Antonio Cassano: The Return of AC Milan's Messi

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Antonio Cassano: The Return of AC Milan's Messi
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

This week Antonio Cassano is hoping to be granted clearance to return first-team action with AC Milan, after undergoing an operation at the end of October to repair a heart defect.

With his club having overturned Juventus' lead to sit at the summit of Serie A, six points clear of their rivals, Cassano will have his work cut out returning to a side that boasts an in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as January signing Maxi Lopez, and a rejuvenated Robinho.

The Brazilian Alexandre Pato would be an addition to that list but has, unfortunately, been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering his fourteenth injury in the past two seasons.

It would stand to reason that given Milan's position in the league, the Serie A giants haven't exactly missed the talents of the mercurial Italian forward, but, when fit, how much of an addition to the side is Cassano? If you look at his career, which spans four previous clubs (Bari, Roma, Real Madrid and Sampdoria), he has a regular pattern of fallout with senior officials and coaches, injury problems and periods where he has gone totally AWOL.

However, when he's happy, fit and motivated, there are few better forwards in Europe than Antonio Cassano. The real task is keeping him virtually on the point of meltdown; when he has a point to prove, he'll make it in some fashion.

He started off as a promising young teenager for local club Bari, where he rose through the ranks and made his debut against Lecce in 1999. His performances attracted the attention of champions AS Roma whom he joined for £27million in the summer of 2001. Despite showing flashes of brilliance during his time in Rome, he was constantly at war with coaches and was involved in several disciplinary incidents, which eventually led to an acrimonious departure to Real Madrid in 2006.

Best of Cassano at Sampdoria

The early promise he showed in glimpses at Roma fell by the wayside during his time with Real Madrid, and he only managed a paltry 29 appearances with four goals in a season-and-a-half. Weight problems dogged his performances and by the 06/07 season, he had joined Sampdoria on loan.

While with Blucerchiati Cassano rediscovered his form that had convinced Roma to pay such a sum for him and took Sampdoria into Europe. Such was his level of performance over the next three-and-a-half seasons, he joined Milan in 2010 where he went on to gain a Serie A winners' medal.

Over the years, Cassano has played in a variety of roles along the forward line; spending time out on the left-wing at Sampdoria, supporting the striker at Roma and drifting into space behind Ibrahimovic at Milan.

When on the ball, there are few better at beating his man than Cassano. Squat, yet agile, he possesses a close control of the ball only bettered by Lionel Messi. He can run with the ball at pace, often cutting in from the left to go for goal or create opportunities for his teammates. Throughout his career he has had to work on his final product, adding to his exceptional dribbling talents, goals and assists.

Milan has relied on the creative exploits of deep-lying midfielders like Antonio Nocerino to propel them, to the summit of Serie A, but the dynamic Cassano adds to the team is fluidity higher up the pitch, creating space in and around the final third.

If the hot-headed maestro could have tempered his behavioral problems and worked harder on his fitness the limits of his career could have been set far higher. Though, he is returning to fitness near the peak of the game—Milan have a realistic chance of the Serie A title and were unlucky to bow out in the Champions League semi-final to Barcelona—he's only a few months off of 30 and is not likely to have many more years at the top. A real shame considering the promise that his talent suggests.

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