The Fat Boy from Bari who made Capello cry
Naturally gifted. Neurotic. It's amazing how many times these two superlatives go together. And both apply in large doses to Italian footballer Antonio Cassano. After weeks of media speculation and court appearances, it finally seems as if Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia ("the jewel of Old Bari") has played his last game for Sampdoria, and could well be on his way to Milan come January.
Born on the same day that Italy won the 1982 World Cup, Antonio Cassano was always destined to play professional football. A product of Bari's youth academy, he made his debut at the age of 17, and was an instant sensation in Serie A.
Two years later, reigning league champions Roma splashed out 60billion lire (£25million) on Cassano; and the cocky, brash, temperamental player, everyone in Italy loves to hate, was born. Over the next four seasons FantAntonio became more famous for his childish outbursts than his on-field production. The Roma manager at the time, Fabio Capello, called these outbursts Cassanata; each one topped the last, as the player seemed hell-bent on destroying every relationship he had. He clashed with Capello, on numerous occasions, in training. Had a very public spat with club captain Francesco Totti. And was sent-off in a Coppa Italia game against Milan after flicking the V's at the referee.
In 2005, after a row over his contract, Cassano was sold to Real Madrid for £4million. An impressive start for Los Meringues - with a goal on his debut against Real Betis - was soon forgotten, as a couple of months later, he began getting fined by the club for every gram he weighted in overweight. He was quoted, from his biography All the Sins of Fat Antonio, as saying that "In Madrid, I would finish training, find a beautiful lady, take her back to my hotel room, and then, when I'd finished with her, eat pastries all evening". Fast-forward four months and the striker was in trouble again, as the Spanish side appointed his old adversary, Fabio Capello. It took less than two months for the two Italians to come to blows. Cassano was shipped out again in the summer of 2007, this time on loan to Sampdoria.
Another great start to a season seemed to falter when, in a game against Torino, he was sent-off for throwing his shirt at the referee. But Samp held faith, and made the transfer permanent the following June; going further still, and making him vice-captain. Then, the following January, came the arrival of Giampaolo Pazzini, and the two of them formed the best 9-10 partnership Italian football had seen for many years, firing the Genoa club to the Champions League playoffs, and bringing comparisons to Samp's other great strike partnership: Gianluca Vialli/ Roberto Mancini.
It seemed, finally, that Cassano had matured. Fully accepting his exclusion from Italy's World Cup squad. He showed incredible desire to add to his 16 caps, and continued to be Sampdoria's lynch pin. This major improvement both physically and psychologically saw transfer rumours circulating of a possible move to Juventus or Inter.
But, just as it appeared Cassano was reborn, out came another Cassanata.
Reports leaked of a huge row with Sampdoria President Riccardo Garrone, originating from the owners insistence on his star player collecting an award at a hotel dinner. Cassano, wanting to stay with his newly pregnant wife, refused. The argument continued for weeks through the press, with Garrone saying last week that: "One thing is for certain; Antonio Cassano will not play at Sampdoria again. I have already talked about this and I do not intend to go back on my word."
A court ruling last Thursday ordered that Cassano will be contracted until January 31 2011, and then will be free to find another club. Milan, now, are in prime position to add to their number of players with bad-boy reputations.
With Pippo Inzaghi a long-term absentee and Alex Pato never far from the treatment table, Silvio Berlusconi, after surviving a no-confidence vote in Italian parliament, has given the green light to the management to bring in another striker, and boost his reputation as President of the Rossoneri.
As we've seen, Cassano's erratic behaviour has followed him wherever he's been, but Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri is hoping that the fact they are a 'special club' in Italy, which requires a certain standard of behaviour - combined with the fact that a move would represent the player's last real chance to play for a top club, and thus, possibly forge his way into the national side - is enough to change his ways for good.
The only thing casting a shadow of doubt over Cassano's move is Ronaldinho. The buck-toothed Brazilian is out of contract in June, and whispers suggest that Berlusconi has given the go-ahead for his sale, who in the past couple of weeks has been linked with both LA Galaxy and Liverpool.
We've already seen Cassano struggle at big clubs in major cities, but come January, I think the pastry chefs of Milan better be on standby.