Antonio Cassano does not really believe in saying “sorry”. In fact it wasn’t that long ago that he claimed not to even know what the term even meant. “The word ‘sorry’ doesn’t exist in my vocabulary,” smirked Cassano in late 2006 when asked if he had ever apologised to anyone at Roma following his acrimonious departure for Real Madrid. “I have admitted being wrong, but I never said ‘sorry’ to anyone. I haven’t used that word since I was born and I won’t use it won’t ever use it until I die.”
As in all other areas of his life, Cassano was exaggerating just a touch. The word had fallen from his lips before and has done so since but not with any great regularity. In Rome, Madrid and even in Genoa, the player has always sought to either laugh off his Cassanate – a term coined by Fabio Capello in 2002 to describe the player’s follies – or simply carry on as if they had never happened. When he has apologised it has usually been in the form of an official statement, delivered by a press officer or agent with his approval.
His actions over the last week, then, should not be taken lightly. Since his well-documented tiff with the Sampdoria president Ricardo Garrone on Tuesday – in which the forward reportedly used some colourful language as he declined a request that he attend an awards ceremony that evening – Cassano has apologised to the man himself, to his team-mates, and even to the national team’s manager Cesare Prandelli. When this proved insufficient, he went live on national television.
“There was a an argument between me and the president, and I used inappropriate language. I apologise to him in front of the whole country,” said Cassano but the apology was not accepted. “It is Cassano’s own fault,” Garrone was reported as saying in the Genoese newspaper Secolo XIX. “I thought he had changed. I misjudged the man.”
The tone of Cassano’s televised apology did, in fairness, leave something to be desired, the forward skimming rapidly over his apology and into an angry denial of the claim that he had called the owner “an old piece of shit”. Perhaps more revealingly, he said that the club had asked him to sign a document formalising the apology he had made to the team last Wednesday. Acting on the advice of his agent Beppe Bozzo, he had refused.
Bozzo had presumably been thinking of the legal implications and his actions were soon justified as it emerged that Sampdoria intended to rescind the player’s contract. Unthinkable as it might sound for a team with limited resources to simply ditch its most saleable asset and one of Serie A’s most famous players, Samp were deadly serious, contacting the league to request an immediate voiding of the deal.
Indeed, despite various reaffirmations of his love for Sampdoria and a reported offer to take a pay cut of up to 50% on his €2.8m salary , Cassano seems to have been losing the battle for hearts and minds. On Sampdoria forums and message boards, many were supportive of the president’s hardline stance. A poll on the popular football gossip website calciomercato.com showed that 52% of readers wouldn’t want the player on their own team.
The rumour mill, inevitably, has been launched into overdrive, with Cassano already linked with moves to two-thirds of Samp’s Serie A rivals. Rafael Benítez told Mediaset yesterday that he was not interested in bringing Cassano to Inter “for now”, before adding: “But if he was available on a free transfer? I would have to talk to my club”. The Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini was more forthcoming, saying “I would take him happily”.
The Lega Serie A president Maurizio Beretta dealt a blow to all such hypothesising this afternoon when he stated that the league was unable to intervene in the matter at present, with negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement – the same discussions whose slow progress prompted the threat of strike action earlier in the season – between players and owners still ongoing.
“President Garrone is a competent and passionate person, he will know how to manage the Cassano situation,” said Beretta, but that much remains to be proved. Garrone has spoken of the player in the past as being “like a son” but that in itself may be a problem. Cassano once said that Fabio Capello was “like a father” to him and we all know how that finished.
Cassano’s real father deserted him and his mother when he was a baby, re-emerging only when the player’s career was taking off. After being roughed up by some of the tougher elements of Cassano’s old friendship group from the Bari Vecchia neighbourhood where he grew up, he disappeared for good. Resentment towards his father growing up has been used by many a pop-psychologist in Italy to explain Cassano’s life-long trouble with male authority figures: be they managers, referees or even, on occasion, the police.
What is certain is that Cassano himself has been happy in Genoa. There have still been Cassanate along the way, of course, from stripping off and threatening referees to telling Samp’s fans that sometimes instead of Nutella they may have to “eat shit”. He was also frozen out of the team for a period last season by the then manager Luigi Del Neri after expressing his displeasure at playing as a second striker – nearly moving to Fiorentina in the January transfer window before a late change of heart.
But despite all that he is as settled as he has been at any point in his life. He is closer to his team-mates than he has been at any other club and they dine out together en masse regularly. He claims they have accepted his apology. His suggestion that last Tuesday’s outburst on anxieties over the state of his pregnant wife Carolina is also not so unreasonable. For a man who not only had such a has acknowledged his own immaturity many times in the past, and who also had such a difficult image of his own father, it is easy to believe that the realities of what is about to happen are becoming daunting. In that context, a move to another city would only add further concerns.
That, though, looks a very real prospect unless Garrone has a change of heart. At present Cassano is not even being allowed to train with the team. “Sorry” may be the hardest word, but in this case, it seems, it still may not suffice.