In January Goran Pandev set a precedent when he was released from his contract by the Italian league and was allowed to move for free to a club that would take him in, make use of him and nurture his abilities. He moved to Inter after months of exclusion from the Lazio first team squad because of a squabble between player and chairman after the Macedonian forward asked to leave the club, hoping to move to a bigger club. Lazio paid at least €4m (this figure for the 2nd half of his co-ownership) for the player from Inter, but received nothing when he left.
The move from Lega Calcio was seen as a punishment for Lazio and their Chairman – Claudio Lotito – but also a warning to other clubs who had frozen players out of their squads because of back room squabbles. Lotito, notorious for poor relations with his players, had also frozen out midfielder Cristian Ledesma at the same time for asking for a wage increase due to his important contribution in the team’s run to the Coppa Italia in the 2008/09 season. Ledesma was later freed by the arrival of new boss Edy Reja, who demanded full control over the playing staff.
It would appear that despite the repercussions dealt out by the governing body, some chairmen still refuse to comply with the wishes of the league to protect the interests of the players playing in Italy. Last January, Antonio Cassano was briefly frozen out of the squad after moaning that he didn’t want to be deployed as a second striker by, the then boss, Gigi Del Neri. Cassano organised a move to Fiorentina late in the January transfer window, the deal had been practically agreed before Garrone convinced Antonio to stay in Genoa. Fantantonio – as he is commonly known in the Italian press – is one of two players who are currently in the spot light because they have been excluded from first team activities by their chairmen. The other is Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, more about him later though.
The Bari born striker has made the headlines for the wrong reasons once more recently, laid into his chairman – Riccardo Garrone – after a request to go and collect a prize. The conversation went something like this: -
Garrone: “Come with me to collect this prize from Sestri Levante. Just stay until they give it to you, then you can leave”
Cassano: “No, I won’t come to Sestri Levante”
Cassano: “Because, no. I won’t go and receive a prize from that shit-house of a hotel”
Garrone: “Who do you think you are?”
Cassano: “Why are you raising your voice?”
Garrone: “Don’t tell me I’m raising my voice, you know full well that I’ve never raised my voice with you”
Cassano then stormed off and was heard throwing a tantrum and insulting Garrone in the dressing room, some rather unsavoury stuff was reported. His chairman immediately sought out the possibility of having Cassano’s contract rescinded by the league, making a public statement saying that he was not happy for Antonio to return to the Sampdoria playing staff. Antonio made a public apology and placed much of the blame for the outburst on a particular moment of personal difficulty he was enduring with his pregnant wife but Garrone refuted it, threw it back in his face. Paolo Bandini provides a more in-depth look at the spat for The Score, if you’re interested in what went on.
The damage had been done. Cassano, together with the fire power of his agent Beppe Bozzo, has launched an offensive against the club. He is taking Sampdoria to arbitration for compensation and damages for loss of fitness, losing his place in the National squad and damage to his image.
While Cassano would like to stay in Genoa, preferably at Sampdoria, if Garrone refuses to have him back then he will hope that he can find a place in the Genoa squad so he can be as close as possible to his wife with a child on the way. Otherwise a number of other clubs have come out and said they’d find a place in their squads for Cassano, most notably Palermo chairman (and Serie A’s resident loon) Maurizio Zamparini. Barring this freak outburst, he appears to have matured tremendously over the pasts few seasons and the side have been struggling in his absence – scoring just once in the past 5 games.
Financially, Sampdoria wouldn’t be too displeased if he were to leave. He is likely to be one of their highest earners on the wage bill and if he was released for free it would void a clause in his transfer contract from Real Madrid meaning that Sampdoria would not owe Real Madrid €5 million. Enough cash saved to be able to replace the striker.
The boy who dared to dream
Lurking in the shadows of Cassano’s mess stands Federico Marchetti, also the victim of an angered chairman. His tale is a different one to Cassano’s though. Marchetti went to the World Cup as Italy’s number 2 choice between the posts and had been held up by Buffon as his favourite young keeper, making him heir apparent. At half time during Italy’s first group game against Paraguay he was given the chance to accomplish what many young boys can only dream of – representing your country at the World Cup Finals™.
He left South Africa on a high despite the failure to defend Italy’s World crown, he was interviewed and asked questions about rumours linking the Cagliari keeper with a move to Sampdoria. Naturally, he stated his willingness to take his game to the next level and that a move to Sampdoria could facilitate the possibility of Champions League football which would be a dream come true.
The reporter slyly filed the interview away for a few weeks until Cagliari went on a training retreat during which time a media ban was imposed. The reporter released the interview on July 23rd and Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino hit the roof, however Marchetti explained his way out of a fine by explaining the situation to sporting director Francesco Marroccu. He was heckled by fans in the 45 minutes he played against a local side the next day, the only minutes that Marchetti has played this season.
Seeking a move away from the club following the incident, he was linked with moves to some big names in European football (Arsenal & Bayern Munich to name a couple). His agent, coincidentally also Beppe Bozzo, issued complaints that the club had asked for too much in order to force deals to fall through. The club simply retorted that it was the agent’s fee that had been the issue in negotiations.
Marchetti has since been allowed to train with the first team, though this appears to be a measure aimed purely to disguise what is really going on behind the scenes to avoid any kind of contract rescission by Lega. Marchetti has spoken out publicly in the past few weeks, calling his treatment by the club a sort of bullying. He will be taking his case to Lega for arbitration on Thursday 18th November, hoping to be freed from his contract as well as compensation.
Cagliari president Massimo Cellino has reacted angrily, saying: “If anyone deserves money in damages then it is me, as I had to buy another goalkeeper. Cagliari cannot be accused of bullying, as we are allowing him to train regularly and giving him the chance to fight for his place.” Player and club will both await the verdict of the court on Thursday, to think that all the boy did was dare to dream. If he is able to attain freedom, he is perceived as a well behaved professional young player who should have little trouble finding a club to call home in any of Europe’s top leagues.
Tip-toeing around the strike
What makes these cases even more interesting is the impending possibility of a players strike. In September the strike was postponed after agreement was reached over 6 of the 8 points of disagreement while drawing up a collective contract for all league players. One of the 2 outstanding points regards players being frozen out from squads and being forced to train in isolation, the other is to do with clubs forcing their players to accept transfers when an agreement has been made with a club at a similar level and there is no loss of earnings.
The league and chairmen representatives will have an incredibly difficult set of negotiations ahead of them should they appear to come down unreasonably in favour of Cellino and Garrone when the cases are heard. The strike is widely recognised as being of detriment to every party involved with the sport but the players representatives have made it clear that they are determined to follow through with their threats.