Following yesterday’s Part I and ahead of tomorrow’s final instalment of our Antonio Cassano vs. Marcello Lippi debate, Football Italiano today brings you a chronological order of Fantantonio’s turbulent club and international career.
June – Giovanni Trapattoni’s Italy side eliminated from Euro 2004 after some poor, defensive performances. Antonio Cassano plays well however and scores against both Sweden and Bulgaria after being called into the side following Francesco Totti’s ban for spitting.
July – The Italian Football Federation decide not to renew Trapattoni’s contract and name Marcello Lippi as the new coach of the Azzurri.
September – Cassano is fined and suspended by Roma, after falling out with coach Rudi Voller. It is another in a long line of disciplinary problems exhibited by the former Bari player and causes club captain Francesco Totti to blast him publicly, saying: “I do not know what is going on in his head…he has made two mistakes in three days. The club has every right to be strict with him… I once hoped that we could lead Roma together, but now I can only depend on myself. He’s promised to turn over a new leaf in the past. But he has gone back on this and now enough is enough.”
October – Luigi Del Neri is named as the new Roma coach, taking over from the departing Voller. Cassano falls out with him almost immediately and Del Neri freezes him out of the squad for the duration of his time in charge. Recently il Talentino has spoken about his relationship with Del Neri in his autobiography revealing his feelings in a typically candid statement: “I never understood what the f*** he was talking about and he was too ambiguous.”
March – Fortunately for Fantantonio, Del Neri does not last long as Roma coach and leaves to be replaced by Bruno Conti. The Roma legend does not waste any time in recalling Cassano to the starting line-up alongside Totti as the preferred front pairing. For the first time since taking charge of the Azzurri, Marcello Lippi calls up il Talentino and plays him in the World Cup qualifier against Scotland. He also captains Roma for the first time whilst Totti is suspended.
April – Cassano plays for the second time under Lippi against Norway. However, he fails to make much of an impression in either appearance – something that will come back to haunt him…
August – With Luciano Spalletti named as the new Roma boss fresh from a great season with Udinese, the season looks promising. Unfortunately, Cassano is in conflict with the Roma hierarchy over a new contract with his deal due to expire at the end of the 2005/06 campaign. This affects his performances and creates unrest within the squad.
October – The Azzurri qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
January – Roma decide to cut their losses and sell Cassano to Real Madrid for a bargain price. Rumours are abound that Fantantonio left Rome without even saying goodbye to his teammates, and obviously this does nothing to help his profile throughout Italy. His time at Real begins well with a goal three minutes into his debut in the second half of a Spanish Cup game against Real Betis.
May – Lippi names his squad for the World Cup and Cassano is not even named amongst the reserves. Instead Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Filippo Inzaghi are selected as strikers. One possible reason for Cassano’s omission is his poor relationship with Totti – a key figure in Lippi’s plans – with the two still not having reconciled following their tumultuous relationship at Roma.
July – Italy win the World Cup after victory over France in Berlin. Three days later Lippi decides not to renew his contract in order to take some time out from coaching. Livorno coach Roberto Donadoni is – somewhat surprisingly – named as his replacement.
September – Cassano’s good performances do not go unnoticed by Donadoni, who names il Talentino in his Italy squad for the matches against Lithuania and France. The Lithuania game goes well for Cassano, who plays the full 90 minutes and assists Inzaghi’s equalizing goal. Against France, however, the Real Madrid man is virtually anonymous, which begins to worry both fans and the media that he may never be able to make an impact in the biggest international games.
October – Real Madrid suspend Cassano for disrespect shown towards coach Fabio Capello, after the former Juventus allenatore chose not to play him against Gimnastic de Tarragona. According to a Spanish newspaper, Cassano yelled: “I deserve to play and be a starter” during a dressing room argument.
November – Fantantonio returns to training with the Real Madrid squad but is visibly gaining weight due to his poor eating habits and party lifestyle. The club put Cassano on a diet and fine him for every gram he weighs over a specified ideal playing weight. During his period of suspension Cassano is interviewed on a Roman radio station claiming he would “walk all the way back” to Rome to rejoin la Magica.
January – Capello continues to omit Cassano from his team, and speculation begins to grow that Real Madrid are ready to sell him to any willing party.
July – Totti finally retires from international football after months of speculation. The move appears to open the door for Cassano – whom many people consider to be Er Pupone’s natural heir for la Nazionale – to cement his place as Italy’s new shining light if he is able to regain focus. July also sees Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon drop the biggest hint yet that Fantantonio will be sold at the end of the season, describing his behaviour as “unsustainable in the last couple of months.”
August – Confirmation is received that Real Madrid and Sampdoria have to come to an agreement to send Cassano on loan to the Marassi side for the 2007/08 season.
January – After settling in well with i Blucerchiati, el Pibe de Bari scores in three consecutive games, including a goal against Inter to halt the Italian champions’ winning streak. He appears to have matured and regained his focus on football and the inevitable talk of his return to the Azzurri begins to surface. Encouragingly, Marcello Lippi, who has been out of work since the previous July comments on the subject: “I can see he is definitely on his way back. He’s found the right atmosphere, which is helping him… He is enthusiastic, he’s lost weight and he’s starting to prove his worth again.”
March – The famous Cassanata appears once again after Cassano gets sent off against Torino and launches into an incredible rant against the referee, eventually throwing his shirt in disgust. It is a black mark against an otherwise excellent season, during which he manages 10 goals in 22 appearances for Sampdoria.
May – Roberto Donadoni announces his squad for the 2008 European Championships which surprisingly includes Cassano, considering that el Pibe de Bari has not made an appearance for the Azzurri since September 2006. He plays in a warm-up friendly against Belgium, coming on as a substitute.
June – In the calamitous 3-0 loss to the Netherlands, Cassano plays the final 15 minutes after replacing Mauro Camoranesi. By the time of his introduction Italy were two goals down and Cassano’s introduction was a move of desperation by Donadoni more than a tactical decision displaying faith in the Sampdoria man. In the next game against Romania, Cassano is introduced earlier and shows signs of his class despite a defensive Romanian side frustrating the Italians for large sections of the match. His performance nevertheless prompts the Italian media to call for him to start the final must-win group game against France. Donadoni obliges and pairs him up front with Luca Toni. Italy wins the game and Cassano keeps his place for the quarter-final clash with Spain, which the Italians eventually lose on penalties. Despite the poor performance from the Italian team as a whole, the tournament proves a personal success for Fantantonio, showing that he could start for the Azzurri and proving that he was mature enough to not throw a tantrum if he failed to make the starting line-up. Donadoni does not survive as coach and is sacked by the Italian Football Federation. Days later the return of Marcello Lippi is confirmed.
November – Under heavy questioning from the media with regards to his squad selection, Lippi unexpectedly ends a press conference after saying: “Cassano and Del Piero are among those footballers who have to wait and dream of the national team.”
March – The media once again gives Lippi a hard time about the omission of Cassano from his squad. The coach reacts angrily again, telling the journalists present: “Cassano? Where is he? You know I only want to talk about players that have been called up, and not about anyone else. I’m not obligated by anybody or anyone to give explanations about my choices or why I call up this player or don’t call up this player. I’m not saying anything about this topic, and it’s not because I’m arrogant.”
June – Lippi names his squad for the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, Cassano is not selected as the coach chooses to stick with players he knows. Italy has a shocking tournament, and look like a team in need of an urgent overhaul. This only serves to increase talk of il Talentino and the media begin to demand that Lippi brings in younger players to add fresh impetus to the team. Even the Coach himself admits: “This is the worst period I have seen since taking charge of the team… I have never said this is the team that will go to the World Cup. There will be adjustments.”
August – A new season, a new start?