It is nearly ten years since a 17-year-old from the deprived Bari Vecchia area took control of a long ball on the heel of his right foot, beating Laurent Blanc and Christian Panucci of Inter with ease to score a fantastic goal to announce himself to the footballing world. Antonio Cassano has spent the vast majority of this decade appearing to be on the brink of being Italy’s next great fantasista. Yet, despite the promise and the raw, natural ability, huge question marks hang over him. He has often flattered to deceive when expectation is upon him, and his notorious temperament and lax attitude to training have repeatedly found him in trouble. However, after another fantastic performance against Inter recently and a resurgence in form at Sampdoria, there is once again talk of him playing for one of the elite clubs, Juventus, as a possible replacement for Pavel Nedved.
Reports in italy suggest any move from Juventus for the boy from Bari hinges on Alessandro Del Piero. The club’s top talent will be aiming to reproduce his fine form for the 2009/10 campaign in preparation for his final World Cup the following summer. Cassano’s possible arrival could signal unwanted competition between the two stars and a dressing room rivalry that could split the team. Despite Cassano’s fine form since joining Sampdoria, his on-pitch tantrums have garnered as much attention as his football, and there remain concerns at his ability to play with other No. 10s. His relationship with Francesco Totti at Roma was fraught with conflict, and was ultimately one of the reasons for his departure to Real Madrid (the other being financial). One of the main criticisms of Cassano is that he needs to be indulged in order to play to his best. This has been shown to be particularly true under Walter Mazzari at Samp, and during his early years at Bari. With both these teams he was the undoubted star of the sides, being given the creative freedom to play to his strengths. However, despite his form for Roma, many believe he lacks the maturity to be compatible with other creative talent upfront.
In Cassano’s defence, he has shown moments of potential that indicate he can produce the goods when alongside fellow fantasiste, In particular, his performances in the 2003/04 season alongside Totti were fantastic, and it should not be forgotten that he almost single-handedly kept the Azzurri in the championships in Portugal. However, his time at Real Madrid was characterized by ill-discipline and weight gain. In addition, he fell out heavily with Fabio Capello, the only Coach who had previously shown any indication of controlling him, and became unpopular with both senior players and those within the boardroom.
Since moving to Sampdoria, Cassano has found a new lease of life. The club threatened last season to break into the Champions League places for a time, and his form earnt him a surprising call-up to the Euro 2008 squad, where it can be said that he performed as well as any of the rest of Italy’s attacking options. This season his newly-formed partnership with Giampaolo Pazzini has seen Samp pick up after a poor start to the season, and go into the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-finals with a three goal lead over Inter. Much of this has been down to the creative inspiration that Cassano offers the side, and his rediscovery of this form has led to reported interest from bigger clubs.
Yet, the question that arises is whether or not Juventus actually need Cassano as much as Cassano needs Juventus. Yes, Nedved is retiring, and Del Piero can’t carry on forever, but the Bianconeri already have a prodigiously gifted young playmaker coming through in the form of Sebastian Giovinco. His recent performances – particularly in the second leg against Chelsea – have pushed him to the head of the queue as the man to take over as the creative force for Juve. Whilst not as physically strong as Cassano, he is quicker and so far has shown none of the temperamental problems that have hung over the Samp frontman’s career. Many think it would be wiser to give him a chance rather than take a big risk on Cassano, both in terms of the effect it would have on finances and the collective team spirit.
This does not mean that a move for the former Bari man may not be on this summer. Speculation is also linking Inter with a move, and it must be said that they are in far greater need of a fantasista than Juve, as Dejan Stankovic has not convinced in the role this season. Cassano is a boyhood Inter fan, perhaps increasing his motivation to move there. However, how he would mesh with other temperamental personalities like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano remains to be seen. In addition, his relationship with Jose Mourinho would have the potential to be either one of the most productive or one of the most explosive in Italian football. Whatever happens, it seems certain that Cassano will have a prominent role to play in the summer transfer speculation, and we may just see him coming out in one of the striped shirts of the big teams come next season.