Antonio Cassano could be the perfect stereotypical Italian male: creative, bright, unreliable, unfaithful and sometimes hot headed. His is an interesting story and the talented striker today is one of the great enigmas of the game.

Cassano was born in Bari, the very south of Italy, on 12th July 1982, the day after Enzo Bearzot’s team won the World Cup in Spain, defeating West Germany in the final. The days that followed were ones of celebration and hope, more characteristics applicable to Cassano.

The Italian began his career in Bari, with his hometown team, and impressed everyone, right from his very first game at the Stadio San Nicola. One night in December 1999, the youngster scored an incredible goal against Inter, helping Bari to a 2-1 win. He drifted past the experienced Frenchman Laurent Blanc with ease, and beat Sebastien Frey in the Inter goal. All present knew a new star had been born, but many problems soon came with this new-found fame.

The following season, Franco Sensi, president of Roma, bought the bright young hope of Italian football from Bari. Cassano was overjoyed, ecstatic at the chance to play alongside Francesco Totti and many other world class talents in the capital. The “Barese” player did very well in his first few seasons in Rome, but without helping the club to win a single major trophy. At the beginning of the 2006/06 campaign, Cassano criticised Franceso Totti and soon fell out with other team-mates, so it was no surprise when in January of 2006 he left Rome. What was a surprise was his destination: Real Madrid.

Cassano did not do very well in La Liga, and in truth the writing was on the wall when he presented himself to Madrid’s board overweight in an improbable plum jacket. He also came across as arrogant in front of Alfredo Di Stefano, one of Real’s greatest legends.

The Madrid press soon renamed Cassano “El Gordito” (the fat one) and the Italian had many problems with Fabio Capello, who had specifically asked the Real Madrid board to buy his countryman. At the end of the 2006/07 season, Cassano had won La Liga, but he hadn’t really impressed in a white shirt, and the 2006 World Cup had not been a happy one either as he was overlooked by Marcello Lippi. The former Roma man began to cut a depressed figure and throughout Europe his qualities began to be widely doubted.

On 13th August 2007, Sampdoria decided to invest in the troubled star, and immediately Cassano had a chance for rehabilitation. Upon his arrival in Genoa hopes were not high, but Cassano settled down and began to forge a new life. Importantly, he liked the city and its people, and found the capital of  Liguria very similar to his beloved Bari. Cassano lived in Genoa with his mother (who had also followed him to Rome and Madrid) and began to produce wonderful performances. The Sampdoria fans soon loved him, and what’s more Cassano loved playing for Sampdoria. A team with less pressure, and one in which he could be the lone star, suited him down to the ground.

However, it didn’t take too long for his character to re-emerge. Cassano didn’t like the referees, he didn’t accept their authority, and on 2nd March 2008, in a match at home to Torino after scoring in the 2-2 draw, he argued with the man in black, was sent off, and banned for five games. Cassano tried to assault the referee, and as a “macho-man” shouted, “I’ll wait for you at the end of the match”. The striker considered himself untouchable, and commented to the press: “No-one can argue with me in Bari, everyone gives me respect.”

This incident did not send Cassano off the rails though, as many had suspected it would. He continued to perform well for Sampdoria, and at the end of the season had done enough to convince national team boss Roberto Donadoni to take him to Euro 2008. The tournament was a damp squib for Cassano, and an Italian team which performed way below expectations, but when he returned to Genoa he picked up his good league form. It seemed Cassano was finally settled in the city, and he soon became engaged to Carolina Marcialis, a 19-year-old professional water-polo player.

After declaring in a book he had published that he had slept with more than 600 women in his life – a fact which Genoa supporters teased him about in the local derby, producing a banner suggesting he had picked every one up on the city’s most famous street for prostitutes – Cassano stated he wished to marry Marcialis in June 2010, sensing a trip to the World Cup was a forlorn hope: Marcello Lippi had never rated the forward and never needed to call him to the Azzurri, despite several newspapers running campaigns for his recall. All indeed seemed to be going well in Genoa though, at least until just before the winter transfer window shut.

Just a few weeks earlier Luigi Del Neri, Sampdoria’s manager, had decided to drop Cassano from the first team. The decision was surprising and unexpected, but the side began winning again – they had been on a poor run which saw them last win in November – beating Udinese and Atalanta without their inconsistent star turn. With the end of the window approaching, Cassano said he had decided to leave Genoa and join Fiorentina, to enjoy Champions League and first team football. His departure lasted until Sunday morning – the window closing on the Monday – when the former Real Madrid man changed his mind and announced he was staying in Genoa. Cassano said this was despite the manager, and for the good of the president and his fiancée Carolina.

Soon the Sampdoria fans and president formed a united front and said that coach Del Neri would have to re-think his decision. Cassano has survived at Sampdoria, but the real question is, what will be the next twist in the ongoing saga that is Antonio Cassano?


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