Tuesday, December 21, 2010

AC to the AC

League-leading AC Milan have reportedly struck a deal to sign flamboyant Italy forward Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria. It's a curious move by the Rossoneri for a few reasons - most notably the presence of such a wobbly howitzer could destabilise Serie A's form team on and off the field.

Cassano's recent suspension has finished, a ban imposed for a foul-mouthed tirade directed at the club President after being asked to attend an awards function. The Italian media reported his explosion as being heard by several visitors including children, that it was in response to a reasonably-phrased request and seemed to come from nowhere.

To come from nowhere probably isn't accurate - Cassano's been the enfant terrible since his emergence at Bari and has displayed more of these tendencies as his profile has risen. Whether it's been weight clauses, threatening to "walk all the way back to Roma", his glittering form when starting over (again) at the blucerchiati of Sampdoria or fans chanting his name to the Italy coach, his career has hardly been a boring one.

Even he probably admits he crossed the line with his supernovaic anger. He only barely avoided his contract being voided despite his offering to take a 50% wage cut. The explosion was probably already coming after being benched last term for conduct detrimental to the team. With that, another relationship between Cassano and his club had soured.

Given their big rival Inter Milan's poor form, it's puzzling why AC would risk dividing the impressive forward triumvirate of Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng? Cassano's talent and goal sense would be handy, but could come at a significant cost to team harmony. Another me-first player in the San Siro dressing room could destabilise the club rather than reinforce it.

Injuries to Filippo Inzaghi and Alexandre Pato combined with Ronaldinho's probable impending departure could represent something of a talent drain, but Boateng has so far proved a very shrewd acquisition and plays in the same position as Cassano - in the hole behind the front-man. In the unlikely event the Rossoneri are planning to let the Ghanaian's loan deal expire then this could create more problems for the coach.

Perhaps Milan are banking on the leadership of their numerous veterans sedating the bad boy of Italian football: rather than being a big fish in a smaller pond, Cassano is now suddenly surrounded by players like Gattuso, Inzaghi, Seedorf, Nesta, Pirlo and Ambrosini. Unfortunately that didn't stop his alleged antics at Roma or Real. It could be he's on an incentive-laden contract with a system of fines and penalties built in. Players are much less likely to sign such deals but surely Milan is in the position of power: given his exhaustion of other opportunities, they need Cassano less than he needs them. Perhaps that's AC's tactic: to simply tie him to the bench should he become too much of a distraction and eat his ample wages the way he devours pastries.

With their league position, squad and the considerable fiscal cost of this deal, it appears Milan have more to lose than to gain. Signing Antonio Cassano could sound like a good idea, but could also be a move that excites other clubs as much as the Milan fans.

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