Antonio Cassano has had a career marred by controversy, however of late he appeared to had settled down and was finding a new maturity at Sampdoria. He was recently married and there is a child on the way, performing well for the club and then a moment of madness appears to have scuppered all of that. A move to Milan now looks very likely, but whether or not this is a good move for both parties is another question.
Riccardo Garrone, Sampdoria chairman, took Cassano to the arbitration courts over a 30 minute outburst in October where the striker allegedly threw countless obscenities at the chairman. Garrone asked the courts to rescind the player’s contract due to the indecent comments made towards him.
This week the case finally reached a conclusion, however the decision was a complete formality. It had been apparent for some time that Cassano would be leaving Sampdoria very soon, one way or another. He had stopped pleading with the Genova club to let play and had even begun to take legal action for damage done to his image and loss of national team status. The courts ruled in favour of Cassano, insisting that the player would be suspended without pay until 1 February and then see out the rest of his contract being paid 50% of his current wage. It seems very likely though that Cassano will not play for Sampdoria again.
Prior to the verdict, and indeed as soon as he was excluded from the squad, the press went wild publishing articles speculating over his next destination. Every owner and manager had been asked in press conferences in interviews whether or not they would be willing to take Cassano on board, and if they were planning to bid for the ‘soon to be homeless’ striker.
Numerous of those asked were very quick to distance themselves from the problematic Cassano. Even managers at clubs who had no chance of seeing Cassano grace them with his presence; Zdenek Zeman at Foggia was very forthright saying that he would “never want him [Cassano] in my squad”.
The front runners to pick up the Bari born striker’s signature were Genoa, Milan and Inter. Cassano had professed his desire to remain in Genova, which would have made the city’s other club a good fit but this move didn’t even get off the ground. It now appears that Milan CEO Adriano Galliani has pushed the right buttons and will be signing the player for ‘free’ until 2014. Galliani hopes to have Cassano at Milan before the turn of the year.
Galliani has pulled some fine deals out of the hat in the last few months and it looks like yesterday evening’s dinner with Cassano’s agent will produce yet another fine acquisition, or will it? There are a number of issues which still need to be cleared up before the transfer can go through.
First of all, it won’t be a free transfer. Even if Riccardo Garrone is prepared to let his star striker go for free as a matter of principle – he may be cutting his nose to spite his face – there is a sell on clause in the contract with Real Madrid. The Spanish side have asked for a fee in the region of €4-5 million euros, though Milan may be able to do a deal and knock the payment off of the instalments Real are paying for Kaka. Milan may even argue that the clause is null and void because the player’s contract was rescinded.
It also looks like this is the end of the road at Milan for one of Pippo Inzaghi or Ronaldinho. This would have almost certainly been Inzaghi’s final season had he not finished his season by injuring himself, it appears that Milan will give him one more season to say his good byes and possibly break Raul’s European goal record. Ronaldinho has been out of favour since Allegri decided on his new system with 3 mediani and 2 strikers. The Brazilian has been very heavily linked with a move to either the MLS or back to Palmeiras in Brazil, but Milan continue to deny that he will be leaving soon.
It is difficult to see where in Allegri’s formation Cassano will be able to slot in seamlessly at the moment. Allegri started the season pandering to the wants of Berlusconi and tried to play a 4-3-3 with Ibrahimovic, Pato and one of Ronaldinho or Robinho. The experiment failed and he has been able to implement a more robust 4-3-1-2 with 3 box-to-box players behind a trequartista providing the energy that Milan had lacked previously. A front 2 of Ibrahimovic and Robinho have been able to take Milan 6 points clear at the top of the table and they look like the strongest contenders for this season’s scudetto.
The most logical place for Cassano to play would be as a direct replacement for Robinho, but the Brazilian is in a fine vein of form and it seems very unlikely that he will start ahead of him. Thus with a change of system out of the picture and a better player ahead of you in the starting line up, it would appear that Antonio will have to make himself happy with a place on the bench. I hope he’s still got his gameboy.
There may be the possibility of a rotation policy allowing the player to get some time on the pitch in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Cassano is cup-tied for the latter stages of the Champions League owing to the fact that he played in the play off round against Werder Bremen.
Many suspected that his career may have followed a path similar to Roberto Baggio, whom after his glory years at Fiorentina and Juventus signed for the smaller provincial sides of Bologna and Brescia. While it may turn out to be a magic partnership between 2 of the game’s most precotious and ostentatious players, it looks like next time we do see Cassano he’ll be rooted to the bench of the San Siro in mid-January with a blanket over his knees and huddled up close to the grizzly Gennaro Gattuso trying to keep warm. Perhaps Cassano would be happier at a club where he was the star attraction, somewhere where he would inspire the fans to dream rather than a club that has little need for him allowing him to regress into a past where he was the butt of many cake based jokes, and where people spoke more often about the number of women he’d bedded than the goals he’d banged in. I hope I’m wrong.
Dutch football has been famously associated with beautiful, expansive and expressive play ever since Johan Cruyff and the great Ajax side that dominated the European footballing landscape in the early 1970s – although you wouldn’t know it if you based your view on the last World Cup. Below are three examples of Ajax showing off at their very best. The first is the most recent from 2009, Luis Suarez takes a ball on the right hand touch line and gives it a juggle. My favourite thing about this clip is how the full back can do nothing but applaud, if he’d listened to Lee Dixon he’d know he has to get much much tighter if he wants to stand any chance.
Left winger Richard Witschge goes one step further in October 1997 in a 4-0 demolition of Feyenoord, takes the ball on the run and juggles down the left wing…
Finally, the man who started it all, Gerrie Muhren. This bit of play is far more subtle, but the occasion was the 2nd leg of the European Cup semi final against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Muhren later stated that he was simply waiting for left back Wim Suurbier to reach him so he could release the pass, so he did some keepie uppies to use up time. The crowd could do nothing except acknowledge this man’s huge kahunas.
Anyone who saw Andrea Pirlo’s marvellous effort from upwards of 40 yards out against Parma last weekend may have thought it was somewhat of a fluke. If you haven’t seen it the video is below: -
However he completed a similar feat away to Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage last season, helping Milan to a 2-3 win at the Bernabeu. A similarly lovely strike, not quite as far out however.
If you give the man space he will punish you.
While the new season is closer right now than the season that has just passed, I thought it would be nice to take a look back at some of the biggest surprises that were thrown up by the footballing gods last season. Everyone likes a shock once in a while, that is after all what makes the sport an interesting spectacle rather than a pure statistical amusement.
5. Barcelona v Rubin Kazan (1-2)
First up a clash in the Champions League group stages. Rubin Kazan had qualified for the competition as champions of Russia, based in Russia’s 8th largest city deep in the Russian vastness it may have been less surprising had the result come at home. However the Russian’s went to the Nou Camp on the 20th October and came away with all three points.
Rubin’s manager, Kurban Berdyev, revealed his master plan after the match. Having seen Barcelona’s 0-0 draw with Valencia he noted that there was space to shoot from distance because of the Catalan midfielder’s reluctance to drop into the penalty area to screen the defence. Rubin’s players were told to shoot on sigh, in truth they were rather fortunate to score an absolute screamer of a goal and were lucky not to concede late in the second half when Barca forced an oustanding save and Yaya Toure headed against the post. Rubin pulled off a smaller shock at home two weeks later, taking a 0-0 draw in freezing temperatures.
4. Allianza Lima v Estudiantes de la Plata (4-1)
When Tim Vickery asked is the Copa Libertadores more entertaining (better) than the UEFA Champions league, he was served up the perfect example by Peruvian side Allianza Lima. They faced the holders Estudiantes one round after the Argentinians had demolished Juan Aurich, another Peruvian team, 5-1 at home. Estudiantes had also come within a mere minute of being declared club champions of the world when they faced Barcelona at the 2009 Club World Cup.
The game looked as though it would be another rout for the visiting side when Jose Sosa put the holders ahead after just 4 minutes. Wilmer Aguirre, the Allianza striker, was having none of it and scored a neat hat trick before Jose Fernandez put the icing on a 4-1 defeat.The altitude would certainly have been a factor in the defeat, Lima is approximately 5,000 ft (1,500m) higher than La Plata, but the first two goals came in the first half which suggests that fatigue was not purely to blame. You can see the highlights on Youtube here.
3. Spain v Switzerland (0-1)
In the build up to the 2010 World Cup Spain hit Poland for six, pardon the pun. They had held an incredible record over the past 4 years having lost just twice in 45 matches, the curse had been lifted at Euro 2008 and it appeared that they were absolutely unstoppable. Nothing would stand in their way, except for Switzerland’s determined dogged, determined and tenacious defending. Spain were stifled by their own lack of width and they were even showing signs of panic, they appeared to run out of ideas against a Swiss side harking back to the days of the ‘Verrou‘ or Catenaccio. Although Switzerland should’ve had 2 goals, it is safe to say that Spain were well and truly mugged.
We are all aware that they went on to take the trophy, so perhaps it gave them the wake up call required to really knuckle down and grind out the performances. They only won one of their 7 games by over a goal margin (against Honduras), they may not have been playing in the same manner as their pre-tournament friendly win but the Swiss lesson taught them to get the job done.
2. Manchester United v Leeds United (0-1)
The FA cup has a great reputation for delivering upsets to the fans. When these two sides met for their 3rd round tie there was not a vast chasm in leagues between them, just two divisions effectively separated the sides. The writing was on the wall however from the previous round. Leeds were held to a 1-1 draw against Kettering, both home and away, needing to go to extra time before they were able to despatch the conference side. After the initial draw at Kettering’s home ground the 3rd round draw was made and Manchester United together with Leeds United/Kettering Town were drawn as the final tie. Almost as though it had been scripted.
Leeds were by far the hungrier side on the day, after Jermaine Beckford’s scuffed shot trickled under Tomasz Kuszczak and into the United goal the home team appeared somewhat stunned and unable to reply. Leeds were hardly subjected to the kind of pressure cooker style attack that we normally expect to see in these types of game situations.
1. Real Madrid v Alcorcon (1-4 agg.)
Cup competitions are rarely taken as seriously in European countries as they are in England but I still think was the biggest shock of last season. Following the dawn of the new galacticos era Real Madrid spent hundreds of millions of pounds, euros and dollars in an attempt to buy some glory. Real Madrid travelled to Alcorcon with a side consisting of expensive reserves, not a single youth player was included in the side. The side was as follows: -
Dudek; Arbeloa, Albiol, Metzelder, Drenthe; Mahamadou Diarra, Guti (Gago, 46), Van der Vaart; Granero (Marcelo, 63); Raúl (Van Nistelrooy, 72), Benzema.
These millionaires were trounced by the lowly Segunda Division B, Spain’s third tier, side 4-0 in the first leg and were only able to win the home leg 1-0. Dumping Manuel Pellegrini out of the Copa del Rey, defeat was to become a running theme throughout the rest of Real’s season much to Pellegrini’s dismay.
I’d like to hear what your favourite shocks and cupsets have been over the past year or so.
Real Madrid left things very very late to snatch a win against Seville last night in Madrid and consequently to take top spot from Barcelona who earlier yesterday failed to get a win away to Almeria. The new ‘galacticos’ had to overturn a 2-goal deficit to win 3-2. Cristiano Ronaldo was forced to put in a performance after his unimpressive outing against China in midweek.
You can find highlights of this game courtesy of 101greatgoals here.
Seville went ahead early on with the ball flying across the 6 yard box twice before going in off of Xabi Alonso who was attempting to challenge Negredo. Then on 52 minutes Dragutinovic curled a very speculative ball in on goal, to me it seemed to be a very straight cross as it had very little power on it at it wasn’t aimed at a particular corner of the goal, it seemed to completely undo Casillas though as with no one bearing down on the ball to worry him it simply bounced into the goal as he flailed after it.
At this point Pellegrini, already under immense pressure this season, must have been tearing his hair out. Were Real Madrid about to throw away a golden opportunity to go top of La Liga? Seville began to look very nervous and the game turned into an exercise in attack vs defence. The Merengues led an almighty bombardment on the Andalucian goalmouth with 34-2 on the shot counter goals were inevitable.
The resurgence only really began though once Cristiano Ronaldo swept the ball in on the hour mark once Marcelo’s cross had been deflected. The equaliser came in minimally controversial fashion, Van der Vaart taking a corner from the left hand side with the ball only just overhanging the corner quadrant, Sergio Ramos headed in to make it 2-2.
I can never understand what possible advantage anyone gains from placing the ball 6 inches slightly further toward it’s intended target. A similar situation occurs when watching penalty shootouts, players insist on placing the ball at the very tip of the penalty mark as if they didn’t already have enough of an advantage over the keeper. I would love to know what other people think about this.
Back to the Bernabeu, with Madrid now in the ascendency it seemed a matter of when rather than if. The stadium expected to see another goal but somehow the Seville goal resisted. Palop’s goal led a charmed life during this 25 minute period. Higuain hit both the post and bar and attempts from Ronaldo, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos all went agonisingly close to finding the net. All until the 92nd minute, a Sergio Ramos cross found Higuain who headed on goal for the umpteenth time Palop made a save but Van der Vaart bore down on the rebound and smashed the ball home, a true poachers goal.
The scenes on the pitch at the end of the game were truly bizarre. It was almost as if Real had decided that they had won the title. Perhaps this will be a turning point in the race for La Liga championship but to me it seems a little premature to be celebrating in such fashion. Real host Lyon at home on Wednesday evening, there they will again have a deficit to overturn (1-0), if they aren’t on their best behaviour they may see themselves exiting the Champions League thereby extending their poor knockout round showing since 2003.