Long considered the most naturally gifted Italian forward since Roberto Baggio, Mark Siglioccolo asks if Antonio Cassano can lead Italy at the World Cup.
Bari born Antonio Cassano has had one of the most nomadic and trouble hit careers of any player in recent memory. His temperament has seen him switch clubs far too frequently whilst clashing with almost every Coach he has played for. Fabio Capello twice attempted to tame the fiery front man, first at Roma and then Real Madrid, before Cassano played the petulant child card and moved to pastures new.
Now at Parma, and after countless second chances, the 31-year-old finally appears to be proving his doubters wrong. Whilst other forwards tend to be passed their best into their fourth decade, Fantantonio is now arguably in the form of his life.
The Gialloblu have been one of the success stories of the season in no small part thanks to the exploits of Cassano. This is the most prolific he has been in front of goal in five seasons and should Parma finish fifth and achieve Europa League qualification this term, Cassano's 11 League strikes and five assists thus far will have something to do with it. Let us not forget, he suffered a minor stroke just under three years ago.
Despite his obvious talent, failure to settle at one club for a considerable length of time has seriously stunted his international career. For a player of his quality, just 35 appearances since his debut 11 years ago is akin to buying a Ferrari and only opening up the garage once in a while to flaunt it to your friends. World Cup wining Coach Marcello Lippi was clearly not a fan, and having missed out on his chance of glory in 2006, it was current Parma boss Roberto Donadoni who brought Cassano back into the fold after two years in the Nazionale wilderness.
Cesare Prandelli brought him back following another two year exile to the highly successful Euro 2012 campaign, in which the forward scored on Italy's path to the final. With Andrea Pirlo's prowess so highly publicised, Prandelli needs a plan B to unlock their opponents defences, and Cassano may just be it.
There are parallels between the career paths of Cassano and Roberto Baggio. Talented, one-off and nomadic characters, often thought of for what could have been more than what was at club level. Yet Baggio had a shot at redemption on the biggest stage of them all, and took it. This is Cassano's chance, and the boy who never grew up finally appears to have reached an emotional maturity to be able to lead the line in Brazil.
With Giuseppe Rossi's fitness in doubt and Francesco Totti unlikely to be considered, Cassano's form should not be ignored. He may be in direct competition with Lorenzo Insigne, but experience should give Cassano an edge. It is time that the boy became a man.
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