“The World Cup? Nobody has called me yet, but I hope for it.” Fresh off his fantastic performance in Parma’s win over Milan, Antonio Cassano set his sights on this summer and his goal of going to Brazil. For his part, the 31-year-old is in the midst of a superb season for the Ducali and continues to build a case for his inclusion on a weekly basis. But should Cesare Prandelli include the enigmatic striker on his list of players for the Azzurri?
From a simple statistical perspective, Antonio’s numbers this term speak for themselves. He has been the central figure propelling Parma to a sixth place in the table and a current unbeaten streak of 16 matches. He leads the Gialloblu with 11 goals and his tally places him among the top 10 in Serie A, just four goals off leader Carlos Tevez. In fact, his goal total is only three shy of his best ever mark of 14, which he scored for Roma in the 2003-04 season.
It doesn’t just stop with his goal scoring exploits, though. The man they call FantAntonio is also Parma’s leader in assists with five to his name. But it’s another version of the ‘assist’ that makes the striker stand out. The Italian assist, defined as the last pass occurring before a player shoots, is all his. According to statistics provided by Lega Serie A, Cassano is the best assist-man in the League with 54. Miralem Pjanic is second with 51 followed by Andrea Pirlo and Luca Cigarini who are joint-third with 47.
Beyond the numbers, Cassano is that rare breed of player who can change a game at a moment’s notice, whether it be an intoxicating dribble, exceptional pass or deadly shot. His gifts are innate and his talent second-to-none. A spot on the roster is almost warranted alone by his unique skillset as he is not limited to one specific role on the pitch.
Nevertheless, the argument against Cassano usually follows one of two paths. The first relates to his age but more specifically, his fitness level. Part of the frustration with Cassano throughout his career has been his casual commitment to keeping himself in shape. Prandelli has made mention of the need for ‘athletes’ for the rigors of the World Cup in the Brazilian heat and humidity and that description alone would never accurately describe the Bari native. Yet, he has held up this season and it isn’t unthinkable to see him maintain himself for the extra month of play on the world’s biggest stage.
The second argument always speaks of his ‘troublesome’ character and his infamous ‘Cassanate’. It is often said that his temperamental nature will make him a locker room cancer. Or, he cannot be trusted to control himself. This is such a tired, lazy argument, though. The truth is Antonio Cassano is not the same troubled spirit of five years ago, one who was always a spark away from setting off a powder keg of emotion. He has matured and provided little-to-no drama since his Sampdoria days.
Furthermore, when given the opportunity to play for Italy, Cassano has practically behaved like a saint. And if behaviour is a benchmark, much more temperamental players such as Mario Balotelli and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo must be judged by the same standards. But their inclusion on that basis is hardly contested.
Cassano is worthy of a spot on Italy’s roster. He needn’t be a starter but his inclusion would give Prandelli another weapon in his arsenal. For Cassano, it would be his first and last chance to showcase his genius in the most prestigious tournament in the world. And the world deserves to see it.