After all the champagne showers and nocturnal escapades after New Year's Eve, it's time to once again celebrate AS Roma's 90th birthday in 2017. And in what better fashion than an ode to one of the most colorful and iconic players that ever wore the yellow and red and stunned the Olimpico: Antonio Cassano.
Forget Aladdin, Hercules or Tarzan, Peter Pan was the real deal and only true Disney Prince back in 2000-2001. A young Cassano impressed at Bari and in the Summer of 2001, before his 20th birthday he was snapped up by AS Roma, the then reigning Serie A champions (sounds good, right? Gosh, those were the days). Sensi and co bought Antonio for a whopping 30m, not a small fee for a teenager, but they knew exactly what they would be getting for that amount: A shining diamond, a player to guide them to at least five more Scudetti. Alas, so the Sensi's thought. It all turned out differently.
Don't let be me misunderstood, Cassano's transfer was a hit and one of this club's finest moments. His chemistry with a certain guy named Totti was pure gold, but also other players like Tommasi, Montella, Mancini and De Rossi enjoyed the magic of Fantantonio. The fans were mad about him. If you're not familiar with him, just Youtube some videos. Okay, I know it makes Gerson look like Iniesta but in Cassano's case, his genius is clearly not fake. Yes, he was that good.
Why exactly? Well, Antonio wasn't exactly a forward nor no10. He was something in betwee. He was a creative forward, a playmaker in the middle of the front line. A true weapon, especially if you have wingers or midfielders who love to infiltrate or push up the field. Technically brilliant and blessed with vision, good at shooting,... I almost run out of compliments.
With his skill set Cassano helped Roma, and Roma helped Cassano get into the NT of Italy. Unfortunately he didn't make the team for the World Cup in 2006, but he did redeem himself during Euro 2012, where he guided Italy to the final. Ten goals in 39 games for the Azzurri in total. He could have easily aimed for 70-80 appearances with his talent, yet his temper and hot head wasn't always appreciated by the NT coaches of Italy.
So yeah, the crucial word is out. 'Temper'. Boy, did he had a lot of it. In 2006 he went to Real because he basically had a row with everyone at Trigoria. After two seasons he returned to Italy and showed glimpses of his old former self at Sampdoria. One season at both Milan clubs, then to the bankrupt Parma and ultimately back at Sampdoria but in exile because, yup you guessed it, he has a row with President Ferrero. Some even fear that his football career is done and dusted.
Ferrero once called Cassano 'not an intelligent being'. Which seems a bit harsh for Antonio, but in a way he is right. Cassano always listened to his heart, not his head. His brains are a labyrinth in which you'll lose your way and turn insane. He'll always remain that young unrestrained boy from Bari, nothing that you can do about that and no trainer in the world who could change him. Rightfully so, because this is the Cassano all the Roma fans loved and adored. Madness can be so attractive (see also: Vucinic or Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight).
There are few guys I would want to welcome back with open arms in Rome once they leave (Marquinhos, Riise to name two). But Cassano will always be a missed opportunity in my eyes. What if Roma tempted Peter Pan to come back in 2011, after his successful Sampdoria period? What if Spalletti took a chance with Antonio? What if Salah, Pjanic, Radja, Dzeko, Cassano all played for the same side at once?
It probably won't click between Spalletti and Cassano (problems with discipline), and there's this particular case with Totti as well, but I'll always feel sad about this 'limited time' in Rome. Five seasons is a long time in modern football, but he was just 24 when he left for Real. Imagine if he stayed as long as Dani did. Would he be an even bigger hero than Dani, Radja or Florenzi now? We sold Lamela and 'Hos to clubs mainly for the cash, it's ok, I can live with that. But Antonio Cassano left for a mere 5m, not because we desperately needed the money, but because he made himself impossible. What a waste, after such a promising career...
In the end, Peter Pan won just one single prize at Roma, the Supercoppa in 2001. In his first months as a Roma player nota bene. Yet, he gave us fans something bigger and better in return: Fond memories. Grazie Antonio.