Antonio Cassano is an Italian former professional footballer who played as a forward. A talented and technically gifted player, he was usually deployed in a creative role, as a supporting forward throughout his career, although he was also capable of playing in more of a playmaking role, as an attacking midfielder, as well as on the wing, or as a striker. Cassano began his professional club career with hometown club Bari, where he made a reputation for himself as one of the most promising, yet troublesome young players in Italy; his talent and performances earned him a transfer to defending Serie A champions Roma in 2001, where he immediately won the Supercoppa Italiana, and was named Serie A Young Footballer of the Year in 2001 and 2003. In 2006, he moved to La Liga club Real Madrid, where he gained further notoriety for his poor behaviour, inconsistent performances, and poor work-rate. After an unsuccessful spell in the Spanish capital, he returned to Italy in 2007, and was sent on loan to Sampdoria, where he refound his form playing alongside Giampaolo Pazzini, and was subsequently signed by the club on a permanent basis. In 2011, he was acquired by Milan, where he won his first Serie A title and his second Supercoppa Italiana, and remained at the club until 2012, when he transferred to cross-city rivals Inter Milan for a season. He later spent two seasons at Parma, before terminating his contract in January 2015, due to the club’s financial difficulties; later that year, he returned to Sampdoria for the following season although his contract with the club was terminated in 2017. He subsequently signed with Verona that summer, but later announced his retirement from professional football in July 2017. At international level, Cassano has represented the Italy national football team on 39 occasions between 2003 and 2014, scoring 10 goals; he took part at three UEFA European Championships, and one FIFA World Cup, winning a runners-up medal at UEFA Euro 2012. Along with Mario Balotelli, he is Italy’s top-scorer in the UEFA European Championships, with three goals.
Bari vs Internazionale
Match Worn Shirt
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Cassano was born in Bari and his father left the family shortly thereafter. He was raised in poverty by his mother in the San Nicola district of the Bari Vecchia neighbourhood, and began playing football on the streets at an early age. Cassano was spotted by a Bari scout and brought up through the team’s youth system, and he made his Serie A debut for Bari against local rivals Lecce on 11 December 1999. During his time with Bari, he soon emerged as one of Serie A’s most promising young Italian players, drawing particular attention to himself after scoring a notable, individual, match-winning goal (his first ever Serie A goal) in a 2–1 home win over Italian giants Inter Milan, on 18 December 1999, at the age of 17: in the 88th minute, after controlling a 40-yard lobbed pass on the run with his backheel, he subsequently dribbled past veteran defenders Christian Panucci and Laurent Blanc, wrong-footing goalkeeper Fabrizio Ferron with a dummy, before finishing at the near post. Cassano’s technical skill, precocious talent and impressive performances earned him the nicknames “Fantantonio“, due to his flair and creativity, and “El Pibe de Bari” (“The Kid from Bari”), a reference to the legendary Diego Maradona’s nickname, “El Pibe de Oro“. During his two seasons with Bari, he scored a total of 6 goals in 48 Serie A matches, scoring 3 goals in 21 appearances during his first season, and 3 goals in 27 league matches during his second season with the club. The shirt was swapped with an Internazionale player who auctioned it for a Lega Calcio charity fund raising.
Nicknamed Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia (“the jewel of Old Bari”), and Fantantonio (“fantastic Antonio”), he was known for his short temper as much as his skill and ability on the pitch, which led to the coining of the neologism Cassanata by his former Roma and Real Madrid coach, Fabio Capello, in November 2002, due to their disputes over his actions. The word is regularly used by Italian journalists as a euphemism for any behavior incompatible with team spirit in football.
Above an hilarious video of Antonio Cassano making fun of Fabio Capello with team mates Ronaldo and Fabio Cannavaro before the game vs Espanyol de Barcelona.
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Cassano has made 39 appearances for the Italy national team, scoring ten goals. He made his senior international debut on 12 November 2003, aged 21, in a 3–1 friendly defeat against Poland in Warsaw, in which he also scored his first goal. Cassano was part of Italy’s UEFA Euro 2004 squad as a reserve, but after Francesco Totti was suspended following a spitting incident with Christian Poulsen in a group match against Denmark, Cassano was inserted into the starting lineup for a 1–1 draw with Sweden in which he scored. In Italy’s final group match, which ended in a 2–1 victory over Bulgaria, he was named man of the match, as he was involved in Simone Perrotta’s equaliser, and also netted the last-minute winner, but Italy were eliminated in the group stage on direct encounters after a three-way, five-point tie with Denmark and Sweden. After a poor season with Real Madrid, Cassano was left off coach Marcello Lippi’s final roster for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The Azzurri went on to lift the trophy in Berlin, beating France in a penalty shootout. In September 2006, Cassano was called up by new manager Roberto Donadoni for Euro 2008 qualifiers against Lithuania and France. However, he was not selected again until surprisingly being included in the Euro 2008 squad. He went scoreless in the tournament as Italy were eliminated in the quarter-finals by eventual champions Spain after a penalty shootout.Lippi returned as coach for the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign and did not select Cassano during the qualifying matches or the 2010 World Cup finals. After a two-year absence from the Azzurri, and following widespread criticism from the media towards Lippi about his exclusion from the World Cup squad, Cassano was readmitted into the squad on 6 August 2010 by new head coach Cesare Prandelli for his first game in charge of the team, a friendly match against the Ivory Coast played on 10 August at Upton Park, London. Almost a month later, in Italy’s Euro 2012 qualifier played in Estonia, Cassano scored the tying goal in a 1–2 away victory and also assisted Leonardo Bonucci’s second goal with a back-heel. Cassano scored a long-range goal from just outside the box in Italy’s 5–0 qualifying win over the Faroe Islands. He scored again against Estonia helping Italy secure a 3–0 win. Cassano played in all six of Italy’s matches and scored one goal against the Republic of Ireland during Euro 2012, where the Italians reached the final, losing 4–0 against Spain. In the semi-final against Germany, Cassano set up Mario Balotelli’s first goal of the match. Cassano wore the number 10 shirt for Italy throughout the tournament. In July 2012, he was fined by UEFA for making a homophobic comment at a press conference during Euro 2012. At the conference, when asked if he thought there were any homosexual players in the Italian team, he replied, “I hope there are none.” He later issued a statement saying he had been misinterpreted. Despite not featuring during the qualification campaign, Cassano was selected in Italy’s squad for the 2014 World Cup. On 20 June 2014, at the age of 31, Cassano made his World Cup debut as a substitute in a 1–0 loss to Costa Rica. He also appeared as a substitute in Italy’s 1–0 defeat to Uruguay, in their final group match on 24 June, which resulted in Italy’s elimination in the first round of the tournament for the second consecutive time. Cassano was criticised by the press for his poor performances and lack of fitness, as he failed to improve his team’s results and did not provide pace and creativity to the team’s attacking plays.
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A creative forward, or fantasista, in Italian, who usually functioned as an assist provider in his teams, Cassano was capable of playing anywhere along or behind the front-line, on either flank or through the centre of the pitch; in addition to his usual role as a second striker, he was able to act as an advanced playmaker, and was also deployed as a main striker, as a false-9, or even as a winger on occasion. Cassano has been described as a player who was “skillful and intelligent on the ball” who possessed “excellent vision and also impresses with his eye for goal”. His best technical qualities were his trapping skills, control, dribbling, crossing ability and passing accuracy; although naturally right-footed, he can also strike well with both feet. In addition to his skills, touch and technique, Cassano also possessed considerable upper-body strength and balance, which aided him in defending the ball with his back to goal, and allowed him to retain possession in tight spaces, while his technical ability and acceleration enabled him to beat defenders in one on one situations, or when dribbling at speed. He was also effective from set-pieces. Despite his flair, ability and talent, throughout his career, Cassano was also criticsed for his behaviour and lack of discipline, both on and off the pitch, which often led him to pick up unnecessary cards; he was also condemned for his poor work-rate and lack of fitness throughout different intervals of his career, which led him to gain weight, and lose some of his speed, stamina, and agility. Although he was initially regarded as one of the most promising young players of his generation, even being described as Roberto Baggio’s heir, due to his inconsitency and unpredictabliity, many in the sport, including his former manager Fabio Capello, have argued that he did not live up to the potential he demonstrated in his youth, and that his personality affected his career.
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During the 2008-2009 season, Cassano confirmed to have temperamentally improved, also becoming vice-captain for the team behind Angelo Palombo. After the January signing of Giampaolo Pazzini from Fiorentina, Cassano managed to form a fruitful striking partnership with the former Viola forward, that was praised by both media and Sampdoria supporters, and led club chairman Riccardo Garrone to compare it with striking duo of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini that led Sampdoria to win their only Scudetto to date, an opinion that was later shared also by both Vialli and Mancini. Cassano scored 12 goals in Serie A and helped Sampdoria to reach the Coppa Italia final that season, scoring a goal in the semi-final against the Serie A Champions, Inter. In the final, Sampdoria were defeated by Lazio in a penalty shoot-out, with Cassano missing the first penalty.
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After only one season at Inter, Cassano joined Parma on 4 July 2013 on a temporary deal, and was given the number 99 shirt that he had also worn at previous clubs. Cassano’s work-rate, fitness and discipline improved at Parma, as he managed to keep control of his weight through a stricter diet and training regime, losing 10 kg. On 30 November, he scored his 100th Serie A goal in a 1–1 home draw against Bologna. He refound his form with the club and had a successful 2013–14 season at Parma, as he helped the club to a sixth-place finish in the league, achieving a Europa League qualifying spot, also scoring 13 goals and managing 8 assists in 36 appearances in all competitions, with 12 goals and 7 assists coming in Serie A. In February 2014, he signed a pre-contract agreement with Parma for the 2014–15 season. In the first half of the 2014–15 season, Cassano managed 5 goals in 20 appearances as Parma were rooted to the bottom of the table and battling serious financial difficulties. On 26 January 2015, Parma allowed Cassano to terminate his contract with the club in advance, which made him a free agent; due to the club’s financial struggles, he had reportedly not been paid his wages since June 2014. Following the termination of his contract, he was initially linked with a return to Inter.
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In addition to his skill, Cassano is known for his temper, poor behaviour and lack of discipline; these have led to several controversial incidents both on and off the pitch throughout his career, which have thus been dubbed Cassanate by the press and his former manager Capello. During a Euro 2012 press conference, Cassano stated his preference for there to be no gay players on the squad and used a derogatory descriptor; he was subsequently fined by UEFA for making homophobic comments. On 1 February 2013, Cassano had a locker room brawl with his then coach at Inter, Andrea Stramaccioni. It occurred following Friday’s training session and had started off as a relatively normal discussion before the pair got into a heated slanging match, then degenerated into pushing and shoving before the other players intervened to pull them apart.