Euro 2004 turned out to be a harrowing chapter in the history of the Italian national football team. Under the veteran coach Giovanni Trapattoni, the team failed to progress through the group stages with the likes of Sweden and Denmark overpowering them.
This happened to be an even more painful exit for the Azzuri as they got knocked out of the tournament without losing a single game.
The team began their campaign on a disappointing note with a frustrating goalless draw against Denmark. To make matters worse, star forward Francesco Totti was sentenced not to participate in the remainder of the tournament on disciplinary grounds.
The next game to follow was against Sweden and the head coach Trapattoni was short of options to choose from. Moreover, he was caught under mounting pressure from media and fans alike.
The ex-Juventus boss diced a gamble by introducing a fairly unknown 22-year old lad against a confident looking Swedish outfit.
The youngest prodigy of the then Italian squad shared the club dressing room with Francesco Totti at AS Roma and was known to the world as Antonio Cassano.
As things unrolled during the next two matches, the Italians were reduced for a heart-breaking draw by an Ibrahimovic inspired Sweden and needed to wait till a moment of intrigue to find the winner in the stoppage time against lesser mortals Bulgaria.
The whole campaign can at best be described as a passive, compliant show by high-profile Italian players but in the otherwise lacklustre display there was a ray of hope in the name of Cassano.
The Roma boy, who was asked to fill into the big shoes of Totti not only played with the highest work ethic into the role of trequartista, he conjured up two important goals that could have almost sealed a place for the team into the next round, if not for an allegedly manipulative draw managed by Denmark and Sweden.
Among many others, Antonio Cassano and a certain German called Bastian Schweinsteiger emerged as the next big things to watch out for in the days to come.
Needless to say, the German kept on scaling one mountain after another falling never short of praises and has today secured a place for himself into the list of most coveted players world over whereas the Italian has done little to do justice to his preternatural talent, as cited by many.
Six years and six months from the 2004 event, as the world steps into a new decade, the ‘fantantonio’ has signed a contract with Italy’s most celebrated club AC Milan.
During the course of these six years he has flipped from one club to another and has apparently had as many fall-outs with his superiors.
The latest in the array of controversies is his infamous spat with Sampdoria owner Riccardo Garrone. The hot-blooded Italian is believed to have insulted Garrone with an offensive choice of words – a gesture that led Sampdoria to untimely end his contract with the club.
Milan’s scouts were spot on and nabbed an out of favour Cassano to cater to the team’s requirement at the best possible bargain – Milan are reportedly demanded to clear only the outstanding amount to Real Madrid which is due on Sampdoria’s part.
Tactically this deal appears to be the ideal replacement for a faded Ronaldinho who is all set to leave the club this winter.
Cassano, a player with a natural instinct to create opportunities will substantially add to Milan’s already potent attacking prowess, should he play at the best of his abilities.
He is also reckoned to be one of the most gifted players and at his best he does fit into the leagues of the Messis and the Ronaldos.
In fact, given his caliber, there is a clique of pundits who wonder what has stopped him dominate the football world by now?
Availing the services of such an anomalously talented player was definitely an offer too scrumptious to reject for any manager on the earth and Max Allegri was no exception.
By bagging this deal at the best prices, Adriano Galliani managed to add another feather to his already gleaming cap and Allegri found answers for the lack of creativity in the midfield.
In an ideal world, this makes up for a win-win situation and should set a team’s hopes to the paramount level to claim the long sought glory. However, there is more to it than what meets the eye in the first sight.
With all he has to offer, Cassano brings with him a host of undesirable elements in the dressing room which if proliferated, he can become a heavier liability to the team than Ronaldinho was off late.
One of the key factors for Ronaldinho’s fall in form at San Siro is believed to be his capricious lifestyle. But if ‘Capricious’ is the term describing the Brazilian’s antics, Cassano’s conduct is best explained as ‘Scatterbrained’.
Marcello Lippi has never remained a unanimously revered figure in Italy. His inclination towards the Juventus players is no secret and so is his unpopularity amongst the Inter and Fiorentina fans.
But not for nothing the World Cup winning coach has kept Cassano ostracized successively for two World Cup squads under his regime.
It is absurd to believe Lippi regarded his personal wrath over the player’s credentials. There is a string of disturbances that Cassano orchestrates frequently enough for an overall health of the team composition to detrude.
He was right on the path of becoming a well crafted player to take the world by storm during his days at Roma when he fell into a controversial altercation with coach Fabio Capello and club’s most celebrated icon Francesco Totti.
Cassano was not offered any playing time then on by Capello and the trait was carried forward by others until Roma’s fourth manager in a year Bruno Conti sympathised with the sidelined forward.
He however did not choose to learn from his mistakes and exhibited a similar if not higher unprofessionalism at Real Madrid where he was once again set to face Fabio Capello.
“I would walk my way back to Rome” was his recorded statement portraying his willingness to reunite with AS Roma but that was not happening for the disrespect he had conducted with Totti.
The latest of his behavioural misconduct is only a tip of the iceberg. The more important thing to note down is Sampdoria are actually short of talent and have still shown will to get rid of a wayward personality from the dressing room.
‘Il Gioiello’ – as he is fondly known in his hometown Bari – has done enough for Fabio Capello to incept a neologism called ‘Cassanata’ which later started being used often by the Italian media to euphemise an insubordinate behaviour by any football player.
Taking all this into account, it puzzles one why would somebody of Silvio Berlusconi’s ego like to allow Antonio Cassano to don the famous Red & Black jersey.
In all likelihood, one may assume Cassano once again living up to his reputation bickering with any of Allegri, Galliani or the big man Berlusconi himself.
To add to his dissolute character, Cassano is an arbitrary customer as far as his fitness and training are concerned. Presently, an over-consumption of unprescribed diet and alcohol is drawing him much near to obesity and he is hardly ready to play professional football week in, week out.
Milan have been riding on a rich vein of form since the beginning of the current season and have potentially added to the depth of their squad by acquiring a colossal talent in the form of Cassano.
But there is definitely a reason his exceptional skills have never been translated on the pitch.
Discipline, Dedication, Determination and Persistence are the basic characteristics of a champion and needless to say, Cassano has so far failed to incorporate any of them into his attitude.
However, a chance to play alongside the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic may provide him the required motivation to revive all that is lost during these years.
At 28, he still has much football left ahead of him and the earlier he values the importance of a strong conduct in sports, the better could he shape the remainder of his career.
The new national team coach Cesare Prandelli has so far reckoned the Italian’s talent above anything else and he has enjoyed a considerable playing time under Prandelli. With decent fitness measures, Milan boss Max Allegri too is expected to field Cassano in his first choice team.
What remains to be seen is how soon Cassano starts to make news solely for his on field heroics and shelve all his off field practices that have so far kept him away from the accolades he should have earned years back.
To summarise things, taking talent solely into the equation, Cassano is assuredly the only one who could fill into Ronaldinho’s boots but given his demeanour, he is more likely to replace Ronaldinho for the wrong reasons.