x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cassano's run raises Italy hopes

The Italian striker Antonio Cassano has had a new lease of life since switching from Real Madrid to Sampdoria.

The career of Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano seems to be on an upswing.
The career of Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano seems to be on an upswing.

Marcello Lippi, the head coach of the reigning world champions, has left the door ajar for him. Supporters of Sampdoria are beginning to breathe easy and enjoy what looks one of the better coups of last year's transfer market. Over in Spain, Real Madrid might secretly wish they still had him on their staff.

Antonio Cassano is on his way to being thoroughly redeemed, and possibly to a place back in Italy's front line. Cassano scored two goals on Sunday for Sampdoria against Catania, a win that steered the Genoa club well clear of the relegation places and brought to an end a raucous week in the public eye for Italian football's most notorious rogue. He had released his autobiography three days earlier, telling the tales of an eventful life.

A child of a disadvantaged, fatherless upbringing in Bari, where he spent his early teens dodging trouble and frequently running into it, Cassano was a prodigy with a good deal of baggage by the time he turned 20 and had attracted a massive transfer fee from Roma. There, he had run-ins with the disciplined coach Fabio Capello, now the manager of England, often turned up late, ruled himself out of matches in hot-tempered tantrums, and by the account of his memoirs, could barely spend 10 minutes in Capello's company without swearing at him. As for his private life, Cassano took his excesses on the pitch into his bedroom and his dining-room, he has now revealed.

He claims in his book to have slept with more than 600 women since he became a superstar, and admitted he was partial to more food than a professional athlete probably should be. Once he had fallen out with Roma so badly that his departure became inevitable, Cassano went to Real Madrid and put on weight. When Capello turned up there as head coach in 2006, the striker felt he might be guided back to the straight and narrow by a manager who, for all their tiffs, understood his waywardness. It didn't happen. Cassano became marginalised, "a malign cancer" as he tells it, at the Spanish club and when Sampdoria took a punt on him last year, they were in a short queue of interested parties. He was one step from the game's scrapheap.

But Serie A can be a redeeming place. Just as Adrian Mutu, sacked by Chelsea for testing positive for cocaine, has returned to the top of his game with Fiorentina, Cassano, at 26, looks like the phenomenon he was supposed to be. Against Catania he scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season, reminding Lippi that a tamed Cassano is an exciting option for the Azzurri. Sampdoria's win, along with a reviving Roma's 3-0 triumph at Lecce, were the weekend's biggest margins. The top of the table has turned less tight, too. Inter, who beat Juventus 1-0 on Saturday, watched with satisfaction as Milan merely drew 2-2 at Torino to leave the gap at the summit at three points.