As much as I’d love to present Antonio Cassano’s recent interview without comment, I simply can’t. Beyond their perpetual bridesmaid status, there isn’t a more profound or pervasive theme in the story of AS Roma in the 21st century than the divorce between Cassano and the club.
I won’t rehash the entire saga—for that, check out my near 3,000 word opus—but suffice it to say, the openness with which Cassano just spoke about his time with Roma, and with Totti in particular, is sure to conjure up mixed emotions for many Roma fans.
So, without further ado, here is Cassano bearing his heart for the Roman world to see:
I had the chance to go to Juventus after Bari, but when I started playing, I really admired Totti. He was the best of them all and I could see some of myself in him. I was meant to be joining Juve, but once the offer from the Giallorossi came in, I told my agent we had to go to Roma.
I went there only so that I could play alongside Totti. It’s impossible not to be his friend. He’s a humble, real down to earth guy. When I arrived in Rome, for the first four months I lived with his Mum and Dad, so I really felt at home in my new city.
Before we delve into that, if you’ll humor me, I’d like to reiterate something we spouted on Twitter a few weeks ago. A large percentage of Roma’s success over the past 25 years, in terms of their ability to recruit and retain decent players, falls down to the undying loyalty of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. Roma couldn’t always offer the largest deals, but they had two of the greatest personalities in the game, and as we just read, Totti—in presence alone—was instrumental in luring Cassano away from Juventus, even offering up his parent’s place for Cassano to get adjust to life in a new city—you think you’re getting that from Cristiano Ronaldo? Arjen Robben? Lionel Messi?
Now onto the meat of the interview, Cassano’s unfiltered regrets.
If I had listened to just 10 per cent of all the positive advice that Totti gave me, I’d have had a very different career. We were dealing with the renewal of my contract and he said to me: 'Remember, it is better to earn less but be happy than to go somewhere else in the world and not be 100% sure'. I went to Madrid and after a year and a half, I was away.
I was seduced by their offer. If I’d listened to Totti, I probably would’ve stayed at Roma for 10-15 years along with him. That was the advice he gave me, and I had to listen. But I did my usual and it went instinctively to my head.
We had such fun together and just understood each other in a flash. I had more fun playing football with Totti than at any other point in my life
There is just sooooooo much to unpack in those 152 words I’m not sure whatever I say now will do it justice, but let’s give it a whirl anyway. My biggest takeaway from this is precisely what we’ve long known, or at least felt, to be true: Totti values happiness above further financial prosperity, a character trait not easily learned by lesser men. This rings especially true in the Cassano-Madrid case because it was Real who tried to break the bond between Totti and Rome.
And while it’s nice to hear Cassano admit he made a mistake, you can’t help but feel conflicted. This interview clearly shows a more mature and lucid Cassano, but at the same time, you can’t help but feel robbed. Could Cassano have made a difference in all those second place finishes in the mid 2000s? Would a healthy and productive Cassano have prevented Roma from making boneheaded moves for Adriano or Julio Baptista? Would keeping Cassano have allowed Totti to focus on scoring goals, placing Silvio Piola’s record within greater reach?
It’s impossible to say of course, but the thought of Totti, Cassano, Vucinic, Mancini, Menez and even Luca Toni leading the assault on Serie A, it’s hard not imagine Roma winning at least one or two Scudettos during that 10 to 15 year spell.
The almost psychic connection between Antonio Cassano and Francesco Totti was like nothing we have ever seen before or since. Their similar yet complementary styles of play, their ability to dominate despite not having otherworldly athleticism, and their innate understanding of how to manipulate a defense are almost impossible to describe; it was almost as if they were specifically designed in a lab to play with one another.
Titles and regret aside, we were robbed of perhaps the greatest attacking duo the league had ever seen, and for that it’s hard to completely forgive Cassano.