Friday 23 March 2018

Mancini on alert as serial rebel Cassano takes his circus on the road

The footballer once described as 'the most gifted Italian of his generation' by Silvio Berlusconi, who brought him to a successful AC Milan, is a tempting tease.
The footballer once described as 'the most gifted Italian of his generation' by Silvio Berlusconi, who brought him to a successful AC Milan, is a tempting tease.

Ian Hawkey

Today is Maverick Monday. It is the last day of trading in the transfer market for leading European leagues, and the most fertile time for the serial rebels, players who chuck a pebble at the panes of the winter window, fracture relations with one employer and scramble through to another.

The roll-call of mid-season movers is a register of the serially restless. It usually starts with A for Anelka. C is regularly for Cassano.

Antonio Cassano is on the move again. For the last seven days his name has animated conversations between executives in Italy.

The footballer once described as "the most gifted Italian of his generation" by Silvio Berlusconi, who brought him to a successful AC Milan, is a tempting tease.

Cassano is only 32 and fee-free since his contract with Parma was cancelled last week. He is also hireable even beyond tonight's official deadline, being officially unemployed.

But there is a risk. Cassano arrives anywhere with alarm bells attached.

His entourage have been lobbying for a move to Internazionale, where he has been before, and where, unlike at some of his previous workplaces, he has kept friends in high places.

Inter have a relatively new head coach, Roberto Mancini, whom Cassano admires and likes.

Mancini, former patron of Mario Balotelli, and ex-combatant of Carlos Tevez, has plenty of experience with mavericks.

So far, he has maintained a public cool on the possibility of signing Cassano, although yesterday's embarrassing 3-1 defeat at Sassuolo, which pushed Inter into the bottom half of the Serie A table, means urgent decisions and some policy revisions over the next 24 hours.

During Mancini's first, scudetto-heavy spell at Inter, Cassano used to fascinate him, though he was never quite attainable.

Mancini had watched at close quarters the prodigy's ascent with Roma, who invested almost €35m to capture him, when he was just 18, from his native Bari.

At Roma, Fabio Capello invented a new word for the uniqueness of some of the things Cassano would regularly do.

A cassanate, Capello's term, is not a clever dummy, a nifty twist with back to goal. Cassano can do those, but it was another aspect of his make-up Capello felt needed a name: a cassanate is a temper tantrum, a walkout, any symptom of an incorrigible anti-authoritarian streak.

A cassanate could be a split-second act. Or it could last: Cassano tells how one row with Capello finished with them bellowing 'F*** off!" at one another 20 times each.

Cassano has given another term to Italy's football jargon. His nickname, 'Fant Antonio', has stuck, evoking the fantasy Cassano is capable of with the ball, working in tight pockets of space.

Illustrious forwards have thrived playing alongside him, from Francesco Totti at Roma, Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Milan, to Balotelli with Italy.

At Euro 2012, the national team pitched Fant Antonio and Super Mario, two apparently problematic individuals together, and produced the Azzurri's best showing at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup.

His mischief can be appealing in the dressing-room. He used to make David Beckham laugh when they were colleagues at Real Madrid, though, as Cassano put it, he had become such a rogue in the eyes of Madrid's hierarchy that "when we were sitting in the team bus, I pretended I hardly knew Beckham, because it might make his life harder if they thought we were mates".

Madrid was the site of classic cassanate. Cassano, a sharp mimic, was caught on camera doing his impersonation of Capello, to the amusement of his team-mates.

Capello, then the Madrid head coach, watched the whole spectacle on the evening news.

Madrid was a January move that went wrong. Cassano had fallen out with Roma, and went to Spain on the cheap, aged 24, seeking a career relaunch.

The main thing that soared was his weight, so much so the club placed restrictions on his hotel room service orders.

He barely had a sustained run in the team for his 18 months there, and spent a great deal of time having his body tattooed, eating, and, in the improbable account of his 2008 autobiography, accumulating a significant number of the '600-700' sexual partners he claims to have known by his late 20s. But what happened next is why a market still exists for Cassano.

After Madrid, he joined Sampdoria, where Fant Antonio flew again. He scored 40 goals, and made another 38, in 115 games.

The adventure there ended in another row, this time with the club president. So Milan swooped, and Cassano joined and aided their run to a Serie A title.

A few months after that triumph, he suffered a spasm on a flight returning from an away game, and his career appeared over, on medical grounds. Yet the following summer he was spearheading Italy towards a European Championship final. The squanderer had turned survivor.

He became a father, settled down in his personal life, but he still kept moving. From Milan to Inter; from Inter to Parma, who last week released him after a dispute over alleged non-payment of his salary. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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