Hello. My name is Drewseph, and I am an Antonio Cassano fan.
I’ve been a fan of his ever since I first saw him playing for Roma, and I’d heard the legends of his goal against Inter for Bari long before there was a YouTube to look it up on. I watched him with a degree of worry when he played (or, more frequently, didn’t play) for Madrid. I really enjoyed watching him during his rebirth at Sampdoria. I didn’t hold it against him when he played for Milan. I was ludicrously excited when he signed for Inter, and loved watching him at least for the first half of the season here. I still resent Marcello Lippi for not taking him to South Africa. Even though I was disappointed by his embarrassing, retrograde statements on homosexuality during Euro 2012, I still sympathized with him – he’s a poor boy from Bari, and not really equipped to be discussing delicate social issues in front of a bourgeois press ready to pounce on any misstep. I own an Antonio Cassano jersey, and was just wearing it last weekend while hiking with my dogs.
As for his spat with Parma, I don’t really blame him. The club is a flaming dumpster fire at the moment, and for someone in the twilight of his career, he doesn’t really have the time to waste a whole season – apparently unpaid – hoping that the clowns in charge can get their affairs in order. He’s a free agent now, and there have been increasing reports he might be coming back to Inter. I wouldn’t exactly be upset if he did (see above paragraph), but it’s hard not to think it would be a mistake.
The world of football used to have room for all different types of personalities: The impeccable professionals like Zanetti, the ill-tempered brawlers, the flashy hotshots, the dogged worker bees. Once upon a time, especially in Italy, there was also room for the Cassano type: The jewel in the rough, the troubled artist who might frustrate you for the whole match with his seeming disinterest and sloth, only to suddenly produce a moment of transcendent genius far beyond the imagination of more "reliable" players. I’m not sure there’s still much room for his type in the hyper-physical, pace-obsessed modern game, and that’s truly a shame.
But it’s the modern game we’re playing today, and if anything, Inter is lagging behind it.
If you ask me to name the two most technically gifted players Italy has produced in the last decade and a half, I wouldn’t have to think about it for too long: Antonio Cassano and Francesco Totti. They’re a lot alike, in ways both positive and negative: Crude hotheads who’ve had more than their share of regrettable on-pitch incidents, neither are exactly what you would call "book-smart." Totti has an entire published volume of jokes dedicated to his dumbness; Cassano gave the Italian language an entirely new word, "cassanata." Both of them are old-school through and through.
But look at what Totti has meant to his club, and to his country, and then look at Cassano. There’s really no comparison. Somehow, despite being burdened with the same temperamental shortcomings, Totti has by and large managed to live up to his potential in ways that Cassano never could. Totti is still a throwback sort of player, but he was smart enough to adapt in ways that allowed him to thrive. Cassano, on the other hand, eternally seems like a relic. He would’ve fit in perfectly next to Chinaglia at Lazio in the 1970s. He would’ve excelled on the 1982 World Cup team. But he’s always ended up becoming the odd man out in his career, whether it's Roma in 2006 or Inter in 2013.
Inter has been slow to adjust to the changes of the modern game, but we’re getting there. Xherdan Shaqiri is a modern young player par excellence: all speed, tricks and power. Mateo Kovacic is a very modern No. 10, much more Kaka than Rivera. Juan Jesus is a modern defender, physical, mobile and positionally versatile. Even Mauro Icardi, though he often acts like an old-school No. 9, has a very modern combination of academy technique and bodybuilder brute force.
Of course, there’s a part of me – the romantic side, I guess – that would love to see Fantantonio back in black (and blue). Surely he would score goals and rack up assists, because that’s what he does. But Cassano is not the type of player you can just plug into an empty roster spot. Both through his style of play and the force of his personality, he demands a team adjust to suit his strengths, and those adjustments would only take us backwards. Even without this, Roberto Mancini has a nearly impossible task: Retrofit this team to meet the future, while at the same time getting the immediate results that we need to help ensure that future. It’s an open question whether he can do this at all, and he doesn’t have the luxury of trying to make room for such an erratic aging player at the same time.
After cancelling his contract with Parma, Cassano mentioned that he hadn’t ruled out the idea of simply retiring. To see such a special player end his career in these farcical circumstances would be tragic, but farce and tragedy have been two dominant themes of his career as it is. Inter knows plenty about both of these too, and I’m not sure we need any more.