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Posts Tagged ‘Antonio Cassano’

Associazione Sportiva Roma were founded in 1927 as the result of a merger between three existing Roman clubs: Roman F.C., Alba-Audace Roma and Fortitudo Pro Roma. Italo Foschi, a secretary for the National Fascist Party, who wanted Rome to have a larger club to challenge dominant northern sides like Genoa and Pro Vercelli, initiated the merger.

The club settled in the working class region of Testaccio, building an all-wooden stadium there (the Campo Testaccio) in 1929. Thrown straight into the top tier, Roma didn’t become a success side until Serie A’s second official season (1930-31). A team featuring Italian internationals like Fulvio Bernardini (who I covered a few weeks ago) and Attilio Ferraris finished second to Juventus, preceding a credible third-place finish in 1931-32.

A slump in league form saw most of Roma’s high-profile players depart, and they were forced into a rebuilding process in the mid-1930s. Enrique Guaita, an Argentine-born forward, was among those who joined, and his goals helped fire Roma back towards the top. In 1935-36, coached by the Scudetto-winning ex-Casale player Luigi Barbesino, Roma finished second to Bologna by just a single point.

Goal-getter: Amedeo Amadei.

Roma’s inconsistency resurfaced and the Giallorossi (“yellow-reds”) finished as low as 10th the following season. Their first title win in 1941-42 came as a huge surprise, as the capital city side had finished 11th the year before despite making the Coppa Italia final. 18 goals from star striker Amedeo Amadei helped Roma to a three-point advantage over runners-up Torino.

Again Roma struggled to establish dominance. They finished 9th a year after winning the title and continued to struggle after Serie A’s post-World War II resumption in 1946. They went into a slump, never finishing above 15th between 1946 and 1951. They were relegated after a wretched 1950-51 campaign saw them finished 19th, although the league was tight and they were just seven points behind ninth-place Udinese.

The Serie A exodus didn’t last long, however, and Roma won promotion at the first time of asking under future Azzurri coach Giuseppe Viani’s tutelage. 1951-52 remains Roma’s only season outside of the top flight to date.

The Giallorossi slowly re-established themselves as a top-half side, and achieved yet another second-place finish in 1954-55 with Englishman Jesse Carver at the helm. Originally Roma had finished third, but they were bumped to runners-up when second-place Udinese were relegated after a betting scandal.

Unable to establish themselves as one of Italy’s top sides, Roma’s up-and-down Serie A fortunes continued. They did achieve some success in cup competitions, however, and won the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (a precursor to the UEFA Cup/Europa League). They beat Birimingham City 4-2 in the final, and won their first Coppa Italia three years later with a win over Torino.

A second Coppa Italia followed in 1969 as Roma continued to fluctuate around Serie A’s midtable. The 1970s were just as successful on the cup front, but Roma never finished above third in Serie A. During this period they added the 1972 Anglo-Italian Cup and 1979-80 Coppa Italia to their trophy room, before finishing as Serie A’s runners-up in 1980-81.

Bruno Conti, an exceptionally quick and skilful winger, was among Roma’s star players at the time. His Roma career lasted from 1973 to 1990, and he even managed the club after Luigi Delneri’s departure in the 2004-05 season. Conti made a total of 372 Serie A appearances in his career and won 47 Italy caps, scoring five goals. Today he works as Roma’s Director of Football.

The Giallorossi had been within touching distance of the Scudetto on plenty of occasions, and the hunger for gold was returning. The Eternal City exploded into celebration at the end of the 1982-83 season when a dominant Roma side won Serie A with games to spare.

Roma were unable to repeat the feat in 1983-84, finishing second, but they did manage to win the 1984 Coppa Italia. They also competed in the 1984 European Cup (Champions League) final, taking a feared and respected Liverpool side to a penalty shootout that the English side went on to win.

Yet another Coppa Italia win came in 1985-86, but Roma’s league form was slumping again. By 1991 they’d added another Coppa Italia and put forth a losing effort in that year’s UEFA Cup final, but Roma were regularly finishing 8th and 9th in Serie A. To this day they’ve never been able to establish themselves as the number one side in Italy, often following-up Scudetto victories with season of mediocrity.

The 2000s marked a shift in Roma’s fortunes as the club splashed-out on big money signings like Gabriel Batistuta, Hidetoshi Nakata, Walter Samuel and Brazilian midfielder Emerson. 2000-01 was hugely successful, and Roma won their third Scudetto with a 3-1 last-day win over Parma.

Roman hero: Francesco Totti.

Captain and local hero Francesco Totti emerged as a true Roman icon around this time, and his performances were instrumental in the club’s success. I don’t even need to explain the phenomenon that Totti has become. He’s a unique player, one of the finest of his generation, and one that the Giallorossi will struggle to replace when he leaves or retires.

Roma continued to spend big. Aldair, Cafu, and Vincenzo Montella had already arrived at the club, and enfant terrible Antonio Cassano signed for €30 the following season. The Giallorossi finished second in 2001-02, missing out on a fourth Scudetto by a single point, but did capture that year’s Supercoppa.

Big financial troubles surfaced in 2002-03, an inevitable result of the previous couple of seasons’ big spending. Batistuta was loaned to Inter to cover his wages, and Cafu was released to AC Milan. Christian Chivu’s 2003 signing was delayed and only secured by the FIGC’s own money. Roma, however, slowly recovered. More shares were released onto the stock market, and approximately €80m was injected into the club in order to keep it afloat.

Roma have continued as calcio’s perennial nearly men ever since. They’ve won a further two Coppa Italia’s since 2003 and finished as Serie A runners-up an astonishing five times. This season they’ve undergoing something of a revolution under new American owner Thomas Di Benedetto and manager Luis Enrique. The transition to a slick, possession-based team hasn’t been easy, but things are finally starting to pick up for Roma. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

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I’ve built-up quite a collection of football shirts over the years. I don’t know how many I have, but it must be close to thirty. My first was a red & blue Aberdeen shirt adorned with Northsound Radio sponsorship that my parents bought for me when I was in my first year of primary school. I got my first Newcastle United (the team I support thanks to my father) kit shortly after, and I’ve had countless more since then.

I didn’t delve into foreign shirts until I got a Spain shirt with Raul on the back during a family holiday to Menorca. Since then I’ve had the jerseys of Spain, Barcelona, Sparta Prague, Austria, Real Madrid, Roma, Juventus, Germany and a few more that I’ve probably forgotten about. A lot, basically.

The ones I don’t really wear are kept at my parents’ house and the rest are crammed haphazardly into a chest in my bedroom with my football boots and goalie gloves. I only use them when I’m playing football, in the gym or vegetating on the couch. I never wear them in public (unless it’s matchday), so they don’t need to be taken care of: I wear them, wash them then throw them in the chest.

Except one. I got it earlier this year, but I’ve only worn it a handful of times. It’s the only football shirt that I care about enough to hang in my wardrobe with my “going out” shirts and work clothes. It’s immaculate, completely spotless and fits me better than any football shirt I’ve ever owned.

It’s AC Milan’s third shit from last season with Cassano, 99 on the back. I don’t wear it often because I play football on artificial surfaces peppered with tiny black pellets that stain light-coloured material (this one is white). This is a precious jersey and I don’t want to get it dirty. Heck, I don’t even want to get it sweaty.

I’m sure you understand where I’m coming from if you’re a football fan. A friend recently compared the process of men choosing & buying football boots to women going dress shopping. We spend hours going back and forth, considering our options, getting excited and debating with our friends. We cherish the product when we get it, and when an imperfection inevitably appears we feel like somebody’s died. Such is the power of a special piece of kit to a football fan.

The reason I take such good care of this Milan top isn’t because it’s a beautiful piece of attire (which it is), but because it’s a Cassano shirt. Antonio Cassano is my favourite player. Alan Shearer was (and still is) an idol to me growing-up, but I’ve always loved Fantantonito. I’ve followed him since his Roma days and supported him everywhere he’s gone. I love the guy’s skills, character and approach to the beautiful game, so it saddens me deeply to hear of his ongoing health problems.

Cassano fell ill on Sunday night while flying back from Rome with his Rossoneri teammates. Said to be “having great difficulty speaking and moving,” Cassano was taken to hospital. I was worried, but details were sketchy. Nobody really seemed to know what was wrong the Fantantonito, and Milan were being understandably coy.

Rumours that Cassano suffered an ischemic stroke (caused by an interruption in the brain’s blood supply) surfaced and don’t seem to be going away. Milan have promised a “clarifying statement” on Cassano’s situation, but with rumours of potential heart surgery now circulating it certainly doesn’t sound great.

I don’t know the truth. I’m writing this before Milan have released their statement so I’ve got my fingers crossed that all this talk of strokes and heart surgery is just hearsay. Either way, it’s very troubling. Knowing that somebody you look up to is experiencing health problems is a horrible feeling. It’s obviously nowhere near as dreadful as a loved one’s suffering, but it’s jarring nonetheless.

Fantantonito first caught my eye at Roma in the early-2000’s. Playing under Fabio Capello, Cassano’s interactions with Francesco Totti & co. were breathtaking to watch (check the evidence), and I knew straightaway that I was watching a special player. He was the type of player who could change a game in an instant and his ability to control the ball in tight situations was astounding.

Cassano left Roma for Real Madrid in 2006 following a contract dispute. Such was the extent of his falling out with the Giallorossi hierarchy that his services cost Real a measly €5m, which is amazing considering Roma signed him from Bari for about €30m.

It’d be an understatement to say that Antonio had a wretched time in Spain. His Real spell was peppered with the kind of petulance that’s dogged him through his career, and he only managed a poxy four goals at the Bernabeu. After two years of conflict with Fabio Capello and Ramon Calderon, Cassano famously said he’d “walk all the way back” to rejoin Roma, and wound-up joining Sampdoria in 2007.

Thus began the most productive spell of Fantantonito’s career. Away from the spotlight of Real Madrid and the unique pressure of Roma, Cassano shone at Sampdoria. His growth (both as a player and a professional) was exponential, and the break-up of his lethal partnership with top goal-getter Giampaolo Pazzini was a huge factor in the Blucerchiati’s relegation last season.

Statistically, Cassano had never been better. He scored 41 goals and provided 38 assists in 115 Sampdoria appearances, which highlights his growth as a goalscorer and development as a playmaker. Accusations of laziness and selfishness had always been thrown at Antonio (especially after his grim spell at Real), but he really turned a corner with the ‘Doria.

Pazzini and Cassano: the perfect partnership?

Cassano played like a man with something to prove, and the discipline he learned at Sampdoria still serves him well today. Antonio left Sampdoria to link-up with Milan last winter and played a key role in the Rossoneri’s title run-in. This season he’s been as good as ever, with 9 goals and 7 assists in 19 games for club and country.

I don’t think anyone can argue that Cassano isn’t one of the most talented players in the world. His dribbling, close control and passing are genuinely world-class, and he’s a deceptively intelligent footballer who, at 29, has finally learned the value of teamwork. I think he’s one of the most naturally gifted players in the world, but he’s only just started to learn how to use his incredible gifts to full effect.

The name Antonio Cassano has sadly become synonymous with screw-ups and strops, so much so that the Capello-coined term “Cassanata” has emerged to describe “behaviour incompatible with team spirit”. He fell-out with Capello and Totti at Roma, everyone at Real Madrid and Riccardo Garrone at Sampdoria. Cassano’s behavioural and disciplinary meant he never really had a chance with the Azzurri under Marcello Lippi, but he has since become a regular fixture for Cesare Prandelli’s Italy.

Fantantonito seems to have finally turned a huge behavioural corner recently, and that’s what makes the timing of his illness so tragic. In the past five years he’s stepped his game up while becoming a hugely important player for club and country. Antonio is making the most of his “last chance at a big club,” and it’s rotten luck that he’s been struck with this affliction just as he’s coming into his own at Milan.

As good as Cassano is, he’s destined to go down as one of the biggest “what ifs” in football, even if he does make a full recovery. He was given a huge chance at Real Madrid and blew it, and his time in Rome ended acrimoniously despite his contribution over the years. Antonio had the potential and the talent to be an all-time European great, but his failure to apply himself in his mid-twenties has likely scuppered any chances of seeing Fantantonito at peak potential.

I think this quote sums things up perfectly: “I was poor my whole life, but I never worked, mainly because I don’t know how to do anything.” I believe that his work ethic has improved greatly in the past few years but it was undeniably poor when he was younger, and that’s why we’ll never see him at his very best. It’s all very well giving your all when you’re nearly 30, but footballers’ development slows considerably as they get older.

Fantantonito claims to have never given 100%. If Cassano has turned out this good without really trying then think just how good he could’ve been if he’d exerted himself more during his early years.

That’s not supposed to be a criticism though. I’m an Antonio Cassano fan not just because of his outstanding ability but also his personality. I don’t condone some of the things he did when he was younger, but Cassano is a maverick. If he doesn’t want to do something, he’s not going to do it. He loves food, women and making money, and he makes no secret of this.

It’s easy to criticise Antonio Cassano, but there’s much more to him than just petulance. A lot of people still look at him with disdain, but Cassano isn’t content to be a “yes man”: Fantantonito does what he pleases and lives on his own terms. Isn’t that what we all want from life?

It’s why I’ve always admired Cassano, and why I will continue to support him for the rest of his career. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him, but if it is, I thank him for the memories. He’s provided a ton of magical moments and memorable quotes over the years, and I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t get the opportunity to add to them.

Here’s to a true nonconformist and one of the most talented strikers I’ve ever seen. Guarisci presto, Fantantonito. Auguri di pronta guarigione.

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A.C. Milan 2 – 2 Barcelona

Tuesday 13th September, 2011

Last night’s Champions League clash between the Rossoneri and Barcelona didn’t quite live up to Adriano Galliani’s “Derby of the World” billing, but it was a far from drab affair. Many had predicted another Barca whitewash before the game, but Massimiliano Allegri’s gameplan was spot-on and won a point for the seven-time tournament winners.

Injury-stricken Milan took to the pitch minus Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Philippe Mexes, Taye Taiwo, Mathieu Flamini and Gennaro Gattuso. Antonio Cassano and Pato, Milan’s only available forwards, started up-front, supported by trequartista Kevin-Prince Boateng and midfielders Mark van Bommel, Antonio Nocerino and Clarence Seedorf. Regular starters Ignazio Abate, Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta started in defence with Gianluca Zambrotta at left-back and Christian Abbiati between the posts.

It’s testament to Milan’s strength-in-depth these days that the Rossoneri were still able to field such a strong squad even with six players missing. They were able to leave players of Alberto Aquilani and Massimo Ambrosini’s calibre on the bench which really highlights the excellent job Milan have done of padding-out their squad this summer.

The Catalans goals came from a defensive lapse and a moment of brilliance. Milan were never outclassed despite the statistics (Barcelona had 75% possession and 22 shots to Milan’s 6). With the Rossoneri sitting deep, Barca were often reduced to long-range shots and could only convert 9% of their chances into goals. Allegri’s narrow formation stifled Barcelona’s ability to play between the lines and his decision to chase the game and increase pressing in the second-half helped drag Milan back into the game.

Barcelona dominated possession and created more chances, but this was always going to be the case. Allegri’s tactics simply trumped Guardiola’s. Yes Barcelona probably deserved to win given the balance of play, and yes they’d been forced to play with a makeshift Busquest/Mascherano centre-back pairing, but they couldn’t better Milan’s gameplan.

Both Rossoneri goals were well taken. Pato took advantage of some uncharacteristic Barcelona sloppiness, knocking the ball between Busquets and Mascherano in the middle of the park before burning the flat-footed Busquets for pace and finishing deftly. Thiago Silva’s headed equaliser was excellent: the Brazilian leapt like a salmon, meeting the ball at the peak of his jump and powering it past Victor Valdes.

Calcio is this blog’s primary focus, but not giving Barcelona their due credit would be unfair. That even teams of Milan’s stature are forced but to employ defensive gameplans against the Catalans says everything of their global supremacy. They dominated possession and would surely have faired better with Puyol and Pique in the side. Villa’s 30-yard free-kick was inch-perfect, and, truthfully, they probably should’ve scored more.

Tiki-taka afficionados will complain about Milan’s defensiveness, but Barcelona were foiled by a true Italian defensive masterclass. Alessandro Nesta was flawless: the 35-year old’s superior reading of the game defies his declining physical attributes, and last night showed that he can still compete with the world’s best players. A flawlessly executed challenge on Leo Messi that left the Argentine punching the ground says all you need to know about both players’ respective performances.

Thiago Silva looked assured beside Nesta and popped-up with the crucial equaliser, while Gianluca Zambrotta had an excellent game as a defensive left back. Zambrotta rarely ventured forward, instead focusing his attention of stopping the usually rampant Dani Alves down Barca’s right flank. Zambrotta kept his opponent on the inside, forcing Barcelona to play through Milan’s wall of defensive players and neutralising one of their most potent attacking threats.

Antonio Cassano was largely anonymous, but the ex-Sampdoria man’s inability to impose himself had little bearing on his strike partner’s performance. Pato had a good game, breaking through Barcelona’s midfield to trouble a wobbly Catalan defence on a couple of occasions. Always a good goalscorer and one of the most composed forwards in the world, Pato took his goal well and could have a breakthrough season in the Champions League if he can stay fit.

Attack-minded purists will be cynical of Milan’s performance but Allegri’s men did exactly what they needed to. The Rossoneri conceded possession but they were mostly successful in stopping Barca’s play between the lines and they did a good job of shackling Messi and Alves. Barcelona didn’t have enough in their armoury to break Milan down on the night, and that’s why they couldn’t win.

All-in-all, an encouraging performance from Milan after the disappointing of drawing with Lazio at the weekend. The Rossoneri have enough bodies to rotate for Sunday’s tie with Napoli, so hopefully tiredness shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Having watched them perform admirably as underdogs I now look forward to seeing how they setout against a team they’d hope to be beating.

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A.C. Milan

Associazione Calcio Milan, to give them their full name, are one of the world’s most successful clubs. Last year’s Scudetto win was Milan’s 18th in total, and only Real Madrid have won more Champions League titles than the Rossoneri’s seven. Add five Coppa Italias and a further 11 European and intercontinental titles to this and you have a truly enviable trophy room.

Silvio Berlusconi’s team have been at European football’s forefront for years. Few clubs can match their star-studded list of former players, and the teams built by Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello in the late-80s/mid-90s are two of the best I’ve ever seen. So many of my footballing heroes have graced the Rossoneri shirt over the years. Who can deny class of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo and George Weah? Going further back there’s Gianni Rivera, Nils Liedholm, Frank Rijkaard…

Milan’s current squad isn’t as star-studded as it once was, but the same can be said of any other Serie A team in 2011. Italy is still reeling from the aftermath of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, and a lack of financial clout means that Italian clubs can’t hope to match the inflated transfer fees and wages required to attract today’s top talents. Nonetheless, this Milan side is functional and effective. They are the best team in Italy, but probably lack the dynamism to compete for the Champions League.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri has done an excellent job. An unheralded appointment of whom little was expected, Allegri joined Milan in 2010 after two successful years with Cagliari. He ended Inter Milan’s run of six consecutive titles by winning last year’s Scudetto, a feat he’ll be expected to repeat this season, and has managed to form a cohesive unit with some of the game’s most volatile personalities.

One of Allegri’s most impressive attributes at Milan has been his ability to get the best from his players. One-time Tottenham Hotspur cast-off Kevin-Prince Boateng has excelled as an unorthodox trequartista, veteran Mark van Bommel is enjoying an Indian summer and defenders Ignazio Abate and Thiago Silva have improved leaps and bounds. Notorious rabble-rousers Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassano and Robinho have formed a unified strikeforce with Pato, and ‘keeper Christian Abbiati is better than ever.

Milan have had a strong mercato. Losing Andrea Pirlo is a blow on paper, but Allegri’s system demands energy and athleticism from its midfielders, which, lets be honest, doesn’t really fit the Metronomo’s playing style. Alberto Aquilani and Antonio Nocerino have been signed to cover Pirlo’s departure, and the latter should play a huge role in any Milanese success this season.

Elsewhere former Marseille man Taye Taiwo should solve Milan’s longstanding issues at left-back and young forward Stephan El Shaarawy provides a much-needed pace injection. Loanees Ibrahimovic, Boateng and goalkeeper Marco Amelia have also had their deals made permanent, completing a squad that is deeper and more versatile than last season’s.

Milan have a rich, deep history and I fully intend on researching it this week. I grew up watching the Rossoneri sides of the 1990’s and it’ll be a pleasure revisiting them. That said, my knowledge of pre-Sacchi Milan is sketchy to say the least so I may choose to delve into the earlier archives of Milan’s history. Either way, expect the results of my research to surface here later in the week.

Naturally I’ll also be covering Milan’s fixtures for the week. Tomorrow night they face Barcelona in their first Champions League game of the season, and on Sunday they take-on Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo. The Barcelona game is particularly interesting to me. Watching Milan fall to Tottenham last season was embarrassing, but a spirited performance against the best team in the world would go a long way to improving Italian football’s flagging European reputation.

Check back soon for more updates!

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