Antonio Cassano: Italy’s Gazza

Scott Salter
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Italy is a country with an abundance of talented forwards; from Francesco Totti to Alessandro Del Piero, Italians have produced some of the best attackers the past century has seen. Up there with some of the most talented Italian forwards is Antonio Cassano – the temperamental, talented man from Bari.

There are few footballers like Antonio Cassano; the creative forward has used his technical ability to not only score goals but be the creative heartbeat of teams for many years. For every ounce of creative talent Cassano possesses, it is matched by bad attitude and short temper.

“With his genius comes the touch of madness and raw emotion that fuels his performance on the field.”

These Football Times

Starting his career in Bari for his hometown club, Cassano made a name for himself as one of the most promising, yet troublesome, youngsters in the whole of Italian football. He earned the nickname Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia (the jewel of Old Bari), which tells you everything you need to know about the man’s talents with a ball at his feet.

His exploits in Bari earned him a big move to Roma in 2001 when Fabio Capello paid €30million for the then 19-year-old. He may have struggled initially, but Cassano started to develop a deadly partnership with Roma legend Francesco Totti in his second and third seasons. In 118 games for the Romans, Cassano scored 39 goals and helped lead Roma to a memorable second place finish in 2003-04.

When Luciano Spalletti took charge of Roma, Cassano found himself in trouble. He told his new boss:

“You’re not coaching those useless players you had at Udinese. This isn’t your house, it’s my house.”

Cassano

It seemed that Cassano’s opinionated views would continue to land him in trouble – he wore his heart on his sleeve and often let trivial things get the better of him. He clashed with Roma over wage demands and was upset when Francesco Totti took home 80% of the appearance fee when both appeared together on national television.

His rocky relationship with Roma led to Cassano leaving the Italian capital for just €5million – the club cut their losses on a troublesome player. He joined Real Madrid, where he’d be part of the famous Galacticos.

Despite scoring just three minutes into his Real debut, life in Madrid would be difficult for the Italian. Constantly deemed overweight by the club, Cassano was regularly fined. He was suspended in October for disrespecting new manager Fabio Capello. His time in Madrid would be short lived.

A loan to Sampdoria would follow for Cassano, who was presented to 2,500 fans upon signing. It was a chance for Cassano to reignite his failing career and he appeared to be doing just that when he found early form in Genoa. After 10 goals in 22 games during his first season, he would join permanently in 2008 and stay for three years.

Fantantonio (“fantastic Antonio”), as he was known, earned a chance to return to the big stage when AC Milan came calling in 2011. He found first-team chances hard to come by, but the impact on his health was severe.

“In October 2011, after appearing as a substitute in a 2-3 victory against Roma, Cassano had fallen ill on the Milan team bus travelling from the airport. Complaining of dizziness and struggling to speak coherently, the club doctor convinced Cassano to visit the hospital. It turned out to be more serious than first feared as doctors diagnosed him as having suffered from an ischemic stroke.” – Jamie Allen

He crossed the Milan divide in 2012, joining Inter after growing unhappy with Milan’s key players leaving the club. For Inter, his struggles continued as Cassano’s fortunes mirrored the club’s poor form. Like so often in his career, Cassano argued with his manager Andrea Stramaccioni. It resulted in his departure from the club.

Parma would be the next destination for the Italian journeyman. For once, his fitness, work-rate and discipline improved. He was the main man in Parma and he returned the favour. In 2013-14, Cassano returned to form and helped the club finish 6th. With the club facing financial difficulty, they agreed to terminate Cassano’s contract – having not paid him for over 6 months.

SEE ALSO: Francesco Totti’s greatest ever XI : The King’s Soldiers
He re-joined Sampdoria but would leave after just 24 appearances. He remains a free agent.

“Andrea Pirlo is the substance of the Italian football team, while Cassano is the imagination. He is a player who at any time of the game has solutions that neither the coach nor the other players can give.” – Jorge Valdano

It’s easy to forget just how good Antonio Cassano was during his good days. He was unpredictable and his talents meant he could turn a game on its head at any given moment. Sadly, his temperament would be his downfall. Aged 34, there’s little time for Antonio Cassano to remind the game just how good he can be.

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