For a player who announced that he’d win the Golden Ball within 24 months of his 2001 arrival at Roma, Antonio Cassano’s record of 35 caps in a nine-year international career smacks of under-achievement. Given his Azzurri debut by Giovanni Trapattoni in a November 2003 friendly in Poland, his sublime chipped goal that night promised to be the first of many in Italy blue.
It hasn’t quite worked out though on the international scene for the talented kid from the narrow and twisty backstreets of Bari Vecchia. Only nine more strikes have followed amid the backdrop of a controversial club career which has taken him to Real Madrid, Sampdoria and now both sides of the San Siro divide. A talented footballer, yes, but not a professional one.
Born on the day after Italy won the 1982 World Cup, that competition has so far remained an unobtainable objective for the 30-year-old. And having been omitted from Cesare Prandelli’s squad for the start of their 2014 campaign, one has to wonder whether he’ll ever get a shot on the biggest stage that the global game has to offer.
Snubbed from the experimental August side that lost to England in Switzerland, Cassano’s name was again missing from the 25-man party which Prandelli confirmed on Sunday for the upcoming games against Bulgaria and Malta.
“Cassano has said that he is currently only at 50-60 per cent and, at this moment, I don’t have time to recover players because we need to win games to qualify,” Prandelli noted at Coverciano yesterday. “I can’t take any risks in these qualifying games with players who are not in perfect physical condition. He just has to re-find his form, then there will only be tactical decisions to make.”
That tactical decision, one could argue, may have already been taken. After all, Cassano’s supposed fitness issues didn’t stop him starting in three games for Inter since his split from Milan last month. Add in the fact that Prandelli is keen to rejuvenate his side and Cassano – who has appeared at three European Championships – may be struggling to add to his international cap tally. Especially as it seems that FantAntonio now seems to have some real competition in attack.
There is no doubt that Italy went into Euro 2012 with limited options in the offensive third. The loss of Giuseppe Rossi to injury, mixed in with the poor form of several other Italian attackers, meant that the tactician had little option but to wait for Cassano to recover from minor heart surgery. Despite clearly not being in great physical shape, he was constantly given game time in Poland and the Ukraine.
The scenario today, though, is somewhat different. The likes of Mattia Destro and Fabio Borini have been promoted from the Under-21 set-up, while Sebastian Giovinco and Lorenzo Insigne – second strikers like Cassano – could become firm fixtures in the Giro Azzurro if their development at Juventus and Napoli continue.
With Prandelli forced to look to the future, nobody could blame him if he was already planning for a World Cup bid in Brazil without Antonio Cassano.
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.