Once considered the Peter Pan of Italian football, the recently married Antonio Cassano will be feeling a fresh sense of direction in his life when he leads the UC Sampdoria attack in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League play-off opener at SV Werder Bremen.
Cassano has arguably failed so far to live up to the expectations many had when he burst on to the scene as a precocious 17-year-old with hometown club AS Bari. His biggest handicap was his erratic behaviour, to the extent that his former coach at AS Roma, Fabio Capello, once referred to the player's eccentricities as 'Cassanate'.
Eleven years on, however, a new, calmer Cassano is in evidence − a change that he claims is down to Carolina, the water-polo player he married in June. "I love this angel of a girl and because of her I'm managing to put my 'Cassanate' aside," he said. "I don't want to disappoint her."
New Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has certainly been impressed, giving the 28-year-old the coveted No10 jersey for his first match in charge last week. "I saw a very calm and serene Cassano," said Prandelli, whose charges lost 1-0 to the Ivory Coast in London. "I give credit to his wife, Carolina, for this. Some people, often a woman, can help you to understand the real sense of life. I want him to become a reference for his team-mates.
This is a great chance for him and, if he takes it properly, he will wear the Azzurri shirt for a very long time."
Cassano has scored 31 goals in 89 league games for Sampdoria since joining from Real Madrid CF in 2007. He has formed a feared strike partnership with Giampaolo Pazzini but most of all he has become the leader of a Blucerchiati squad which surprisingly finished fourth in Serie A last term. His creativity will now be crucial for the Genoa outfit if they are to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Despite having only joined in the summer after replacing Luigi Del Neri, Sampdoria coach Domenico Di Carlo is fully aware of that. "Cassano is a great player who has improved in various aspects in recent years," he said. "I'm sure he will continue on this path and his great talent will be very useful for us.
Cassano will never be a problem for me; he can only be a problem for teams who have to face him."
Di Carlo's faith in his new charge owes much to the fact that Cassano is no longer the player who used to arrive late for training while starting out at Bari. "My wedding gift was an alarm clock to remind him of those days," explained Eugenio Fascetti, the coach who handed Cassano his breakthrough as a 17-year-old. "He is very mature − I'm very curious to see the new Cassano."
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