What a couple of weeks it has been for Antonio Cassano. After experiencing the pain of an early exit from the Champions League, the Sampdoria star has turned things around with a string of brilliant performances for club and country have left the whole country wondering whether il Talentino is finally becoming the player he was supposed to become five years ago. With the hype surrounding Cassano reaching fever pitch, all the signs suggest that he is at last ready to step up to the plate and realise his enormous potential on the international stage.
Since the beginning of this season, the signs coming from those around Cassano have been encouraging. Coach Domenico Di Carlo hailed the newly found maturity of his star player while Cesare Prandelli also claimed to have met a calmer, more settled Cassano to the one he briefly coached at Roma in 2004. It seems that this maturity has not been lost on his Azzurri teammates, either. Before the recent qualifier against Estonia, Cristian Molinaro revealed: “Cassano is the leader of this national team because he is an extraordinary player and person.” Considering just months ago Cassano could not even get into the squad, let alone the starting eleven, the transition is incredible.
Fantantonio is not getting carried away with the praise, though. In his usual, blunt fashion, the forward commented: “If my Azzurri adventure has been disastrous up until now I only have myself to blame. I intend to make up for the lost time, however.” In response to Molinaro’s description of him as the leader of the team, Cassano again made clear his desire to recover lost time as well as claiming: “I am not taking the national team on my shoulders; Chiellini and De Rossi are leading the Azzurri.”
In shrugging off the comments of Molinaro, Cassano has made it clear that he is taking things a step at a time. Clearly, caution is of great importance when such a volatile player as Cassano is involved. Roberto Baggio acknowledged as much when he warned: “We should take it slow with heaping too much responsibility on him.” Expecting a player who claimed in his autobiography never to have given more than 50% to his football career to suddenly shoulder the burden of leading the Azzurri is a ridiculous risk to take.
However, on closer inspection it seems that il Talentino is growing into a player capable of being a leader as well as a vital cog for both Sampdoria and Italy. When he was questioned by the media about young Azzurri teammate Mario Balotelli, Cassano responded: “Leave Balotelli in peace, at 20 years old we all made errors in our lives,” he said. “We don’t want to throw away another Italian talent,” he added.
It is also clear that Cassano is a popular figure within the Italy dressing room. As well as praise from Molinaro, midfielder Daniele De Rossi has talked up his former Roma teammate, saying: “Cassano is important for us, he is the most talented player that we have.” Gianluigi Buffon also talked up Cassano, as did Giampaolo Pazzini. He said: “Cassano has brought joy, creativity and quality to the Azzurri.”
Along with the acceptance of the squad, it seems that a vital part of Cassano’s return to the international side is his willingness to take full responsibility for past mistakes. Speaking before Tuesday’s game against the Faroe Islands, Fantantonio said: “I used to think of shooting only, now I think of the team because I can’t win games by myself. I feel a stronger player because I have ten companions who help me.” That he sees so clearly where he went wrong in the past stands Cassano in excellent stead as he tries to avoid repeating his errors.
The rebirth of Cassano as an international football player can only be a positive thing for Sampdoria. As well as saying all the right things off the pitch, his displays of late have been nothing short of world class, providing three goals, countless assists and three man of the match performances in three games. Il Talentino looks very much a man in form and alongside his familiar strike partner Giampaolo Pazzini he will be keen to continue in a similar vein against Juventus at the weekend. Should the displays continue hand in hand with the mature attitude, there is no reason why Cassano cannot finally reach the heights predicted for him as a teen at Bari, albeit a few years later then expected.