Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Another international call-up and once again no Antonio Cassano amongst Marcello Lippi’s hopefuls for South Africa.
Speculation has been rife throughout the peninsula on why the Italy coach continues to ignore the Sampdoria star.
Cassano’s club owner Riccardo Garrone muddied the waters even more by claiming there was something more “sinister” behind the omission.
Having almost broken the omerta, Garrone found reverse as quickly as a Roman driver caught on a one-way street, insisting he had made an error and even trying to blame former Samp coach Walter Mazzarri for dissuading Lippi from bringing the Bari Bawler back into the international set-up.
Football is a tight-knit community and with each of the parties refusing to shed any further light on this “ugly story” behind the exclusion of the country’s most naturally-talented player, it has been left to the press to fill in the blanks as best as they can.
Apparently, this sorry tale dates back to a dark time indeed – the broiling summer of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal – and Lippi’s son Davide, who worked for GEA World sports agency, Italy’s biggest and most influential firm of agents.
Keen students of history may remember that Calciopoli was kick-started when Naples prosecutors investigated GEA, Italy's biggest and most influential agency.
Well, according to La Stampa, Lippi Jr approached Cassano with an offer to represent the player’s interests.
Unfortunately, according to voices amongst the Italian press corp, Lippi picked a moment at an Italian holiday resort when Cassano was somewhat tired and emotional, and the discussion allegedly turned a little heated.
Apparently Lippi was left with more than his pride bruised – and that sealed Cassano’s exile from the Italy squad as the Lippi clan closed ranks.
His subsequent return for Euro 2008 under Roberto Donadoni ended in disappointment – which made Lippi’s job that much easier when he resumed his position as national team supremo.
There are plenty of stories floating around concerning Cassano's more eccentric off-the-pitch activities, but when it comes to his on-field behaviour this season he would walk into any other national side.
If the story does have any truth - and if it is what Garrone was alluring to - then it says more about Lippi than Cassano, who has always been what could be described as a ‘warts and all character’.
However, Lippi has called on an embargo on any future mention of il Talentino who will now probably remembered as “Italy’s great lost hope”.
Lippi says he will now work with around 33 players and whittle that number down as the finals approach before settling on the 23 who will carry the nation’s hopes.
It might not take much whittling. The squad to face Holland has a very prosaic look to it: there's no Sebastian Giovinco, Davide Santon or Mario Balotelli (the latter two called-up for the under-21s), while the previously unheralded Daniele Galloppa, Mattia Cassani, Antonio Candreva and Davide Biondini have never been considered genuine international class.
It may be a wonderful experience for all four players to involved in such a high-profile encounter, but their chances of boarding the flight to South Africa must rank up there alongside Cassano’s long-faded hopes.
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