Rome – The absence of controversial talent Antonio Cassano from Italy’s line-up is the talking point this week among football buffs as the world champions gear up for two qualifying games to the 2010 World Cup.
Coach Marcello Lippi resorted to his trademark tough-guy attitude saying that he doesn’t have to give reasons for his choices – one of the benefits of having won Italy’s fourth world title in 2006.
“I have my convictions and I don’t owe explanations,” he said. “And not because I’m arrogant, but because I want to work with who is present.”
Lippi said in the past that his choices are always strictly technical, and Cassano’s little inclination to protect the midfield, a must for Lippi, should not be ignored.
Millions of would-be coaches in bars and internet forums, however, still wonder why Lippi has never called up the in-form Cassano since he returned at the Azzurri’s helm in the summer of 2008.
Polls on gazzetta. it and repubblica. it showed that 80 per cent of about 66,000 readers would like to see the Sampdoria striker don again the Azzurri’s jersey after his last appearance at Euro 2008 under Roberto Donadoni.
Cassano was among Italy’s best players at Euro 2004, scoring two goals in three games, then had a fairly dull period while at Real Madrid and returned in good form after transferring to Samp in 2007.
His showing at Euro 2008 was also quite convincing, but Lippi seems to have forgotten him as Italy vie for a berth at next year’s tournament in South Africa.
Cassano’s character has not helped his career, and everyone, particularly sports directors and club presidents, remembers his fits of anger, the rows with coaches, the crashed corner-kick flags, and the insults to referees.
His latest “Cassanata,” a Cassano-esque tantrum, dates to March 2008 and was probably his most spectacular.
After scoring the equalizer in Samp’s 2-2 home draw with Torino, he was sent off for protests late in the game, but began to insult the referee, hurled his jersey at him and challenged him to settle matters outside the stadium.
The show cost him a five-game ban and a 15,000-euro (20,200 dollars) fine, but he seems to have mellowed out ever since, while his playing performances have remained excellent.
A further, off-the-pitch, stir was caused in November by his autobiography, titled “Telling everything,” in which he claims to have had between 600 and 700 women since he transferred from Bari to Roma in 2001.
He has again been crucial for mid-table Samp this season, particularly since the arrival from Fiorentina in January of Giampaolo Pazzini, who has scored most of his eight goals in 10 games thanks to Cassano’s assists. Cassano also has eight to his name so far.
Pressed by the absences of strikers Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni, Lippi has called up Pazzini, but not Cassano, despite his acting as perfect support striker in the last two months.
After Saturday’s game away to Montenegro, Lippi must already be bracing for protests from the fans in Bari, the footballer’s home town, where Italy welcome Ireland on April 1. (dpa)