Antonio Cassano's return to the AS Roma first team after a long dispute over his contract has boosted the Italian club's hopes of winning the UEFA Cup.
The 23-year-old Italian international has yet to renew his contract, which expires at the end of the season, but the Rome club have decided to restore him to the squad. The move paid immediate dividends when Cassano scored in last week's 1-1 draw against RC Strasbourg at the Stadio Olimpico.
The attacker, who has registered 37 goals in 116 Serie A games for Roma, is expected to start his side's third Group E game away to FK Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade tonight. The Giallorossi are second in the section with four points.
"Cassano is on the right path," coach Luciano Spalletti said after he impressed in Sunday's 1-1 draw against ACF Fiorentina. "If he continues like that, he will not have any problem with me. He's a great player and can certainly be useful to our team."
However, Spalletti has no regrets about leaving Cassano out until last week. "I don't think we wasted his time," he said. "I consider a player's behaviour off the pitch a crucial factor and I took what I thought was the most appropriate decision without being influenced by the club.
"We need players who are ready to make sacrifices for the good of the team," he added. "Now Cassano is training hard and is starting to think and behave like the rest of the group. If he continues like this, I will keep on playing him because there is no doubting his talent."
Tipped for greatness since he scored a wonder goal against FC Internazionale Milano for hometown club AS Bari aged only 17, Cassano joined Roma for €28.5m in 2001. It is no surprise, then, that the Giallorossi are keen to avoid him leaving on a free in the summer.
Meanwhile, Italy coach Marcello Lippi is pleased Cassano is back in action. "There are still seven months until the [FIFA] World Cup," he said. "If Cassano plays well during that time, I will certainly take him into consideration for the finals."
Cassano has played just twice for the Azzurri since scoring against Sweden and Bulgaria at UEFA EURO 2004™. Born the day after his country's 1982 World Cup triumph, the forward could yet help bring the trophy back to Italy, though winning the UEFA Cup with Roma would be a nice start.