insecure player that acted like - for want of a better phrase - a spoiled brat in Rome and Madrid had become as much a thing of the past as Antonio Conte's bald patch.
FantAntonio was perhaps more famous for his childish outbursts than his on field production. Fabio Capello called these episodes Cassanata; each seemed to top the last as the player destroyed almost every relationship he had in the game. In Rome, Cassano had a huge argument with Capello during training, then was sent off during a match with Milan which he punctuated by flashing the 'cornuto' at the referee.
Cassano was sold by Roma after a row over his contract, and went to Real Madrid for just €5m. An impressive start was soon forgotten and four months later they were in the crazy situation that saw him fined for every gram he weighed in overweight. Fast-forward another four months and the play-maker was in more trouble as the Spanish club hired Capello. It took just two months before Cassano exploded again, suspended for arguing with the coach. By the summer he was on the move again, this time on loan to Sampdoria.
Another great start seemed to falter when he was sent off against Torino, throwing his shirt at the referee as he left the field. 'Doria still had faith, and made his transfer permanent that June, going further still by making him vice-captain of the club. Then the following January came the arrival of Giampaolo Pazzini and the two men formed Serie A's best No. 9-10 combination in many years, firing the Genoa club to the Champions League playoffs in their first full season together. That drew comparisons with the Vialli/Mancini pairing that secured Sampdoria's only Scudetto.
He matured to the point of accepting full responsibility for his exclusion from Marcello Lippi's Azzurri setup, and showed incredible desire to form part of Cesare Prandelli's new-look Italy. This major improvement in his mental attitude to the game as well as his continued on-field brilliance saw transfer speculation link the 28-year-old with moves to other clubs, with Juventus and Inter stories seemingly circulating daily.
Then, just as it appeared Cassano was reborn, it happened.
Reports leaked of a huge row with Sampdoria President Riccardo Garrone, stemming from the owners insistence on his star player collecting an award at a hotel dinner. While the instinctive reaction of most observers was a resigned 'here we go again' it seems there is much more to this story than merely the latest Cassanata. Yes, he insulted his boss & his teammates, yet it all came from a desire to spend as much time as possible with his new wife, currently enduring a difficult pregnancy.
Sampdoria will learn on Monday the outcome of their attempt to terminate the contract of Cassano after Garrone refused to back down, saying only last week "One thing is for certain; Antonio Cassano will not play at Sampdoria again. I have already talked about this and I do not intend to go back on my word." Where he goes now will be a vital decision, not only for Cassano but for the Italian National team & Italian football in general. Easily the most talented player of his generation, it remains to be seen where he goes, with 'Doria's crosstown rivals Genoa linked with a cut-price move, but Inter and Fiorentina are also being touted as a possible destinations.
We have already seen Cassano struggle at big clubs in major cities, and while pastry chefs in Turin and Milan may disagree, FantAntonio has stated his desire to remain in Liguria, close to his wife & her family. Perhaps for all followers of La Nazionale, that is a good thing.
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