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Sex, food and violence: A distinctly Antonio Cassano story

Few players have divided opinion as much as the Italian maverick. With his retirement we take a look at his enigmatic career

Antonio Cassano was born with the soul of a footballer and the cravings of an addict.

Few players have divided opinion in recent years as much as the enigmatic, referee-hating forward.

Fabio Capello once said: “Anarchy is always around the corner with Cassano.”

And that was him being tactful.

The Italian boss managed Cassano at Roma and Real Madrid, falling out with him privately and publicly several times over while also witnessing first hand some of his very best form.

So, was Cassano a man-of-the-people who got lucky or was he a potential world-beater who found his natural talent unbearably boring?

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He was born into poverty in pre-gentrification Bari the day after Italy won the 1982 World Cup.

His father abandoned the family when Cassano was just a baby and his mother had to work two jobs to meet ends meet in the poorest neighbourhood of the city.

Street football kept Cassano away from a life of petty crime while simultaneously breeding a player keen on flirting with frustration.

But the boy could play.


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A perceptive and open-minded scout recruited him for Bari and he made his debut for his hometown club aged 17.

A week later he scored a superb individual goal against Inter Milan, dribbling past Champions League winner Christian Panucci and World Cup winner Laurent Blanc, before finishing with unbridled confidence, a trait that would later get him into trouble many times.

He was heralded as ‘Jewel of Old Bari’ by fans but keeping hold of talented, headline-grabbing forwards is an impossible task for a club of Bari’s standing.

In 2001 he became the most expensive teenage footballer in history with a €30million move to Roma.

The pressure of such a transfer could unhinge anyone but it wasn’t the weight of expectation that caused Cassano to splinter; it was something that had been inside him since birth.

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His relationship with Capello, Roma and the fans is complex enough for a whole series of features but all you need to know is the ending was as bitter a divorce as you can imagine.

While in the process of demanding a new contract, he fell out spectacularly with new manager Luciano Spalletti, trying to pull rank and claim he was at the top of the club’s hierarchy.

And so he left for pennies just weeks before his contract expired, meaning the club lost both a key player and a serious wedge of much-needed money.

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Misty-eyed fans will remember his partnership with Francesco Totti fondly.

Two mavericks cut from the same cloth, the pair combined beautifully at times.

In 2016 Totti named Cassano as his best ever team-mate.

So how did such a talent end up falling so far short of expectation?

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Unfortunately Cassano’s vices were more demanding than the average man’s, even the average celebrity’s.

Before he got engaged to water polo player Carolina Marcialis in 2008 (with which he has two sons, one named Lionel after Lionel Messi) he claimed to have slept with over 600 women.

And during his Lothario years he made a habit of eating three or four pastries after every time he had sex.

600 women times three or four pastries equals a professional athlete with a weight problem.

Real Madrid famously fined him for every gram over what they deemed to be ‘normal’ for a player representing one of the biggest clubs in the world.

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His health issues haven’t always been cause for derision however.

While at Milan he suffered a mini-stroke and had to have surgery to correct a heart defect which kept him out of action for half a year.

This scare could have interpreted as a warning about the dangers of a life of excess.

Unfortunately, Cassano was never one to take much notice of warnings.

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Capello and Cassano were reunited at the Bernabeu but with increased options to choose from the Italian bad boy ended up featuring in just 19 league games in one and a half seasons, scoring just two goals.

During this time it was common practice for Cassano to yell and swear at his manager and eventually he was made to train with David Beckham, when the Englishman was suffering his own segregation.

He was caught on camera impersonating Capello before a game, much to the amusement of Ronaldo and Fabio Cannavaro but not Madrid’s management.

With relationships strained, a fresh start was needed.

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Fittingly, when Cassano signed for Madrid he became the second Italian to play for Los Blancos after Christian Panucci, one of the defenders he skinned for his sensational goal against Inter as a 17-year-old.

But as he left to join Sampdoria, he was as far away from the promising ‘Jewel of Old Bari’ as it was possible to get.

The standards of Madrid and the Milan clubs were seen as barriers to his brilliance rather than vehicles to take him to an elite level.

At Inter he argued with Andrea Stramaccioni just as he had with Capello, only this time is climaxed with a physical fight in the changing room and he was sold after just one season despite being directly involved in 24 goals throughout the campaign.

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Redemption has been a recurring theme for Cassano; at Sampdoria and Parma particularly, although at the former he did throw his shirt at a referee after getting sent off.

He always suited life as a big fish in a smaller pond.

His first season at Parma saw him lose 10 kilograms as he made perhaps the first genuine effort of his career to improve his fitness and physique.

It later came out that Cassano lost the weight by simply reducing his focaccia binges to once a week.

You have to wonder how much bread he was eating prior to such a dramatic improvement.

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Results on the pitch followed and he was selected for Italy’s 2014 World Cup squad.

But his international career was just as turbulent as the rest of his life.

He was forced to watch Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph from his sofa as the likes of Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino and old friend Francesco Totti became immortals in the eyes of the Italian public.

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At Euro 2012 he said he ‘hoped’ the Italian squad contained no gay men.

The obligatory apology followed but the damage had been done.

Sadly by this stage controversy was Cassano’s shadow and while many rightfully criticised his homophobic comments, some simply rolled their eyes and dismissed it as a common occurrence in the warped world of Serie A’s most bewildering talent.

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It was fitting that his retirement was one last cause for controversy and confusion.

Eight days after signing for Hellas Verona, Cassano announced he would be retiring from football because of homesickness and other troubles.

Later that day he went back on his word, blaming tiredness and a ‘moment of weakness’, and vowed to play for Verona as planned.

Six days after that he went full circle and left the club with immediate effect.

Verona’s president simply stated: “His head isn’t right.”

That’s an unfortunate yet accurate summation of the man’s entire career.

Antonio Cassano officially retired before changing his mind just hours later

EPA
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The chords of Cassano’s haunting ballad have been played many time before.

He’s far from the first innately gifted player to surrender to the decadence of celebrity.

But each individual case of wasted talent is cause for mourning.

There has never been a dull moment in the life of Antonio Cassano but perhaps a bit of monotony and routine is what he needed.

Alas, we will always be left to wonder what could have been.

At least until the next gifted maverick comes swaggering into view on the horizon.

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