Having recently caused outrage in Italy due to his exclusion from the Azzurri by Marcello Lippi, the self-confessed closet fat boy and sex-crazed footballer, Antonio Cassano, is quite possibly the greatest footballer of the modern era. Blessed with an outrageous set of skills, his abilities are better suited to that of a demigod. But his famed insubordination and scandalous off pitch behaviour are what many consider to be his Achilles heel in football.
Il Talentino was born the very year Italy won the World Cup in 1982. Deserted by his father, his mother was alone in raising this hoodlum of a man on the “dirt poor” streets of Bari. Having been disregarded as a child and made to feel that he was never quite good enough – a probable symptom of a child raised without a father – Cassano needed admiration. Repeatedly failing at school and void of any genuine intellect, Cassano only knew how to play football. And what great football he played.
Scouted by Bari when playing in his neighbourhood, il Fantantonio made his first Serie A appearance at the tender age of 17. Making 48 appearances and scoring 6 of the most exciting goals, he piqued the interest of many a quality Serie A side. The lure of hard cash offered by a Fabio Capello coached Roma meant that Cassano was sold in 2001 for a shocking fee of €28 million and offered a contract that made him the highest paid teenager in football at the time. “Cassano is a real talent, but €28m for a player of his age is excessive. It’s too soon to understand exactly how much he is worth.” Luciano Moggi commented.
As excessive as the sum of money paid was, the Roman club had immediately recognised his scorching talent and it seems they were not alone. Share prices for Roma swelled as they were finally deemed to be making a genuine effort for the then third Scudetto that had long eluded them.
Whilst Cassano may have proved that he was a formidable talent, a good investment he wasn’t. His highly publicised brawlings with the never ending list of Roma Coaches coupled with the out-of-control finances at the club meant that their expensive talent had to be sold. What Roma didn’t understand was what Cassano truly needed in order to produce thrilling goals and that was his need for admiration. Il Talentino was essentially nothing more than a child who still yearned for parental nurturing – someone who would understand his failures and applaud his success. Capello, along with most A-list Coaches had results to produce and no time to foster a child.
In search of love and affection, Cassano bitterly parted ways with Roma and fled to Real Madrid, for a reduced fee of €5.5 million. In his published biography, Cassano hilariously recounted tales of his time spent in Madrid when a hotel bellboy spent much of his time escorting different women to Cassano’s room. Once done with the hoards of women, Cassano would go on to indulge himself with scores of pastries. With an insatiable appetite for food, Los Meringues allegedly began fining him for every pound he gained over his required playing weight.
Alone in a foreign country with mounting pressure and respect that was only earned with thrilling goals, Cassano found it hard to prove himself without the unconditional support of the President and Coach. He did not have the backing of his family nor a love to share his problems with. Instead, he wasted the days in hopes of forgetting the loneliness he harboured within.
His lack of discipline, probably due to loneliness, again ensured that Cassano’s potential would remain unfulfilled. Eventually, his ‘Cassanata’ attitude (a term coined by Capello to describe Cassano’s defiant behaviour) proved to be too much for Los Blancos. Having racked up 600 or so notches on the bedpost and carrying a more rounded belly, Cassano was loaned out to Sampdoria.
No–one really knew why Cassano refused to live up to his sky-high expectations at both clubs. Like a tragic hero, he almost withheld his ability as punishment to those who destined him to failure. Or maybe El Pibe de Bari just needed to be loved. With Roma already possessing a symbol in Francesco Totti and Real Madrid playing host to a number of stratospheric footballing stars, Cassano was not given the attention he craved to develop in either side. In Sampdoria, the club he claims to have saved his life, Cassano has found what had long escaped him – a place in the heart of both the fans and the Coach, unconditional support and a future wife.
When describing his new found happiness in Sampdoria, he explained: “There is a club that makes me feel important, right from the President that wants me to be happy.” Praising Giuseppe Marotta, he noted: “Moreover, I found Director Marotta the first person in the world of football to understand me and all his colleagues. As soon as I make a mistake, he sends me a message to let me know that they are close to me, that’s never happened to me.”
One cannot help but ponder whether Cassano discovered something other players have yet to – enlightenment. He famously mused: “The problem is that we live in a culture obsessed with success. We fool ourselves into thinking we have to do our best and make sacrifices to succeed. But why? Trophies come and go. Once you’ve retired, it will all be gone, they’ll just be numbers in an almanac.”
Il Talentino has managed to live the perfect Italian lifestyle, one built on the enjoyment of good food, gorgeous women and football. Ironic how ‘being Italian’ is the kryptonite to this superhero status and what may ultimately hinder him from being regarded amongst the great legends.
Gifted with a talent only ever possessed by the icons of the beautiful game, Antonio Cassano has come to be known as the notorious enigma of Italian football. Renowned for perfect passing, fast pace and the physical strength of a warrior, Cassano’s extensive abilities are too many to note down. Unfortunately, as characterised above in his quote, his lack of ambition in the game is the very reason the Fantantonio may never be known as the worldwide phenomenon he was born to be.
“Don’t think you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. This is egomania. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light. Without the discipline to practice them, you will tumble constantly backward into darkness.” Lao-tzu – philosopher of ancient China.