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Friday, December 1, 2006

Antonio Cassano, so much talent, so much temper

Antonio Cassano of Real Madrid may be the most talented Italian player of his generation. He has quickness, sublime touch, creativity, and passion. Well, perhaps too much passion. Despite all of his natural ability, Antonio lacks discipline and respect for his coach and teammates. The story is the same. Whether in Rome or Madrid. Cassano gets angry. Cassano sends his coach to hell. Cassano is sent to Siberia. Cassano returns and the process repeats.

His outbursts have even been given a name: Cassanate. At Roma, he could not get along with Rudi Voeller, Gigi Del Neri, Bruno Conti, and Luciano Spalletti. Prior to his transfer to Real Madrid, he was frozen out of the Roma squad for months. It was a waste, because this young man has talent, and one would think that he would learn to behave as a professional. We expected it of Freddy Adu, amidst the intense media scrutiny at age 14, so why not an Italian who was much older and a product of a traditional soccer culture?

He was reunited with Fabio Capello at Real Madrid, a man who was a father figure to Cassano at AS Roma. Cassano reported to Real Madrid in very poor condition, and did not endear himself to the Merengue fans by failing to learn Spanish quickly. Or at all. After the rigorous preseason alpine training camp, Cassano appeared to return to his former physical form. When I saw pictures of him taken during Real Madrid's North American tour, he seemed happy and content. He scored a goal in Seattle against DC United.

The change might have been Capello's influence, along with the arrival of Fabio Cannavaro. But a month ago, he insulted Capello in the dressing room, and initially would not apologize. "I have never apologized to anyone in my life... I should have never left Roma. I'll walk all the way back on foot." He was thrown into deep freeze again, and after some reflection, decided to include the word "sorry" to his vocabulary. And to save his feet for the football pitch, instead of marathon walks.

Most likely, he will leave Madrid in the January transfer window. Even though his agent states that Cassano will remain at the Estadio Bernabeu until his contract expires. According to Italian National Team manager, Gigi Riva, Cassano toes the line in the Azzurri camp. He had a very good showing at Euro 2004 in Portugal, but had only a handful of appearances during the Lippi era. His last appearance for the Azzurri was against France in September. At this point, his future in the National team setup is in jeopardy.

He is 24 years of age. But in a football world with hundreds vying to take his place, either Signor Cassano grows up, or he will grow out of professional soccer. That would be a shame, although perhaps a lesson to be learned. Attitude is everything. In Rome, Madrid, or Bari Vecchia, the childhood home of "il gioello di Bari." The jewel of Bari.

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