When a club signs Antonio Cassano, they accept all the baggage that comes with him.
‘Fantonio’ is not just a player defined by his ability to dribble past multiple defenders, provide sublime assists and score outrageous goals. The AC Milan frontman has had numerous run-ins with coaches, insulted referees and been a regular source of controversy with his off-the-field remarks.
His on-field histrionics are all part of the Cassano experience, but it is a package that has put off numerous international coaches, and limited his involvement for Italy over the years.
He was forced out of Sampdoria in late 2010 after insulting president Riccardo Garrone, the latest chapter in a controversial career.
Samp ended the season relegated, while Cassano’s four goals for new club Milan helped them to the Scudetto.
Born and Bred in Bari:
Cassano, born on the day after Italy beat Germany in the 1982 World Cup final, was propelled through the ranks at hometown club by veteran tactician Eugenio Fascetti.
He was brought up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Bari by his mother, and was spotted by a Bari scout and joined the club’s youth set-up.
“I was poor my whole life, but I never worked, mainly because I don’t know how to do anything”, he was later quoted as saying.
After making his debut at 17 against Lecce in 1999, Cassano netted a stunning goal against Inter Milan, but was by no means prolific in his time at the club. However, he demonstrated the sort of potential that persuaded Roma to buy him for around US$25.5 million in 2001.
A Move to the Capital:
While Cassano never quarrelled with Fascetti, the same could not be said of Fabio Capello at Roma. In his first season the pair clashed over Capello’s decision to leave him out of a practice match a few days after making his international debut.
He scored five goals in his debut season at the Stadio Olimpico, but by far Cassano’s most productive seasons in Rome were the 2002-03 and 03-04 campaigns when he netted 13 and 18 goals respectively.
Cassano’s game is by no means defined by goals, and some of his performances lit up the Stadio Olimpico as he wowed spectators alongside club captain Francesco Totti.
A conflict over his contract with the club in the 2005-06 season led to him leaving for Real Madrid in the winter transfer window. Roma felt betrayed by Cassano, but they were glad to get a fee for him, with his contract due to expire that summer. He departed without saying goodbye to his teammates.
"Seeing as he didn't bother to come and say goodbye to us all at Roma, we'll say it for him," remarked Totti, who had taken Cassano under his wing when the youngster arrived in Rome, and was even a regular visitor to the Totti family home.
Meltdown in Madrid:
Cassano would again link up with Capello in Madrid but it was to prove an unhappy period in his career despite netting within four minutes of his debut against Real Betis.
He also scored in the 2-1 derby win over Atletico Madrid but could not hold down a regular place in the line-up under Capello, who he again fell out with.
Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia ("the jewel of Old Bari") became a figure of ridicule in Madrid because of a penchant for junk food (he arrived in Spain 5kg over weight), and the club began to fine him for every gram he was over weight.
He was quoted as saying that he would "walk all the way back" to rejoin Roma, but the solution proved to be a loan move to Sampdoria just a year-and-a-half after moving to Madrid.
Success at Sampdoria:
Cassano scored between 10 and 15 goals in each of his first three seasons at Samp. After initially struggling with injuries, he impressed enough to earn a permanent move, rarely letting his club down with his performances.
The flashes of temper by no means deserted him, however, and he was given a five-match ban after being sent-off and throwing his shirt at the referee in a March 2008 draw with Torino.
His partnership with fellow Italy international Giampaolo Pazzini drew comparisons with the Roberto Mancini-Gianluca Vialli alliance that helped earn the club their only Scudetto in 1991.
After playing for Italy at Under-15, 16, 12, 20 and 21 level, Cassano made his debut for the Azzurri in a November 2003 international against Poland.
Euro 2004 was a successful tournament personally for Cassano, with goals against Sweden and Bulgaria, but Italy bowed out in the group stages.
He also featured at Euro 2008, but did not score.
Cassano's reputation has hindered him at international level, with Marcello Lippi unwilling to call him up for the doomed 2010 World Cup campaign, frustrated at the constant clamor for the player to be included.
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