The No.10 shirt has always held special prestige in Italian football. Recently enough to remember, players of the ilk of Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti have adorned it. But since Totti’s retirement in 2006 nobody has been able to cement their name above the number. Andrea Pirlo has worn it, as has Daniele De Rossi, but it’s been a while since a true trequartista has illuminated the Azzurri shirt.
Last Tuesday, Antonio Cassano’s return to the international fold was intensified by the famous No.10 which he opted to wear. Cesare Prandelli made a point of saying that he would allow the players to select their own shirt numbers, and nobody was going to argue with Cassano when he grabbed his chance.
The controversial attacker’s appearance was only rivalled by that in the pre-match headlines by Mario Balotelli – testament to the significance of FantAntonio playing for his country for the first time in two years. Prandelli has opened the door to some of those who weren’t even considered under Marcello Lippi, and Cassano is the biggest example of this.
The Italian crowd at West Ham United’s Upton Park against the Ivory Coast made no secret of specifically who they were here to see. Cassano didn’t even have to touch the ball for cheers to erupt from the stands in his honour. He is the type of fiery yet wizardry character who incites extreme responses from supporters and there is no question that Azzurri fans will back his inclusion until there is reason to leave him out.
It is always difficult to truly judge a player’s performance in a friendly especially as Cassano and his team-mates are still a few weeks away from the start of the Serie A season. Fit or not, he had a point to prove to Prandelli and probably to his former coach Lippi.
Playing just behind Amauri in much the same style as he does for Sampdoria with Giampaolo Pazzini, Cassano looked like Italy’s main creative spark. He displayed some fantastic touches and pieces of control but couldn’t find a final pass for the majority of the game. Italy had a new team out, in a new formation, and nobody excelled and in truth there is a lot of room for Cassano to improve. With Simone Pepe and Mario Balotelli on the wings, Cassano is the final piece to the puzzle for a new-look exciting attack that was desperately lacking at the World Cup.
His personality let alone with his talent should spur on his team-mates when qualification for the European Championships begins next month. Italian teams have always had a No.10 with the ability and the temperament that Cassano possesses and when Prandelli’s new team make their competitive debut, it will be the Sampdoria hitman who will be expected to take the Azzurri by the scruff of the neck.